Personalised Spatial Audio arrives on iPhone with an ear-scanning iOS16 feature

“Listeners can use the TrueDepth camera on iPhone to create a personal profile for Spatial Audio,” said Apple.

Apple AirPods Pro Close Up

Image: ifeelstock / Alamy Stock Photo

Apple’s proprietary spatial audio tech is getting a cool new upgrade in the upcoming iOS 16 rollout. Announced at the recent WWDC 2022 event, the new update will allow users to create a ‘Personalised Spatial Audio’ profile using their iPhone’s TrueDepth camera.

What this means is that Apple intends to scan your ears to analyse their shape, and use that mapping data to create “a more precise and immersive listening experience tuned just for you”.

As for the ‘scanning’ process, trips down to your nearest audiologist will not be required. Everything will be done using the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone — essentially the technology that enables Face ID — which means you will need an iPhone X or later to enjoy the feature.

First introduced in iOS 14, Spatial Audio was designed to deliver an immersive audio experience through your headphones. The feature uses surround-sound Dolby Atmos signals and applies directional audio filters on top, tweaking the volume and frequencies that each ear hears so that sounds can be positioned virtually anywhere around the listener, creating the audio experience of being in a 3D space.

To achieve this, Apple uses Head-Related Transfer Functions (HRTF), a sort of formula containing all the acoustic information needed to describe and offset the physical differences in a listener that will affect their perception of space and by extension, sound.

Currently, Apple uses the physical data extracted from thousands of individuals to create a ‘universal’ HRTF that fits the average person’s perceptual response, such that Spatial Audio can work for as many users as possible.

A Personalised Spatial Audio will, as its name suggests, be tailored to the individual’s unique head and ear shape. Presumably, listeners will have to take pictures of their ears in order to create what Apple calls a “personal sonic profile”

As exciting as it sounds, this is not the first time we have seen this sort of tech from headphone manufacturers. Sony, for example, has been guiding users through photo-shoot style ‘ear scans’ via the Headphones Connect app for quite some time while Creative SXFI’s app also uses ear and head photography to enhance sonic delivery.

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