Watch CBS News

11 best spatial audio headphones and earbuds for 2024

Best Spatial Audio Headphones and Earbuds

Of course stereo sound and noise cancellation are important when it comes to wireless listening. But the very best wireless headphones and earbuds also support spatial audio. This tech makes music, sound from TV shows and movies, games and other content sound much more immersive. The audio sounds like it's happening all around you. And with noise cancellation already blocking ambient noise, you'll feel as if you're sitting in the audience of a concert, or in the middle of whatever else you're watching. Even some podcasts and audiobooks take advantage of spatial audio to create a more engaging experience.

Best headphones that support spatial audio

Our team of in-house consumer electronics and audio experts have all dish about the best wireless, noise cancelling headphones and earbuds that support spatial audio. Because they offer larger drivers and longer battery life, some people prefer the more robust listening experience that headphones offer over earbuds.

Best spatial audio headphones overall: Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Bose QuietComfort Ultra

Battery Life: Up to 24 hours | Weight: 0.56 pounds | Driver Size: Not disclosed by Bose | Microphones: 12 | Case: Included | Special Features: Supports Bluetooth 5.3, features superior noice cancellation, customizable sound via Bose Music app 

With the launch of its QuietComfort Ultra headphones, Bose enhanced its already-impressive noise cancellation technology. The model also makes audio more customizable via the Bose Music mobile app.

But another major new feature is the support for spatial audio. 

We also like how the plush ear cups and headband are, making these headphones extremely comfy, even for extended listening sessions. Battery life is up to 24 hours, but there's a quick charge feature, so a 15-minute charge adds up to two hours of listening time with the immersive audio feature turned on. The QuietComfort Ultra headphones work with any Bluetooth-compatible smartphone, tablet, or computer. It will also pair with any of Bose's TV soundbars and allow for a private TV viewing/listening experience.

Why we chose them: Bose's proprietary noise cancellation technology has now been combined with spatial audio support to create a more immersive and lifelike listening experience when it's used to hear audio that was produced to take advantage of this feature.

Best spatial audio headphones from Sony: WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5

Battery Life: Up to 30 hours | Weight: 8.82 ounces | Driver Size: 30mm | Microphones: 8 | Case: Included | Special Features: Supports Bluetooth 5.2, DSEE Extreme support, Hi-Res audio support, Integrated touch sensors for volume control

The WH-1000XM5s are currently Sony's top-of-the-line consumer headphones that offer superior noise cancellation, up to a 30 hour battery life and the ability to generate Hi-Res audio. These headphones also make hands-free calls sound crystal clear.

And while the WH-1000XM5 headphones support spatial audio (which the company calls "360 Reality Audio"), this feature can only be used with a supported streaming music service (such as Amazon Music Unlimited or Tidal); Sony PlayStation games; a "360 Reality Audio Certified Smartphone" (like the Sony Xperia 1 V), or a compatible Sony TV. You also need to use a Sony app to make full use of this feature and to customize your listening experience.

One feature we love about these headphones is their support for DSEE Extreme. This tech upscales compressed digital audio files in real time to restore high-range sounds that would otherwise be lost to compression. These headphones also support multipoint connectivity and Google's Fast Pair feature. 

Why we chose them: These headphones offer superior sound quality and use the company's own noise cancellation technology to eliminate unwanted ambient noise. When supported, the "360 Reality Audio" sounds amazing.

Best spatial audio headphones for Apple users: AirPods Max

Apple AirPods Max

Battery Life: Up to 20 hours | Weight: 13.6 ounces | Driver Size: 40mm | Microphones: 8 | Case: Covers just the ear cups | Special Features: Auto pairs with all Apple devices, Offers spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, Can be located using Apple's Find My service 

If you can get past the hefty price tag, you'll be rewarded with superior audio that takes full advantage of adaptive noise cancellation and spatial audio with dynamic head tracking. This allows for a very impressive and immersive listening experience. 

Whether you use these headphones to hear music streamed from Apple Music, watch TV shows or movies streamed from Apple TV+, listen to podcasts from Apple Podcasts, or play games via Apple Arcade, your audio will be clear and robust. In fact, this is the case with any audio you listen to using these headphones (from virtually any source).

The AirPods Max are relatively lightweight and comfortable. But it's the spatial audio with dynamic head tracking -- when supported -- that makes these headphones truly stand out, especially with movies or TV shows. These headphones also support Apple's Find My feature and will automatically pair with whichever Apple device you're using, such as an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook, or iMac.

