Netflix has announced that, beginning today, it’s rolling out spatial audio for select original programming. The feature should deliver more immersive sound, particularly for customers who are listening to a TV show or movie with headphones. Netflix has collaborated with Sennheiser to convert surround sound mixes into an expansive spatial audio presentation that can be played through stereo speakers or headphones; you don’t have to buy anything new or own a proper surround system for this to work. According to Netflix, spatial audio “is compatible with all devices, all streaming plans, and does not require surround sound speakers or home theater equipment.”
“Netflix spatial audio helps to translate the cinematic experience of immersive audio to any stereo, so the work creators do to bring you into the story happens no matter what device you use to watch Netflix,” the company said in a blog post. There’s a fairly limited selection of content supporting the new audio experience on day one, but you can browse what’s available by searching for “spatial audio” in the Netflix search bar. Early choices include Stranger Things 4, Red Notice, The Witcher, and more.
On supported content, regular stereo output will now be replaced by Sennheiser’s Ambeo 2-Channel Spatial Audio. Ambeo pulls from whatever surround sound or Dolby Atmos audio track is available for the selected content and mixes it into a more immersive stereo profile. “Crucially, this process preserves the original sound mix and respects creative intent with a remarkably clean sound,” said Scott Kramer, Netflix’s manager for sound technology. Sennheiser goes into this a bit more on its website:
While Ambeo 2-Channel Spatial Audio is not a separate mix, creators still have granular control over spatialization. Mixers can define the amount of Ambeo processing for each group separately. Re-recording mixers can dial-in the desired amount of processing, from standard stereo mixdown up to full Ambeo effect and anywhere in-between. Dialog can be left untouched, while maximum spatialization can be applied to ambience and sound effects.
For those with a full-on Atmos system in their living room, Netflix’s spatial audio isn’t going to do anything new or different from the experience they had before. But it might make for a decent upgrade when watching your entertainment on the go. If you’ve ever used spatial audio on AirPods when watching a movie or TV show on supported apps, this could resemble that — only without the head tracking part.
Spatial audio is often less noticeable and can be underwhelming when listening with laptop or standard TV speakers, but I’ll definitely be giving some of these supported shows and movies a try over the coming days to see what kind of difference it makes.