AirPods Pro spatial audio is here and it's awesome — how to try it

AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Future)

I recently found out that the AirPods Pro spatial audio feature was finally available for testing, and I immediately got giddy. First announced at WWDC 2020, this feature presents your audio as three-dimensional, and as your head and AirPods Pro move, the sound of your shows move as well.

When I tested AirPods Pro spatial audio out with an episode of the Apple TV Plus show Ted Lasso on my iPhone (spatial audio requires 5.1, 7.1 or Dolby Atmos audio content, so I couldn't just throw on any song), it was both weird and cool. 

I put my iPhone down on the table in my living room, and as I walked around the phone, it sounded as if I was moving around the show, with the dulcet tones of Jason Sudeikis staying in place.

But beyond this cool feeling, I've got hopes that Apple has plans for how its new spatial audio trick is to be used. Hopefully, we can get more immersive experiences, that can bring people into the world of See, where hearing is of paramount importance. 

The only annoying parts about spatial audio are how to get it. Right now, you'll want to download the iOS 14 public beta, iPadOS public beta or macOS Big Sur public beta in order to try it. Once Apple releases the finished versions of those major updates this fall, you should get spatial audio support that way. 

Except that's not all. You'll also need to update the firmware of your AirPods to version 3A283, which isn't something you can just manually do. This happened for me last night without doing anything special, but for some other times it required a little work.

The way to try and "force" it is to have your AirPods Pro case charging with the AirPods inside, and open the lid of the case. Then, put one of your Apple devices near it. Lastly, wait. It should download soon. 

How to get AirPods Pro spatial audio:

  1. Have the device you want to use running one of Apple's 2020 public betas, and make sure it's up to date (Settings  > General > Software Update for iPhones and iPads, and System Preferences > Software Update on Macs).
  2. Get the spatial audio-enabling firmware v. 3A283 onto your AirPods Pro (see above).
  3. Pull down from the top right corner of your iPhone or iPad to open Command Center.
  4. With AirPods Pro connected, long press on the volume switch.
  5. Make sure Spatial Audio is turned on. If you don't see a Spatial Audio button, you don't have firmware v. 3A283 yet.
  6. Watch something with 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos audio support.

How to check AirPods firmware

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Select General.
  3. Select Bluetooth.
  4. Pair the ‌AirPods‌ or ‌AirPods Pro‌ to your iOS or iPadOS device.
  5. Tap the i next to your AirPods.
  6. Look at the number next to Firmware Version.

If your AirPods Pro firmware isn't 3A283, you'll want to go through the process of enabling their update. As mentioned above, pair your AirPods with your iPhone, make sure the AirPods are in their case, and that the case is charging. Then, leave the lid open with the AirPods inside, and wait.

It's annoying, but that's the way I've made it work in the past. And once you hear it for yourself, it'll be worth it.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.