Why we chose them: The AirPods Max headphones offer a wide range of features exclusively for Apple users, while providing high-quality audio, excellent noise cancellation and spatial audio that makes what you're listening to sound very lifelike.

Best spatial audio headphones for gaming: SteelSeries Arctis Nova 3

SteelSeries New Arctis Nova 4

Battery Life: Up to 36 hours | Weight: 0.55 pounds | Driver Size: 40mm | Microphones: 1 | Case: Not included | Special Features: AI powered noise cancellation, Easy access onboard controls, Low latency support when used for PC gaming or with a console-based gaming system, Integrated RGB lighting

These relatively low-cost gaming headphones offer impressive noise cancellation, integrated RGB lighting, compatibility with all popular gaming systems (including Windows PCs, Macs, PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, and most smartphones) and 360-degree spatial audio support. The result: Game audio sounds immersive and lifelike. 

One unique feature: "Sonar," which allows you to pinpoint an enemy's location using sound -- before you can see them on the screen. This feature requires a free software download.

You also get a fully retractible, ClearCast Gen 2 boom microphone that takes advantage of bidirectional noise cancelling. And from the headphone's onboard controls, it's easy to adjust the volume, mute the microphone and turn on/off the RGB lighting. 

Why we chose them: These headsets make audio much more immersive for gamers -- as if the action is happening all around them. You get a lot of audio technology packed into headphones that are very affordable.

Best spatial audio headphones for everyday use: Beats Studio Pro

Beats Studio Pro

Battery Life: Up to 40 hours | Weight: 9.17 ounces | Driver Size: 40mm | Microphones: 1 | Case: Included | Special Features: Enhanced drivers (compared to previous models), Integrated active noise cancellation, Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) offers high-fidelity lossless audio via a USB Type-C wired connection, Supports Apple's Find My service

Available in four colors, these headphones typically cost $350, but we've been seeing them on sale for as low as $180 on Amazon. They offer all of the features you could want from headphones, including excellent noise cancellation, high-end sound and the ability to use them wired or wirelessly. You also get up to 40 hours of continuous listening per battery charge, as well as the ability to hear Lossless Audio when the headphones are connected to an audio source via the supplied USB cable.

Another impressive feature of the Beats Studio Pro is their personalized 360-degree spatial audio function that supports Dolby Atmos. The folks at Beats describe this spatial audio listening experience as "like being surrounded by 64 speakers at once."

When used with an Apple device, you get integrated Siri support and automatic pairing, but these headphones work nicely with a Windows PC or Android mobile device as well. They come with a six month subscription to Apple Music.

Why we chose them: Thanks to the combination of features offered and the low price of these headphones when they're on sale, the Beats Studio Pros are versatile headsets that can be used for enjoying any type of audio content. They also do a nice job handling hands-free phone calls.

Best wireless earbuds that support spatial audio

Noise cancelling wireless earbuds that offer spatial audio offer several benefits over headphones. For starters, they're typically water resistant, and in some cases they're waterproof. They're also much easier to transport and are less bulky. And most wireless earbuds these days come with a wireless charging case.

Best spatial audio earbuds overall: Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen)

Battery Life: Up to 6 hours (30 hours using the charging case) | Weight: 0.19 ounces per earbud | Driver Size: 11mm | Microphones: 1 per earbud | Case: Wireless charging case included | Special Features: IP54 dust and water resistant, Wireless charging case, Uses Apple's H3 chip

Ideal for Apple people, the AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) represent the most powerful earbuds in the AirPods lineup. Top selling points are spatial audio with a dynamic head tracking feature, and support of Dolby Atmos. Their noise cancelling technology also works exceptionally well. 

The design of the Apple AirPods Pro 2 is fairly similar to the previous generation, but Apple has introduced touch controls to the stems of the earbuds. You can also now choose between a USB Type-C or Lightning compatible charging case.

Why we chose them: These are powerful, general purpose wireless earbuds that utilize spacial audio with dynamic head tracking to make music and audio from TV shows and movies that support it sound truly amazing.

Best spatial audio earbuds for working out: Jabra Elite 8 Active

Jabra Elite 10

Battery Life: Up to 8 hours (24 hours with case) | Weight: 0.2 ounces per earbud | Driver Size: 6mm | Microphones: 6 | Case: Charging case included | Special Features: Multipoint connectivity with up to 10 devices, Waterproof and very durable 

For anyone who leads an active lifestyle, spends a lot of time at the gym, or who just wants wireless earbuds that offer adaptive hybrid active noise cancellation, Dolby Atmos support and impressive spatial audio, we highly recommend the Jabra Elite 8 Active. What sets these earbuds apart is their durability. 

