Bluetooth technology has evolved dramatically over the last two decades, with numerous iterations and upgrades. The emergence of Bluetooth LE Audio, which has recently made its presence felt in the realm of consumer audio, is a particularly noteworthy advancement.
While Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) was introduced in 2011, it is still an important component of wireless communication. When compared to its conventional counterpart, LE technology allows for data transmission with significantly lower energy consumption. Bluetooth LE Audio operates on the same principle, providing a solution that allows audio to be streamed wirelessly between devices while minimising battery drain. This improvement in energy efficiency translates into longer usage times for compatible devices.
Bluetooth LE Audio, on the other hand, provides more than just improved energy conservation. It adds a number of new features and benefits to the wireless technology landscape, making it an exciting addition to the landscape.
Bluetooth LE Audio, as previously stated, is intended for efficient wireless audio transmission between devices. This transmission typically occurs between a smartphone and devices such as wireless speakers or headphones. The technology was introduced in 2020, and its specifications were officially confirmed in July 2022 by Bluetooth SIG, the organisation in charge of Bluetooth standards. This was dubbed the “largest specification project” in Bluetooth SIG history.
While Bluetooth LE is the foundation of Bluetooth LE Audio, the latter is tailored specifically for audio applications. This makes it ideal for streaming music from a source device to an audio output that supports it.
Bluetooth LE Audio introduces a new audio codec called LC3 (Low Complexity Communication Codec), which establishes the standard for sending audio signals over Bluetooth LE. This codec has several advantages that set it apart from its predecessors.
Unlike traditional Bluetooth versions, which use the SBC (Subband Coding) codec, Bluetooth LE Audio uses the LC3 codec, which provides superior audio quality. While SBC can compress a 1.5 Mbps audio stream to 345 Kbps, Bluetooth LE Audio’s LC3 codec can compress it even further to 160 Kbps. Despite the lower bitrate, listening tests have shown that audio transmitted using LE Audio sounds better than audio transmitted using the standard Bluetooth codec.
The energy efficiency of Bluetooth LE Audio results in longer battery life for both the audio source and the connected device. Furthermore, when compared to the traditional SBC codec, the technology significantly reduces audio latency. While SBC has a latency of 170 to 270 ms, Bluetooth LE Audio has a latency of only 20 to 30 ms. This near-instantaneous audio transmission improves the overall audio experience by reducing lip-sync issues and catering to the needs of competitive gamers seeking low-latency audio.
Unlike other audio solutions, such as Qualcomm’s aptX, which require manufacturers to pay licencing fees, Bluetooth LE Audio does not. This cost-cutting feature enables manufacturers to incorporate LE Audio into their products without incurring additional costs. As a result, devices equipped with LE Audio can offer lower prices than those equipped with licenced solutions.
Bluetooth LE Audio adds the ability to have multiple synchronised data streams. This enables true wireless stereo (TWS) experiences, in which both wireless earbuds can connect to a source device at the same time. This connection improves dependability and eliminates synchronisation issues between the left and right earbuds. Furthermore, LE Audio allows multiple audio devices to be connected to a single source at the same time, allowing for seamless switching between devices such as wireless headphones and speakers.
Bluetooth LE Audio includes Periodic Advertising Enhancement, which improves audio quality over long distances. This improvement reduces the need for data retransmission, preserving battery life and mitigating issues like skipping, cutouts, and disconnections.
Bluetooth LE Audio devices must support Bluetooth version 5.2 or higher in order to function. However, not all Bluetooth 5.2 or higher devices are guaranteed to support LE Audio; some may still use traditional Bluetooth audio. Even modern devices with modern Bluetooth chipsets, such as the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Apple AirPods Pro 2, may lack LE Audio support. To fully utilise LE Audio’s capabilities, both the source device and the audio output must support it.