Spatial audio is one of the most fun features of AirPods (3rd gen), AirPods Pro, AirPods Max and Beats Fit Pro / Beats Studio Buds, and if you have Apple Music there’s tons of music in this format to get your ears around with more added every week.
Spatial audio technology delivers a kind of surround sound inside your headphones and earbuds, enabling you to hear audio from every direction. When it’s good it’s very good, and this week’s new spatial audio releases are great showcases for the tech – and more importantly, great musical experiences in any number of dimensions.
Don't have Apple Music? Discover more of the best music streaming services that do offer the spatial audio treatment. Also make sure to check out our guides of the best headphones and best wireless speakers if you're looking to upgrade your audio tech.
Apple Music Live: Burna Boy
Burna Boy’s London show in June 2023 was the very first time an African artist headlined a stadium show in the UK, and Apple filmed it. With guests including Stormzy, J Hus and Dave and Jamaican singer Popcaan it’s a glorious, joyful and charismatic performance from the most-streamed Nigerian artist of all time on Apple Music worldwide, and the most-streamed artist in Nigeria.
As ever with live music, spatial audio helps feel that you’re really there rather than just streaming the show. The combination of crowd ambience and massive bass on Sittin’ On Top of The World is tons of fun.
Taylor Swift: Speak Now (Taylor’s Version)
Taylor’s recent releases have all embraced spatial audio with mixed results. On her folkier lockdown albums, it added a welcome sense of space and place, but it felt a little bit less essential on the more electronic Midnights. Here, on the latest in her series of re-recordings – the original of the still-country Taylor’s Speak Now came out in 2010 – it adds space to the more acoustic tracks such as Dear John (Taylor’s Version).
Is it really a decade since we first met Disclosure and saw their scribbled-face promo photos for their debut album? It is, and this is something of a return to form after a few years making records that delighted fans but didn’t win over the critics quite so readily. And this album could have been made for the best AirPods: its production is packed with fascinating little details that really lend themselves to spatial audio – Sun Showers is a highlight – and the too-short a cappella Someday is a gorgeous thing.
According to Pitchfork, “for the first time in a while, it sounds like they’re listening to what’s happening in clubland and asking themselves not what they can poach for the charts, but what they can bring to the table”.
Spice Girls: Spice World
Here’s one for the pop kids of a certain age, especially – if my socials are any indication – the gays and theys: the Spice Girls’ 1997 album, their second, is packed with irresistible pop including Spice Up Your Life, the Motown-esque Stop and the epic ballad Viva Forever. Its spatial audio makeover adds some extra fun: watch out! Geri’s behind you!
Lewis Capaldi: Broken By Desire to be Heavenly Sent (Apple Music Edition)
The more we see of Lewis the more we love him: the Scottish singer-songwriter went viral earlier this month when his various tics – Capaldi has Tourettes – prevented him from singing at Glastonbury and the crowd took over, and his Netflix warts-and-all documentary is a good watch. But it’s on record that Capaldi really shines, and the spatial audio production on the orchestral version of How I’m Feeling Now is wonderful.
Some of the best spatial audio music is where the musician has room to breathe, and that’s the case with this beautifully layered collection of Neo-soul: if you’re looking for instant audio gratification, head straight for track six, November.
With guest appearances by Stormzy and Jojo there’s serious star power here, but it’s Mahalia herself who steals the show: she may be only 25 but her voice feels like something much more ancient and powerful. It’s “a glittering gem among recent releases,” says Clash Music. Meanwhile, The Irish Times says that the music “largely swings between the dreamy skip-hop skitter of songs such as Wassup and In My Bag, and the soulful, hazy shuck of November (a lovelorn duet with a crooning Stormzy) and Lose Lose”.
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Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.