These earbuds are waterproof and sweat proof (IP68 rated) and take advantage of what the company calls a "SnakeGrip" coating to hold the earbuds firmly in your ears in a way that makes them very comfortable. In fact, after a few minutes, you'll likely forget you're wearing them. A proprietary liquid silicon rubber coating is used on each earbud to hold them stay in place and remain comfortable.

In addition to making audio sound clear and rich, these earbuds do a nice job handling hands-free phone calls. Using the Jabra Sound+ app, you gain a lot of control over your listening experience. And when used with an Android device, they support Fast Pair. Another convenient feature is that with their Siri and Google Assistant support, you can use voice commands to control your audio listening or hands-free phone calls.

Why we chose them: These wireless earbuds are waterproof, sweat resistant and very durable, yet they offer excellent sound quality, with excellent spatial audio and ANC support.

Best budget spatial audio earbuds: Soundcore by Anker Liberty 4

soundcore by Anker Liberty 4

Battery Life: Up to 9 hours (28 hours with charging case) | Weight: 0.12 pounds (earbuds and case) | Driver Size: 9.2mm and 6mm dual dynamic drivers in each earbud | Microphones: 6 | Case: Wireless charging case included | Special Features: Built in heart rate monitor 

Yes, you can snag a pair of noise cancelling wireless earbuds that support spatial audio for less than $80. You'll also enjoy a quality listening experience when these earbuds are paired with your mobile device or computer. 

Like the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen), these are among the few wireless earbuds that offer spatial audio with dynamic head tracking. Using what the company calls HearID, the earbuds analyzes how you hear and what you're listening to and then creates a tailored listening experience.

You also get support for high-res audio (wireless) and an integrated heart rate sensor (something you don't typically find in earbuds).

Why we choose them: These earbuds offer most of the same features as wireless earbuds costing three times as much, plus you get additional features, like the heart rate sensor and dual audio drivers in each earbud.

Best spatial audio earbuds from Bose: QuietComfort Ultra earbuds

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Wireless Noise Cancelling Earbuds

Battery Life: Up to 6 hours (18 hours with charging case) | Weight: 2.72 ounces per earbud | Driver Size: Not disclosed by Bose | Microphones: Not disclosed by Bose | Case: Charging case included | Special Features: IPX4 rated for water resistance, Offers aptX Adaptive support

The most feature-packed and highest-end wireless earbuds offered by Bose right now, the QuietComfort Ultras offer the superior active noise cancellation that the company is known for. But these earbuds also introduce spatial audio support, which is something older models don't feature. 

While these earbuds offer onboard touch controls, you're able to customize your listening experience using the Bose Music app. Instead of just turning active noice cancellation on or off, you can adjust the level of ANC, as well as choose a specialized audio pre-set based on what you're listening to. We love the sound quality from the QuietComfort earbuds. What's missing, however, is wireless charging via the included case.

What you should understand about Bose earbuds is that the company does not disclose too much detail about their technical specifications, like their driver size or microphone setup. This is in part because the company relies on its own proprietary technology -- which is as good, and often better than what the competition offers.

Why we choose them: While providing extreme comfort, these earbuds do a remarkable job generating high-quality and clear audio while making full use of ANC and supporting spatial audio.

Best spatial audio earbuds from Sony: WF-1000XM5

Sony WF-1000XM5

Battery Life: Up to 8 hours (24 hours with case) | Weight: 0.2 ounces per earbud | Driver Size: 8.4mm | Microphones: 6 | Case: Wireless charging case included | Special Features: Quick charge feature, Supports Hi-Res Audio (wireless), DSEE Extreme support

This year's high-end consumer wireless earbuds from Sony are called the WF-1000XM5s, and they offer the best features the company has ever integrated into wireless earbuds. You get exemplary audio quality, combined with Sony's proprietary, AI-based noise cancelling technology that uses its new QN2e HD noise-cancelling processor.

Using Sony's Integrated Processor V2, these earbuds offer multipoint connectivity. Battery life is up to eight hours per charge, but with multiple in-case charges, you can keep these earbuds going for up to 24 hours without needing an external power source. Thanks to the quick-charge feature, just a three-minute charge in the case allows for up to an hour of additional listening time.   

