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Spatial audio of OnePlus Buds Pro 2 compared to AirPods Pro

The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 Bluetooth earphones are among the six OnePlus gadgets launched at the Cloud 11 event. These earbuds aim to elevate your audio experience with a rich and highly customizable audio profile, Fast Pair support by Google, and Hi-Res Audio ( Hi-Fi) with LDAC and LHDC Bluetooth audio codecs, Dolby Audio, and noise cancellation.

While these features have essentially been carried over – and slightly improved – over the course of the first-generation OnePlus Buds Pro launched last year, the Buds Pro 2 are equipped with spatial audio capabilities that help create a realistic and experiential 3D acoustic space around you. Besides spatial audio, the earphones also support head tracking to simulate the atmosphere that changes as you move your head.

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

What is spatial sound?

For more than a decade, phone and audio brands have marketed a virtual surround sound experience, simulating a more comprehensive setup of 5.1, 7.1, or 7.2 channel surround sound. In other words, it’s trying to make it seem like there are many more channels than just popping left and right in your head.

Spatial audio is a more advanced version of virtual surround sound and typically creates a 3D virtual space to simulate the exact immersive experience you would get with a physical surround sound setup. Far from simply surrounding you in a virtual space, spatial audio creates the illusion of sound coming from multiple audio sources surrounding you in a wider radius – and more realistic – than legacy virtual surround 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 has provided APIs for developers to integrate spatial audio and head tracking support into their apps. These APIs allow spatial audio-related adjustments to be made earlier in the audio signal chain to reduce latency. This would allow the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 to theoretically be able to customize the sound in many 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 table top.
Tushar Mehta / Digital Trends

OnePlus too screwed in (as paid) Hollywood music producer Hans Zimmer to create a special EQ setup for spatial audio. Zimmer has orchestrated the scores for cult favorites as 1994 the king lionAnd Interstellar, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, among many others. The back result of Dune, which has been praised for its very picturesque sound, was also composed by Zimmer. One can expect this expertise to point the spatial audio on the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in the right direction. OnePlus says a special audio EQ mode, called “Soundscape,” will be available in the coming weeks for the OnePlus Buds 2 Pro and can be expected to open the floodgates for a theatre-like audio experience on the OnePlus Buds Pro 2.

How the spatial audio of the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 compares to the AirPods Pro

OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in Black and AirPods Pro 1st generation in White on a white and gray table top.
Tushar Mehta / Digital Trends

Turn on the OnePlus Buds Pro 2’s spatial audio and the sound will sound like it’s coming from a distance. The spatial sound signature feels so much more detailed and precise that you’d have to suspect OnePlus is intentionally thwarting the standard stereo output to get more people into using spatial sound. But if you want to enjoy improved audio output without delving into conspiracy theories, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 are off to a great start.

You can choose between a standard spatial audio setting that simply expands the ambience almost to another head-tracking option. As you’d expect from the naming, the latter uses your head movements and manipulates the sound to appear as if it’s static in virtual space. To track actual head movements in physical space, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 uses a dedicated inertial measurement unit, or IMU sensor, which combines an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer. Additionally, OnePlus claims to improve the signals from this sensor using a custom spatial audio algorithm.

Screenshot of OnePlus Buds Pro 2 spatial audio settings
Tushar Mehta / Digital Trends

In fact, the head tracking on the OnePlus Buds 2 Pro is very instant and accurate. The direction of the sound changes at once without any perceptible delay.

Thus, the spatial audio and head tracking are more appealing than the OnePlus Buds Pro’s audio quality. Of course, this wouldn’t be the case if the Buds Pro 2 weren’t so impressive in terms of sound quality themselves. For a detailed breakdown of the earbuds’ sound quality and other features, you can read our full review OnePlus Buds Pro 2 review.

It is also important to note that the audio output may vary greatly with the quality of the source. The OnePlus app also allows for higher quality audio content (from apps like YouTube and TikTok) to be upscaled for spatial audio, but this can sometimes mean that audio can sound distorted or appear to not be coming from the front. This is because TikToks are not designed with spatial audio in mind.

However, if you’re listening to higher quality music—say, lossless quality on Apple Music or FLAC files on an offline music player app—the results with head tracking can be amazing. Besides the support offered by the application and the quality of the media file, this will also depend on how the composer intended the sound to sound and whether the track is optimized for multichannel surround sound.

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

Another caveat is that these earbuds are only responsible for rotating the head around fixed axes and not for forward or backward movement. So if you’re walking with the feature on, you’ll still feel the soundscape move with you, which defeats the point. In contrast, one might argue that walking is not ideal for feature testing as you may prefer to sit and enjoy it. In this case, I wish OnePlus would either remind you to turn off head tracking or do it automatically for you.

Spatial audio can be an especially vital addition to movies, TV shows, or other video content that has intense background tones. For example, Netflix supports spatial audio, but you need a 4K subscription plan to enjoy it. Surprisingly, despite the plan being there, I don’t feel any noticeable change in head tracking. The Buds Pro 2 may not yet support Netflix (or vice versa, since Netflix has been known to keep a tight grip on its hardware connection), but I’m hoping to give it a try with immersive movies when Zimmer’s EQ mode comes via an OTA update. I also hope to see audio from more third-party apps not only supported, but optimized for spatial audio on these earphones.

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

OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in Black and AirPods Pro 1st generation in White on a white and gray table top.

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 relies on the Android 13 API for standard content upscaling, Apple devices with custom chips — primarily iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks except those with Intel chips — support upscaling any content to spatial audio.

Going from normal stereo to spatial sound with AirPods Pro is more subtle compared to these OnePlus earphones. Here you don’t feel like the stereo sound quality is being intentionally suppressed. However, when head tracking is turned on, the response to physical movements is noticeably slower than the OnePlus Buds Pro 2.

Unlike the OnePlus Earbuds, you can actually feel an unforgettable delay with head tracking on the AirPods Pro. Fortunately, the tuning of the voice in response to head movements is not surprising, and therefore does not sound strange. Like everything Apple, this may be an experimental thing where transitions are intentionally slowed down for smoothness. Or it could be due to the fact that Apple’s Bluetooth audio transmissions are mostly limited to the AAC codec (except ALAC in some cases), which is qualitatively poorer than LHDC, which the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 supports.

On top of that, head tracking on the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro is exponentially worse — it’s lagging and clunky, which almost always makes you want to turn it off.

why does it matter

The Witcher Season 2 on Netflix playing on OnePlus 11 alongside OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in black over a green canvas surface.
the magician is a Netflix show that supports spatial audio. Tushar Mehta / Digital Trends

Besides the almost instantaneous adjustment of any head movement, another impressive aspect of the OnePlus Buds Pro 2’s spatial audio is that it’s not just limited to its own devices — while Apple limits it to only Apple devices. You can use Oppo’s HeyMelody app (OnePlus’ parent company) to fine-tune and enhance the sound, EQ, and even spatial audio features on any Android phone or tablet. This helps you break free from the walled garden rather than limiting yourself to only OnePlus (or Oppo) devices.

Ideally, you might want to try it out with an Android device already running Android 13 to be able to enjoy spatial audio on any app — with more to be added to the list as developers add support. You can also use the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 with an iOS device but this set lacks spatial audio support entirely.

Overall, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 could be a suitable gateway device if you want to experience rich, immersive sound without the hassle of spending a lot of money or assembling an elaborate setup. I still suggest waiting until a Zimmer EQ mode is added to these earbuds to make a final call about their capabilities while watching movies or TV shows.

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