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How to get and use Spatial Audio on the Pixel Buds Pro

Spatial Audio is finally here for the Pixel Buds Pro. Here's everything you need to know.
Written by Jason Cipriani, Contributing Writer
Reviewed by Min Shin
Pixel Buds Pro on a tablet
Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

Google's been on a roll lately, releasing software updates for its Pixel phone line, the Pixel Watch, and its high-end wireless earbuds, the Pixel Buds Pro. 

Each update has brought with it new features and capabilities for the respective devices. For example, the Pixel Watch now has Fall Detection to help you or a loved one get help in the event of a bad fall. As for the Pixel Buds Pro, Google has added Spatial Audio -- a feature that adds depth and motion to whatever you're listening to or watching. 

Review: Google Pixel Buds Pro: AirPods Pro, but for Android 

But how do you go about getting Spatial Audio on your Pixel Buds Pro? And once you do, where do you control it? Better yet, which apps or services do you need to actually use Spatial Audio? I answer all of that and more below. 

How to activate Spatial Audio on the Pixel Buds Pro

Requirements 

You'll need to have a Pixel 6, Pixel 6 Pro, Pixel 7, or a Pixel 7 Pro in order to use Spatial Audio. Of course, you'll also need a pair of Pixel Buds Pro

1. Update the Pixel Buds Pro firmware to version 4.3

Before you can see the new toggle to turn Spatial Audio on or off, you'll need to update the Pixel Buds Pro firmware to the latest 4.3 version. 

To do that, open the Settings app on your Pixel phone, then select Connected Devices followed by the gear icon next to your Pixel Buds Pro. 

Also: 7 Pixel Buds Pro tips and tricks

Next, tap on More settings > Firmware update and follow the prompts to install any pending updates. One thing I was reminded of during this latest firmware update is that you'll need to have the earbuds outside of the case in order for the installation to take place. You can have them in your ears, or place them on a table next to your phone. The installation should take about five minutes. 

Spatial audio settings Pixel Buds Pro firmware
Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

2. Turn on Spatial Audio and test it out

Once your phone lets you know the update is complete, put your earbuds in and go back to Settings > Connected Devices > your Pixel Buds Pro. 

On that screen you'll see a new Spatial Audio item in the list of options; select it. On the next screen you'll have two buttons, one to turn Spatial Audio on or off, and another that turns the Head tracking feature on or off. 

Also: The best wireless earbuds

(Alternatively, you can scroll down on the main Pixel Buds Pro settings screen and find the same two toggles. However, you'll need access to dedicated Spatial Audio settings page for the following step.)

There's a small dropdown arrow next to the text that reads "See how it works." Select the arrow to reveal a video that you can play and listen to through your Pixel Buds Pro to hear an example of what Spatial Audio brings to your earbuds. 

I recommend listening to the video while toggling Spatial Audio and Head tracking on and off a few times to hear the difference each feature brings to your ears. 

Spatial Audio settings for Pixel Buds Pro
Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

3. Where you can find more Spatial Audio music or videos

Outside of the example video Google includes, where else can you expect to hear and use Spatial Audio with Head Tracking on your Pixel 6 or Pixel 7? Well, right now, your options are somewhat limited. And by limited, I mean that Google doesn't currently list any music apps or services that offer Spatial Audio -- it's video or nothing. 

That means you'll need to have a subscription to Netflix, HBO Max, Google TV, or Disney Plus. Google also notes it'll work with YouTube, but whatever you watch will have to have Dolby or 5.1 and higher audio. 

Also: The best live TV streaming services 

I know when Apple rolled out Spatial Audio with the AirPods Pro, I watched a lot of fighting clips from The Mandalorian with light sabers, as well as speed racers going across the screen to really get a feel for what Spatial Audio could do.

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