Apple’s girlfriend Mary-Ann Rau said in her keynote: “Personalized Spatial Audio provides the most immersive listening experience by placing precise sounds in spaces that are attuned to you.” But Apple isn’t the first company to go this route. Since 2019, Sony has provided “Personalized 360 Reality Audio” for supported music services such as Amazon Music, Tidal, Deezer and Nugs.net. Conceptually they are very similar.
One of the new features in iOS 16, highlighted again at Wednesday’s Apple event, is personalized spatial audio. With the latest iOS version installed on your iPhone as of September 12th, you can create custom sound profiles that enhance the immersion and overall spatial audio experience you get from your AirPods. To create this personalized tuning, Apple uses his TrueDepth camera on the front of the iPhone to scan your ears. The process of holding the iPhone about 4 to 8 inches away from the side of your head takes less than a minute and uses the resulting data to optimize spatial audio for your unique ear shape.
These images are uploaded to Sony’s servers for analysis. After that, Sony will keep it for an additional 30 days for internal investigation and improvement. According to the company, the ear image will not be associated with you personally during this period. That’s not to say Apple made the ear scanning process entirely successful, though. During the iOS 16 beta, some people said on social media and on Reddit that the process felt tedious and sometimes their ears weren’t recognized. I think the truth of the matter is that there is no perfectly easy way to pull off this and at the same time read ear shapes correctly and accurately.
Both Sony and Apple are trying to identify the structure of the ear and adjust spatial audio processing to account for the ear’s unique creases and contours. The goal is to preserve that her 3D audio experience and get rid of audio quirks that ruin the feel. However, Sony’s approach is a little trickier than Apple’s. AirPods technology is built into iOS settings. However, in order to create a personalized sound field with Sony products, you need to take a real picture of each ear using the Headphones Connect app and your phone’s camera.