OnePlus Buds Pro 2's spatial audio compared to AirPods Pro

OnePlus Buds Pro 2’s spatial audio compared to AirPods Pro

THE OnePlus Buds Pro 2 Bluetooth headphones are one of half a dozen gadgets launched by OnePlus during its Cloud 11 event. These headphones aim to enhance your sound experience with a rich and highly customizable audio profile, Google’s Fast Pair support, a high fidelity (Hi-Fi) sound via LDAC and LHDC Bluetooth audio codecs, Dolby Audio and noise cancellation.

Although these features have been essentially carried over – and slightly improved – from the first generation of the OnePlus Buds Pro Launched last year, the Buds Pro 2 are equipped with spatial audio capabilities that help create a realistic and experiential 3D audio space around you. In addition to spatial audio, the headphones also support head tracking to simulate an ambience that changes as you move your head.

Black OnePlus Buds Pro 2 case on a cork coaster and black headphones on a white and gray table top.
Tushar Mehta/Digital Trends

What is spatial audio?

For over a decade, phone and audio brands have marketed a virtual surround sound experience, mimicking a larger 5.1, 7.1 or 7.2 surround sound setup. In other words, it tries to make it seem like there are a lot more channels than just left-right going into your head.

Spatial audio is a more advanced version of virtual surround sound and typically creates a virtual 3D space to simulate the exact immersive experience you would get with a physical surround sound setup. Beyond simply enveloping you in virtual space, spatial audio creates the illusion of sound from multiple audio sources surrounding you in a wider, more realistic radius than archaic virtual surround sound technology.

Spatial Audio on OnePlus Buds Pro 2 – what sets it apart

According to OnePlus, the Buds Pro 2 are the first pair of Bluetooth headphones to support Android 13’s spatial audio feature. With Android 13, Google introduced APIs for developers to integrate spatial audio and head tracking support into their applications. These APIs allow audio-related spatial adjustments to be made early in the audio signal chain to reduce latency. This will allow OnePlus Buds Pro 2 to theoretically be able to spatialize audio in various Android apps – from entertainment apps to short video formats and games.

OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in black with OnePlus 11 next to a laptop and Keychron K2 V2 Bluetooth mechanical keyboard on a white and gray tabletop.
Tushar Mehta/Digital Trends

One Plus too roped up (as paid) Hollywood music producer Hans Zimmer to create a special EQ setting for spatial audio. Zimmer has orchestrated the scores of cult songs such as those from 1994 The Lion King, Interstellar, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, among many others. The background score for dune, which has been praised for its very haunting sound, was also composed by Zimmer. We can expect this expertise to steer the spatial audio on OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in the right direction. OnePlus says the special spatial audio equalization mode, called “Soundscape”, will be available in the coming weeks for the OnePlus Buds 2 Pro and should unlock the doors of a theater-like audio experience on the OnePlus Buds Pro 2.

How the OnePlus Buds Pro 2’s spatial audio compares to the AirPods Pro

OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in black and first-generation AirPods Pro in white on a white and gray tabletop.
Tushar Mehta/Digital Trends

Turn on Spatial Audio for the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 and it starts to sound like the audio is coming from a farther distance. The Spatial Audio sound signature sounds so much more elaborate and nuanced that you’re bound to suspect OnePlus is intentionally downgrading the standard stereo output to get more people to use Spatial Audio. But if you want to take advantage of the improved audio output without dwelling on conspiracy theories, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 are off to a good start.

You can choose between a standard spatial audio setting that just broadens the ambience virtually and another option for head tracking. As you’d expect from the naming, the latter uses your head movements and manipulates the audio to make it seem like it’s fixed in virtual space. To track actual head movements in a physical space, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 use a custom inertial measurement unit or IMU sensor, which combines an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer. In addition, OnePlus claims to refine the signals from this sensor with a dedicated spatial audio algorithm.

Screenshot of OnePlus Buds Pro 2 settings for Spatial Audio
Tushar Mehta/Digital Trends

In fact, the head tracking on the OnePlus Buds 2 Pro is instantaneous and very accurate. The direction of the sound changes suddenly without any noticeable latency.

