Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Bluetooth LE Audio

Bluetooth SIG (MacRumors, Hacker News):

As the names suggest, Classic Audio operates on the Bluetooth Classic radio while LE Audio operates on the Bluetooth Low Energy radio.


LE Audio will include a new high-quality, low-power audio codec, the Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3). Providing high quality even at low data rates, LC3 will bring tremendous flexibility to developers, allowing them to make better design tradeoffs between key product attributes such as audio quality and power consumption.


LE Audio will enable the development of Bluetooth hearing aids that bring all the benefits of Bluetooth audio to the growing number of people with hearing loss.


LE Audio will also add Broadcast Audio, enabling an audio source device to broadcast one or more audio streams to an unlimited number of audio sink devices. Broadcast Audio opens significant new opportunities for innovation, including the enablement of a new Bluetooth use case, Audio Sharing.

Andrew Liszewski (via John Gordon):

[One] of the biggest improvements it will include will be a feature called Multi-Stream Audio. Bluetooth is currently limited to streaming audio to just a single device. That’s fine for portable speakers and headphones where both sides are connected with a wire, but for wireless earbuds, such as Apple’s AirPods, your smartphone can actually only connect to one side. That earbud then has to forward the audio stream onto the one in your other ear, which requires some clever software tricks to ensure everything remains in sync.

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Sounds like a slew of great improvements.

Although the Gizmodo article uses AirPods as an example of how earbuds need to forward audio from one earbud to the other, my understanding is that Apple’s proprietary layer makes AirPods one of the only headphones that currently allow the source device to connect directly to each earbud. I’m not sure if this is indeed the case but I’ve seen it mentioned elsewhere.

Also I’m surprised that broadcast audio allows for headphones to connect to more than one source at a time (mentioned in the full Gizmodo article). Sounds great, but from skimming the Bluetooth announcement info, I got the impression that broadcast audio is all about connecting one source to multiple receiving devices, not vice versa, so I wonder if the author got that part of the article right.

I wonder what the UI will be for connecting Bluetooth headphones to publicly broadcast audio streams, like the example mentioned of a TV in an airline lounge. Maybe you’ll need your phone as an intermediary to discover and connect your headphones to the audio.

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