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Bluetooth LE: a new standard that could enable smaller true wireless headphones

By Kenny Yeo - on 13 Jan 2020, 11:06am

Bluetooth LE: a new standard that could enable smaller true wireless headphones

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has just announced a new Bluetooth standard called Bluetooth LE.

LE stands for Low Energy has it brings about several important improvements to wireless streaming that could have a profound impact on wireless headphones.

At its heart is a new codec called Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3). It provides better quality audio but at just half the data rates.

The Bluetooth SIG says that in its tests, it found that most listeners prefer the new LC3 codec over the SBC codec especially at lower bit rates. See the graph below.

(Image source: Bluetooth SIG)

Better audio quality aside, the reduction in data rates means longer battery lives for headphones. Or, manufacturers could opt to reduce battery sizes and make smaller headphones but still keep battery life more or less same.

Other improvements include multi-stream. This means true wireless headphones will get independent signals from the source device. This is fundamentally different from most true wireless headphones today which operate in a master/slave configuration where one headphone receives the audio signal and then relays it to the next.

Multi-stream will also enable a single source device to broadcast to multiple devices. This makes audio sharing much easier.

Unfortunately, Bluetooth LE will require new hardware so it's going to take awhile before the first devices supporting it will appear.

The Bluetooth SIG says "Bluetooth specifications that define LE Audio are expected to be released throughout the first half of 2020," which likely means the very first Bluetooth LE sources and headphones will only appear toward the end of the year.

Source: Bluetooth SIG, The Verge