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The next generation of Bluetooth audio looks good

At CES 2020 the people who run the short range Bluetooth wireless standard unveiled a new version of its audio technology that promises a lot of new features.

The Bluetooth SIG (special interest group) is calling its next generation LE Audio as it is an evolution of Bluetooth Low Energy. Indeed LE Audio uses a new codec called LC3 that promises to improve sound quality while significantly reducing the power requirement. This in turn should enable even smaller wireless earbuds and that sort of thing.

“Extensive listening tests have shown that LC3 will provide improvements in audio quality over the SBC codec included with Classic Audio, even at a 50% lower bit rate,” said Manfred Lutzky, Head of Audio for Communications at Fraunhofer IIS. “Developers will be able to leverage this power savings to create products that can provide longer battery life or, in cases where current battery life is enough, reduce the form factor by using a smaller battery.”

On top of that this new tech comes with multi-stream audio for the first time. “Developers will be able to use the Multi-Stream Audio feature to improve the performance of products like truly wireless earbuds,” said Nick Hunn, CTO of WiFore Consulting and Chair of the Bluetooth SIG Hearing Aid Working Group. “For example, they can provide a better stereo imaging experience, make the use of voice assistant services more seamless, and make switching between multiple audio source devices smoother.”

Similarly another new feature enables multiple BT peripherals to access a singe audio source. This is handy not just as another way of sharing audio content, but also for location based audio that could intrude upon your listening, presumably with permission. The low power aspect also allows better support for hearing aids, which could also benefit from the broadcast feature for things like safety announcements.

“Location based Audio Sharing holds the potential to change the way we experience the world around us,” said Peter Liu of Bose Corporation and member of the Bluetooth SIG Board of Directors. “For example, people will be able to select the audio being broadcast by silent TVs in public venues, and places like theaters and lecture halls will be able to share audio to assist visitors with hearing loss as well as provide audio in multiple languages.”

It seems safe to assume that the Bluetooth chip in devices and peripherals will support this next generation from now on. Assuming it delivers as advertised there’s nothing to dislike about Bluetooth LE Audio. It seems to be a solid evolution of the technology that should improve the digital audio experience for people with nearly all levels of hearing capacity.


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