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Low Energy Bluetooth Will Bring Better Quality With Less Power

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  • Posted on 20th Jul, 2022 10:36 AM
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The Low Energy Bluetooth standard is now official, and it comes with the ability to broadcast audio (by Bluetooth) to multiple devices at one time, which could be a game-changer.

  • Bluetooth LE Audio is now official and may come to devices soon. 
  • It offers higher audio quality and uses less power to do it. 
  • Auracast is a new Bluetooth broadcasting tech that can send audio to many devices simultaneously.

Bluetooth SIG

Bluetooth has been limping along for years, ubiquitous, essential, and yet always promising something better. Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) Audio doesn’t change that, but it does bring some fantastic new features. 

The Bluetooth LE Audio spec is now official, and promises better audio quality and reduced power consumption, which means better battery life. It also adds a new feature called Auracast, which allows for a kind of local broadcasting, which could be a huge boon for accessibility. 

“This is great news for hearing aid users! This new technology allows increased audio quality while simultaneously reducing battery life consumption,” Doctor of Audiology Dr. Amy Sarow told Lifewire via email.

AuraCast

The new Bluetooth LE audio spec is pretty great. As mentioned, it uses a more efficient codec (the algorithm that encodes and decodes audio before sending and after receiving), resulting in a simultaneous boost in both battery life and audio quality. That’s great because it means that future AirPods and other devices can go for longer between charges. It also means that Bluetooth tech can be used more easily in tiny hearing aids and can deliver True Wireless Stereo, or TWS, which is when separate left and right signals are sent directly to each headphone or earbud. 

"These newer codecs can deliver a higher fidelity, near CD-quality listening experience even if not completely lossless. Many of these new Bluetooth codecs support extended bandwidth for music listening, too, reproducing frequencies ranging up to and above 20 kHz,” audio expert Raj Senguttuvan at the Knowles Corporation, an audio technology company, told Lifewire via email. “When paired with a hybrid driver design that incorporates a balanced armature and dynamic driver, consumers enjoy a broad range of sound with rich lows, clear midrange, and precise treble.”

But the really exciting part is Auracast, which changes how we think of Bluetooth streaming audio. 

Auracast is essentially a local broadcast for wireless earbud and hearing aid wearers, and anyone can join. It works a bit like joining a Wi-Fi network. You see a list of available Auracast broadcasts in a list on your phone, and you tap to join. You can also join by scanning a barcode or tapping onto an Auracast box, like tapping to pay in a store. 

This technology is significant because it allows one source to send audio to many devices simultaneously. 

A gym could make an Auracast stream available for the gym’s music playlist without blasting it over speakers. A museum could make the audio for its video exhibits available via Bluetooth instead of requiring you to jam the filthy public headphones over your ears. Or a cinema could send out alternative languages for those that want them. 

“The broadcast audio feature of the new LC3 codec is significant, particularly in the hearing aid world. For example, broadcasting audio from one device to multiple sets of hearing aids,” says Dr. Sarow.

Bluetooth SIG

Wireless Audio Is So Hot Right Now

Wireless audio is only getting more popular. It’s in the speakers around our homes and the speakers we take to the park to impose our musical tastes on others. And it’s not just about Bluetooth. 

Apple’s AirPlay 2, for example, works over Wi-Fi, although the name AirPlay is something of an umbrella term that also covers Bluetooth connections. And Apple may also be working on its own lower-power, higher-quality wireless audio system using the UWB (Ultra-Wideband) radio chips that have been in every iPhone since the iPhone 11. The U1 chip has so far lain mostly dormant, used only to enable a fancy animation when sending files via AirDrop. But it’s in all iPhones, the HomePod mini, and the latest Apple Watches and could be the key to allowing Apple’s devices to achieve lossless audio quality with almost absurdly small power requirements. 

This is definitely a time of change for wireless audio, which is pretty much essential these days. We will almost certainly need new decisions to take full advantage of all the new features, but on the other hand, it’s going to be a while before all of those features are generally available. And it’s not like Bluetooth is particularly bad at the moment. Bluetooth has always moved slowly forward, but it gets there in the end, and the next installment looks pretty good.

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