Netflix has recently been in the news for something beyond its plummeting subscriber base or more positive developments like the success of Stranger Things season 4: adding spatial audio to select shows on your platform.
Similar to Spatial Audio tracks on streaming services like Apple Music, Netflix Spatial Audio aims to provide a realistic sense of immersion, which can bring scenes to life when watching shows and movies using headphones like the AirPods Pro or other models. But spatial audio support on Netflix isn’t just limited to headphones; it can be tried with desktop computer speakers, or even just the old speakers built into your laptop or TV.
The service’s full library of spatial audio offerings can be browsed by typing “spatial audio” into the search bar on Netflix’s main screen, and includes shows like Stranger Things, The Witcher, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and more.
Netflix and Sennheiser AMBEO 2 channels
Netflix offers its Spatial Audio offerings using AMBEO 2-Channel, a technology it licenses from Sennheiser that allows sound mixers to adapt Dolby Atmos soundtracks to deliver Spatial Audio over stereo speakers.
The AMBEO 2-Channel process gives you full control over the spatial effect applied to each channel in the soundtrack, allowing dialogue and music tracks to remain untouched. And because the sound mixer can monitor and compare the new version with regular Dolby Atmos, it can be tweaked with “patented granular control of spatialization, ranging from full AMBEO effect to standard stereo mix,” according to Sennheiser’s description of the sound mixer. technology.
Ear comparison with Dolby Atmos
Taking the opportunity to join the rest of the world in watching Stranger Things season 4, I activated episode 1 on my laptop and started watching it with the Audioengine A2+ speakers, the best option on our website. best computer speakers guide, dealing with Netflix’s spatial audio functions.
The sound was surprisingly big for these small desktop speakers, with a fair amount of surround effect coming from the sides and a height dimension that reached well above my computer screen. Impressive!
Switching the test to my Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 home theater system, which consists of Polk Audio Reserve speakers and a Marantz SR6014 A/V receiver, I put the same scenes from Stranger Things in the Netflix app on my Apple TV 4K. To make a comparison between the Spatial Audio version and the regular Dolby Atmos version, I manually switched between a 2-channel and 5.1.2-channel speaker setup in the Marantz receiver’s setup menu.
Once again, I was amazed at how big and realistic the Spatial Audio version sounded coming from just the 2 front speakers. There was no loss of bass or clarity of dialogue, and the sense of a height dimension was strong. When I switched to the Atmos presentation with the surround and overhead effects speakers enabled, I experienced a much better sense of immersion, but the Netflix version held up surprisingly well in comparison.
As a reality check, I watched some footage from Dunkirk, a Netflix movie with a regular 5.1 soundtrack and no spatial audio. The surround sound played on my 5.1.2 channel speaker setup was as good as I had hoped. But when listened to with just the 2 front speakers, the presentation was comparatively flat, lacking none of the immersive qualities I experienced with Netflix Spatial Audio.
Is Netflix’s spatial audio the real deal?
Surprisingly, yes. While Netflix is targeting its Spatial Audio offerings primarily at headphone users watching on a laptop or tablet, it works great on desktop computer speakers as well as regular hi-fi speakers.
Of course, if you have a Dolby Atmos system, you’ll want to set things up to get the full experience and not get it downmixed with Spatial Audio added. But it’s good to know that Netflix Spatial Audio can hold its own on more capable speakers and that the company isn’t touting the format as a silly gimmick.