Bluetooth headphones, whether in-ear models like the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2 (our review) or over-ear headphones like the Bose QC 45 (our review) are an integral part of our lives these days. Thanks to the new Bluetooth LE audio standard, wireless audio products will benefit from far-reaching improvements in the future.
Bluetooth LE Audio adopted
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has adopted the new Bluetooth LE Audio standard, finally publishing the full specifications after a long wait. Originally, Bluetooth LE Audio was already introduced during CES 2020 and was supposed to be launched in 2021, but nothing came of it.
However, the first audio products with the new standard should finally come onto the market in the course of 2022. These will benefit from far-reaching improvements, both in terms of sound quality and energy efficiency, as well as completely new functions.
With LC3, for example, you can expect a completely new audio codec, which, compared to the SBC codec included in Classic Audio, is supposed to allow a significantly higher sound quality at low data rates. You can listen to a first comparison between uncompressed sound and the SBC and LC3 codecs directly on the Bluetooth website.
Manfred Lutzky, Head of Audio for Communications at Fraunhofer IIS reveals, “Extensive listening tests have shown that LC3 offers improvements in audio quality over the SBC codec, and even at a bit rate that is 50 percent lower.”
Increase in battery life
Thanks to Low Energy, however, the transmission is also much more power-efficient, which should result in a noticeable improvement in battery life for wireless headphones, speakers or headsets.
Long-running devices like the Creative Outlier Pro (our review) already have up to 60 hours of battery life. In the future, even longer runtimes could be realized thanks to Bluetooth LE Audio. Whether we will then scratch the 100-hour mark here remains to be seen.
On the other hand, Lutzky also assumes that manufacturers – if a higher runtime is not required – could reduce the form factor of Bluetooth headphones or audio devices.
Broadcast audio and multi-stream audio
At the same time, Bluetooth LE Audio also offers many other benefits. Among them, for example, Auracast Broadcast Audio, with which transmitters such as smartphones or notebooks should be able to transmit one or even multiple audio streams to an infinite number of nearby devices.
Multi-stream audio, on the other hand, offers the ability to play music on multiple Bluetooth devices simultaneously on a smartphone, for example. And this is independent of device manufacturers, as well as with a particularly low latency.
In addition, Bluetooth LE Audio opens up product design in entirely new segments. One example is Bluetooth hearing aids or hearing implants, which can benefit from the low power consumption, high sound quality and multi-stream functions. As a result, users with hearing impairments should be able to use most new smartphones and televisions within just a few years.
With the introduction of Bluetooth LE Audio, manufacturers can now set about developing new audio products that use the standard. These are expected to hit the market later in 2022.
Technically, Bluetooth LE-enabled devices are also capable of using the new audio standard thanks to backward compatibility through a firmware update, according to the official FAQ. Whether this will ultimately be offered is up to the discretion of the respective manufacturers.