More alluring than the audio quality, then, is the finesse of spatial audio and head tracking on the OnePlus Buds Pro. Of course, that wouldn’t be the case if the Buds Pro 2 hadn’t been so impressive in terms of audio quality themselves. For a detailed analysis of the headphones sound quality and other features, you can read our OnePlus Buds Pro 2 review.

It is also important to point out that the audio output can vary greatly depending on the quality of the source. OnePlus’ implementation also allows upscaling of standard quality audio content (from apps such as YouTube and TikTok) for spatial audio, but this can sometimes mean that audio may sound distorted or not not come from the front. This is because TikToks are not designed with spatial audio in mind.

However, if you are listening to high quality music, for example, lossless quality on Apple Music or FLAC files on an offline music player app, the results with head tracking can be amazing. Besides application support and the quality of the media file, it will also depend on how the actual composer intended it and whether the track is optimized for multi-channel surround sound.

Apple Music with lossless audio music track playing on OnePlus 11 with OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in black color on green fabric surface.
Tushar Mehta/Digital Trends

Another caveat is that these headphones only take into account head rotation around fixed axes and not forward or backward movement. So if you’re walking with the feature on, you’ll still feel like the audio landscape is moving with you, which belies the lens. On the downside, you could argue that walking isn’t ideal for testing functionality, as you might prefer to sit down and enjoy it. In this case, I want OnePlus to remind you to turn off head tracking or do it automatically for you.

Spatial audio in particular can be an essential addition to movies, TV shows or other video content with intense background music. For example, Netflix supports spatial audio, but you need the 4K subscription plan to enjoy it. Surprisingly, despite the shot, I don’t feel any noticeable change with head tracking. Maybe the Buds Pro 2 don’t support Netflix yet (or vice versa, as Netflix is ​​known to keep a grip on pairing with hardware), but I’m hoping to try it out with immersive movies when the Zimmer’s special EQ mode will arrive via an OTA update. I also hope to see audio from more third-party apps not only supported but also optimized for spatial audio on these headphones.

OnePlus Buds Pro 2 vs. Apple AirPods Pro: Spatial audio and head tracking

OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in black and first-generation AirPods Pro in white on a white and gray tabletop.

To put them to another test of virtue, we pit the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 against the Apple AirPods Pro. While the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 rely on Android 13’s API for standard content scaling, Apple devices with custom chips – basically iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, exception of those with Intel chips – support upscaling of any content to spatial audio.

The transition from normal stereo to spatialized audio using the AirPods Pro is much more subtle compared to these OnePlus headphones. Here you don’t feel like the stereo audio quality is being intentionally removed. However, when head tracking is enabled, the response to physical movements is noticeably slower than OnePlus Buds Pro 2.

Unlike OnePlus headphones, you can actually experience a noticeable lag with the head tracking on the AirPods Pro. Fortunately, the adjustment of audio in response to head movements isn’t sudden and, therefore, doesn’t sound janky. Like everything Apple, this could be an experiential thing where transitions are intentionally slowed down for smoothness. Or it could be because Apple’s Bluetooth audio transmissions are mostly limited to the AAC codec (except for AT THE C in some cases), which is qualitatively worse than LHDC, which the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 support.

In addition, head tracking on Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro is noticeably worse – it’s both laggy and jerky, making you want to keep it off almost always.

why is it important

Witcher Season 2 on Netflix playing on OnePlus 11 with OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in black color on green fabric surface.
the witcher is one of the Netflix shows that supports spatial audio. Tushar Mehta/Digital Trends

Besides the almost instantaneous adjustment to any head movement, another impressive aspect of the spatial audio of the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 is that it is not limited to its own devices, while Apple limits it. Apple devices only. You can use Oppo’s HeyMelody app (Parent company of OnePlus) to adjust and optimize audio, equalization and even spatial audio features on any Android phone or tablet. It helps you free yourself from the walled garden instead of being limited to using only OnePlus (or Oppo) devices.

Ideally, you’d want to try it out with an Android device that’s already running Android 13 so you can enjoy spatial audio on any app — with more being added to the list as developers add support. You can also use the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 with an iOS device, but this combination does not fully support spatial audio.

All in all, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 can be a suitable gateway device if you want to enjoy rich, immersive sound without having to spend too much money or put together an elaborate setup. I would still suggest waiting for Zimmer EQ mode to be added to these headphones to make a final call on its capabilities while watching movies or TV shows.

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