These earbuds can also upscale digital audio in real time to restore high range sound lost in compression. When it comes to hands-free calling, the WF-1000XM5s use bone conduction sensors to help isolate speech from ambient sounds, so you're heard clearly, even in an environment with a lot of ambient noise. 

And when listening to any type of audio, these earbuds support head tracking, so the sound field is continuously adjusted based on your head movement. Like the WH-1000XM5 headphones, the WF-1000XM5 earbuds support Sony's "360 Reality Audio" feature, but only when the audio source is supported by Sony. When you're able to take advantage of this feature, the sound becomes extremely immersive and even more lifelike.

Why we choose them: The WF-1000XM5 offer really good sound quality and top-notch ANC. Spatial audio capabilities are limited, however, only to audio services and devices that Sony supports.

Best spatial audio earbuds for Samsung users: Galaxy Buds2 Pro

Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2

Battery Life: Up to 5 hours (18 hours with charging case) | Weight: 0.19 ounces per earbud | Driver Size: 10mm | Microphones: 6 | Case: Wireless charging case included | Special Features: Rated IPX7 for water resistance, Supports Bluetooth 5.3, Offers 24-bit Hi-Fi audio

At the moment, if you use any Samsung Galaxy smartphone, smartwatch or tablet (or any Android-based mobile device for that matter), the Samsung Galaxy Buds2 Pro wireless earbuds are the ideal audio companions. In addition to active noise cancellation, these earbuds support enhanced 360 Audio with Dolby Atmos and head tracking to generate 24-bit Hi-Fi sound that's wonderfully immersive. These features work particularly well when listening to audio from movies.

When using these with any Android-based device, you can take advantage of Fast Pair, so as you switch between using various devices (like your smartphone, tablet and smartwatch), the earbuds will automatically pair to the device you're using. You can also experience private listening from any Samsung TV. And if the buds get lost, simply use the SmartThings Find app to locate them.

The Buds2 Pro are 15% smaller than the original Buds Pro earbuds and they're lighter too. Yet they offer even better sound and a more robust collection of features.

Why we choose them: These earbuds are the ideal audio companions to Android-based mobile devices, especially Samsung Galaxy smartphones, tablets and smartwatches. They also work with Samsung TVs to provide a private listening experience.

What is spatial audio?

Spatial audio creates a much more immersive, theater-like listening experience that makes it sound like whatever you're hearing is happening all around your head. Music, audio from TV shows and movies, sound from computer and video games, podcasts and audiobooks are all starting to adopt spatial audio to make content more engaging and sound more lifelike. 

If you're listening to a live recording of a concert, spatial audio makes you feel as if you're sitting in the middle of a theater or arena. Likewise, if you're watching an action movie or playing a video game with a fight scene, it would sound like you're in the middle of that battle, with the lifelike fighting happening all around you.

Does spatial audio cost extra in headphones or earbuds?

When you're shopping for wireless headphones or earbuds with an active or adaptive noise cancelling feature, you'll often find the latest models now support spatial audio. This does not typically impact  price. While not all audio supports spatial audio and this feature does not work with hands-free calling, it does create a more compelling listening experience.

Are noise cancelling headphones or earbuds better?

This all depends on what you're using them for and your personal preference. Headphones are not waterproof and are bulkier to wear. The ear cups fit over your ears. Their battery life is considerably longer than wireless earbuds. Plus, headphones use larger drivers to make audio sound more robust. One drawback of headphones is they'll often move around too much if you're engaged in a physical activity, so they're bettered used when you're sitting still or just walking around -- at the office, at home, during your commute, on an airplane, or while casually walking your dog.

Meanwhile, earbuds are smaller, lighter, and often waterproof (or at least water resistant). They fit snuggly inside your ear and often come with a wireless charging case that easily fits in a pocket. Battery life per charge when using earbuds is shorter than with headphones, but with multiple charges within their supplied charging case, you can dramatically extend playtime before needing an external power source. Earbuds are designed to stay firmly in place when you're being active, so they're popular with people who workout or enjoy a more active lifestyle.

Since both headphones or earbuds can be used for hands-free calling, as well as for listening to all types of audio -- including music, audio from TV shows and movies, sound from video or computer games, podcasts and audiobooks -- whether you choose wireless headphones or earbuds that support spatial audio and noise cancellation is a personal choice, but should be based on how and where you plan to use them.

Thanks to all of the cutting-edge technology going into these devices, it can often be tough to notice any significant differences in listening experience between headphones and earbuds.

Related content from CBS Essentials

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.