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We Used Apple Music’s Spatial Audio to Help Us Determine the Song of the Summer

An important question that may or may not have a definitive answer. 

by Daniel McIntosh

It’s a question that plagues music journalists the world over as the late summer doldrums set in. But despite the pangs of the encroaching fall as the evening air turns colder, deep, considered, scientific analysis must be undertaken to determine the one true song of the summer. 

Luckily, Apple Music supplied RANGE with a Spatial Audio briefing, explaining all the best bits and the technical magic behind developing a surround sound system that lives entirely in your AirPods or your HomePod smart speakers. Surely, this heightened technological advantage is just what we need to make the true call for the Song of the Summer (SOTS).

But before we get to the SOTS finalists, a little about how Spatial Audio works. Think of it like the audio at an IMAX movie. The speakers are set up all around you so it pulls you into the action, making you central to the sound. Spatial Audio is similar except it happens in your AirPods. For music lovers and fans, that means you get a new 3D sound into your favourite songs and albums. Every instrument has a place in the collective mix, rather than the full song being sent through a single channel. No longer will bassists need to have their sweet, sweet licks lost between the lows of a bass drum and the high melodies of a guitar or piano. 

That’s music to my ears. Spatial Audio allows fans to receive studio or concert-quality recordings in their headphones, at the gym, at home, or in their car. With Spatial Audio, Apple has made it feel like you’re really in the studio with the artist which goes so much further with the inclusion of the head tracking feature. When listening in AirPods on an iPhone, listeners get the option to turn on head tracking, which pumps Spatial Audio up to the next level.

In an interface similar to setting up a new iPhone, you can use your phone (iPhone X or later) to create an image of your ear and head shape for a Personalized Spatial Audio experience. The effect allows sounds to track your head and creates an immersive symphony-like environment with sound that surrounds you. It puts you right in the centre of the orchestra, concert, or band practice.

Without further ado, the songs of the summer, by one music journalist’s standards, are: 

“Barbie World,” Ice Spice & Nicki Minaj (Made for Spatial Audio)

Barbie The Album is one of the first soundtracks I discovered that was made with Spatial Audio. “Barbie World” in particular stands out in Spatial Audio. Through the AirPod Max, the bass is liable to rip a hole in between our universe and Barbieland. This song earns extra SotS points for sampling a veteran SotS banger and also being tied to a major motion picture. Marketing rules, dude.

SOTS Ranking: 4/5


“K-POP,” Travis Scott, The Weeknd, Bad Bunny

The sound of pop’s future is invariably positioned toward the global South, think amapiano, dancehall, and like the title of this song, K-pop. With three stadium-filling leads in Travis Scott, the Weeknd and Bad Bunny, Spatial Audio takes the levels to new heights. The Weeknd’s angelic tones float around like cherubs, while Travis Scott’s droning takes advantage of the low ends, courtesy of the AirPods head-tracking software. 

SOTS Ranking: 3/5


“Paint the Town Red,” Doja Cat

Racial chat rooms aside, we know Doja Cat can really rap. While “Paint the Town Red” reveals the lyrical miracle she was beyond the maximal brightness of Planet Her and Hot Pink. The horns, coming by way of a Dionne Warwick sample, provide a backing chorus to Doja’s stream of consciousness flow, following the listener with head tracking. This is a song where the Spatial Audio is really embodied. Doja’s drips her satanic panic-inspiring bars directly into listeners’ ears while the drums wrap them up in a cacophonous sound.

SOTS Ranking: 3/5


“Fukumean,” Gunna

This is the song on the list that you’re most likely to hear blaring from a car window in any major city, which makes it an obvious SotS contender. Gunna’s first album following his widely speculated upon fallout with YSL was always rife with controversy, but this banger silenced all the noise with its emphatic chorus. In Spatial Audio, Gunna sounds newly invigorated, rising above the hi-hats and claps on a song that begs for repeat plays. 

SOTS Ranking: 3/5


“Padam Padam,” Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue has been pumping out SotS candidates for a long time so it’s only fitting that a someone with skin in the game earns a spot on this ranking, and this buzzy, thumping dancefloor filler is just the ticket for an injection of heart-racing, head-bopping high-energy electro. The synths shine in Spatial Audio, creating a tense buildup and dance-pop relief that will get stuck in your head long after its three minutes are up.

SOTS Ranking: 4.5/5


Take this ranking with a grain of salt. This summer, songs by fictional artists were also contenders (The Idol soundtrack for example) and you can certainly make a case for someone like Morgan Wallen who’s “Last Night” has now spent 22 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts. Which begs the question: can there even be a true song of the summer? It’s a season that means something different for everyone. For some, that means cruising in a tinted whip, for others it means sweating on a crowded dance floor.

No single song can be everything to everyone, but as long as there’s summer and Spatial Audio, the question will remain the same: what is your song of the summer?