It’s always a good idea to keep your devices updated. Updates fix bugs and, more importantly, unlock new features. Case in point: Perhaps you heard about Apple’s new spatial audio feature on the expensive new AirPods Max, but didn’t realize that if you already own the AirPods Pro, you now get this feature without having to spend the bigger bucks on a headphone upgrade.
Additionally, Apple’s latest AirPods firmware update adds the automatic switching feature to your second-gen AirPods and AirPods Pro. We’ll get into both of these below, but for now, here’s how to update your earbuds to get the most of these cool features.
How to update your firmware
To get spatial audio on your AirPods Pro, you need to make sure the firmware on your pods is updated.
The good news is that for most users, this firmware update will happen automatically without any intervention on your part. AirPods updates don’t happen in quite the same way as they do for the iPhone (where you may need to manually install it), so the easiest thing to do is to check if your AirPods Pro are running the latest firmware. Here’s how.
First, make sure your phone is running the most recent version of iOS 14 (at the moment, it’s iOS 14.3).
Next, check your AirPods or AirPods Pro firmware. Go to Settings > General > About. You’ll probably need to scroll way down to see it, but you should see AirPods Pro or your AirPods in the list. If your iPhone isn’t up to date, you may not even see this setting, particularly if you have AirPods Pro. Tap them, and if the firmware version shows 3A283, you have the latest update. That’s it; you’re all set.
What is spatial audio?
Apple spatial audio is a new feature for AirPods Pro and Max that makes it seem like the sound is coming from more places in 3D space; that may be from the screen of your iPhone or from elsewhere in the space around you. It’s Apple’s take on Dolby Atmos surround sound. When you watch TV, for example, you can hear the sound coming directly from the set or your soundbar. Spatial audio mimics this sensation even though you’re wearing headphones, and using the AirPods’ on-board gyroscopes and accelerometers, Apple’s “dynamic head-tracking” can even track the motion of your head, anchoring sounds to your device so it seems like the audio is coming right from the screen to your ears.
This is a difficult concept to put into words, so keep reading to see how you can test it out right on your phone. Yes, Apple helpfully includes a demo!
How do I know spatial audio is working?
Naturally, you’ll want to know exactly what this update gets you and try it on for size. Here’s how to get a quick and easy demonstration.
In case you keep the audio turned off on your device, go to Settings to make sure your sound is on. Go to Settings > Bluetooth, and click on your AirPods Pro (or AirPods Max) in the list, and then tap the Info (i) button. Make sure Spatial Audio is toggled on and shows green.
Right below that setting is a blue line of text that says, “See and Hear How it Works.” Click it and then choose Spatial Audio from the slider bar near the top. You’ll be able to hear the difference in your AirPods as you turn the Stereo Audio and Spatial Audio features off and on and see what each of them offer. Inside this setting, you can also turn on spatial audio for supported videos.
What is automatic switching?
The most recent AirPods Pro firmware update also adds automatic switching. This is a convenient feature that will allow your AirPods to pair to whatever device you’re using based on the Bluetooth signal that’s available. You won’t have to manually connect to Bluetooth once you install this upgrade. This feature works on AirPods Pro, second-generation AirPods, Powerbeats, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro.