Not all Blue­tooth is equal

Blue­tooth au­dio is con­ve­nient, fuss­fuss-free, and easy. But not all Blue­tooth de­vices are equal. Here’s Blue­tooth au­dio dio in a nut­shell.

HWM (Malaysia) - - LEARN - By Kenny Yeo

Early Blue­tooth wire­less au­dio de­vices sounded sig­nif­i­cantly worse than their wired coun­ter­parts, and the rea­son why is be­cause mu­sic data has to be com­pressed be­fore it can be trans­mit­ted wire­lessly. This is nec­es­sary be­cause trans­mit­ting lots of data can put a se­ri­ous drain on bat­ter­ies; less data means less power drain. So, the way mu­sic data is trans­mit­ted and there­fore how it sounds, is de­pen­dent on the codec used for trans­mis­sion.


SBC stands for 'Low Com­plex­ity Sub­band Cod­ing' and, it is the de­fault codec for all Blue­tooth au­dio de­vices. It wasn’t de­signed for mu­sic lis­ten­ing or au­dio fi­delity. In­stead, it was de­signed so that au­dio can be trans­mit­ted us­ing the least power pos­si­ble. As a re­sult, lis­ten­ers with keen ears will hear a dis­tinct drop in au­dio qual­ity. Worse still for dis­cern­ing users is that there are many lev­els of SBC, and users can­not eas­ily tell which par­tic­u­lar level of SBC is ac­tu­ally be­ing used by the de­vices for stream­ing. At best, SBC streams au­dio data at a bi­trate of around 328kbps – com­pa­ra­ble to the high­est qual­ity MP3 files.


Mov­ing up from SBC, we have aptX, which is a codec de­vel­oped by a com­pany called CSR and ac­quired by Qual­comm in 2015. Un­like SBC, aptX’s roots are founded in au­dio fi­delity; cre­ated us­ing data gleaned from psy­choa­cous­tic re­search. It aims to de­liver near CD-qual­ity au­dio. And in­deed, some au­dio­philes have re­ported bet­ter stream­ing per­for­mance.

And even though aptX is one of the more pop­u­lar Blue­tooth au­dio codecs, it is not sup­ported by all de­vices. To get aptX-qual­ity Blue­tooth au­dio, both the trans­mit­ting and re­ceiv­ing de­vices must sup­port aptX. iOS users should take note at this point be­cause iOS de­vices do not sup­port aptX.


So how then can an owner of an iOS de­vice get bet­ter qual­ity Blue­tooth au­dio? The an­swer is AAC, an­other codec de­signed specif­i­cally for au­dio use. Like aptX, it re­quires both trans­mit­ting and re­ceiv­ing de­vices to sup­port AAC to work. Au­dio­philes have found AAC to sound com­pa­ra­ble to aptX, but the big­ger is­sue is pop­u­lar­ity of the stan­dard. There are fewer third-party de­vices to­day that sup­port AAC than aptX. This means that own­ers of iOS de­vices must look a bit harder to find an AAC-com­pat­i­ble Blue­tooth de­vice if they want the best Blue­tooth au­dio ex­pe­ri­ence.

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