Since Bluetooth came into existence in the late 90s, there have been a host of wireless standards that have followed in its wake. But Bluetooth LE Audio might be the most important, and potentially the most transformative, since the wireless standard’s inception.
LE Audio has been announced as the next generation of Bluetooth wireless audio, adding support for various new features that the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG for short) says could change the way we experience the audio and connect wirelessly to devices.
It’s a lofty statement, but they might be onto something. Bluetooth LE Audio could change the landscape of wireless audio outside the home.
What is Bluetooth LE Audio?
Bluetooth is everywhere, connecting devices all over the world. Many consumer devices in a home support it, from TVs to wireless speakers; laptops and printers. Venture outdoors and cars, smartphones and wireless headphones are just a few of the devices that include it.
Bluetooth is a short-range wireless communication technology that allows two (or more) devices to connect.
Bluetooth LE Audio is short for Bluetooth Low Energy Audio. The Low Energy part has been around for several years and refers to how data is transmitted over a low energy connection with reduced consumption and cost, while maintaining performance similar to the “classic” standard of Bluetooth. .
You’ve probably come across low-power Bluetooth devices in the form of beacons, fitness, and security devices that need to stay on for a long time without consuming a lot of power.
Bluetooth Low Energy Audio achieves the same result but for audio streaming. It consumes less power but intends to deliver higher quality audio with the LC3 audio codec than is possible with SBC (Sub-Band Coding), and aims to do so without using as much bandwidth. no more.
What is the LC3 audio codec?
LE Audio introduces a new audio codec in LC3.
LC3 stands for Low Complexity Communication Codec (hence L-C3) and was introduced in the Bluetooth 5.2 update as a successor to SBC. LC3 support will be mandatory, but manufacturers can still add support for other codecs, such as aptX and LDAC.
What are the benefits of Bluetooth LE Audio?
Head to the Bluetooth Website and there’s a demonstration of the quality that Bluetooth LE Audio brings over the SBC codec. The LC3 codec sounds better than SBC at 248, 192 and 128kbps. Even at 128kbps, the LC3 sounded better than SBC at 248kbps to this writer’s ears.
However, don’t take that leap to take a big leap forward in wireless audio quality. LC3 is not intended to transmit lossless or high resolution audio. SBC is considered the lowest quality Bluetooth audio codec, and LC3 improves on it without using as much power.
The improved performance of the LC3 codec should allow headphones, smartphones, etc. to use less power to transmit audio, which should benefit battery life. This could affect device design, as batteries could potentially be smaller but accumulate the same endurance, leading to smaller, more ergonomic designs.
There is also multi-stream audio, which allows multiple audio streams to be transmitted between a source device and a receiver. This is believed to help produce a better stereo imaging experience, smoother voice command services, and smoother switching between multiple sources.
Are there any downsides to Bluetooth LE Audio?
We mentioned that it doesn’t really tackle lossless or high-resolution audio files in the same way as Qualcomm’s LDAC, LHDC or aptX Lossless, because it’s not designed for that.
Also, the benefits we mentioned regarding ergonomic designs would only really work for devices that only used LC3 audio to transmit audio. Our interpretation is that this would not change anything for devices supporting LDAC, LHDC or aptX.
What impact does Bluetooth LE Audio have on hearing aids?
Bluetooth LE audio debuted in 2013 in response to the development of the Bluetooth Low Energy specification for audio streaming. This is particularly relevant to hearing aids given issues with audio quality, battery life, and their ability to filter out sounds that might distract, and addressing these issues has spurred new audio research. BluetoothLE.
The technology that powers hearing aids dates back to the 1950s and a new specification would help bring them into the modern era. The advantages of using Bluetooth over telecoil technology are that it would help standardize the technology, leading to wider compatibility and availability of Bluetooth hearing aids.
The hearing aids would also be able to receive stereo and mono signals at the same time, particularly useful for those who only have one hearing aid or those who require the use of a pair.
Bluetooth LE Audio also brings Auracast streaming technology which, according to Bluetooth SIG, “will enable an advanced new type of assistive listening system with higher audio quality and greater privacy”, the technology being described as being much easier to deploy and cheaper to integrate than inductive loops (an electromagnetic communication system).
What is Auracast?
In its simplest terms, Auracast allows a source device to broadcast one or more streams to an unlimited number of audio receiver devices (audio receiver referring to a Bluetooth receiver as wireless headphones).
Auracast can transform a TV or other screens in a public space so people can hear what’s being said. For example, instead of the sound being muted on a TV at the gym, people could hear what’s being said over the Bluetooth connection. Other examples include listening to announcements in an airport or assistive devices in a movie theater to allow the hearing impaired to tune in to what is being said.
When is Bluetooth LE Audio launching?
Bluetooth LE Audio has not yet hit the market and therefore there are no products at the time of publication. The first products are expected in the months before the end of the year.
It’s expected that devices will need to support the Bluetooth 5.2 specification to be compatible with Bluetooth LE Audio, which suggests that products that already have it could be updated via firmware to include Bluetooth LE. We will soon find out which devices are compatible with the new wireless standard.