Bluetooth SIG Announces the Next Generation of Bluetooth Audio

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has announced the upcoming release of LE Audio, the next generation of Bluetooth audio. LE Audio is expected to not only enhance Bluetooth audio performance, but also add support for hearing aids and enable Audio Sharing, an entirely new use case that is poised to once again transform the way we experience audio and connect with the world around us.

With close to one billion Bluetooth audio products shipped last year, wireless audio, according to Mark Powell, CEO of the Bluetooth SIG, is the largest Bluetooth market. The launch of LE Audio is a prime example of how the Bluetooth community is driving technology and product innovation and enabling delivery of even better and more capable Bluetooth audio products.

Bluetooth audio will soon support two operation modes. LE Audio will operate on the Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) radio while Classic Audio operates on the Bluetooth Classic radio (BR/EDR). LE Audio will support development of the same audio products and use cases as Classic Audio, while introducing new features to improve their performance as well as enable new ones.

Feature Highlights of Bluetooth LE Audio:
  • Low Complexity Communication Codec (LC3) for Higher Quality and Lower Power - LE Audio will include a new high-quality, low-power audio codec. Providing high quality even at low data rates, LC3 will bring tremendous flexibility to developers, allowing them to make better design trade-offs between key product attributes such as audio quality and power consumption. 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. 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.
  • Multi-Stream Audio for Better Performing Earbuds - Multi-Stream Audio will enable the transmission of multiple, independent, synchronized audio streams between an audio source device, such as a smartphone, and one or more audio sink devices. Developers will be able to use the Multi-Stream Audio feature to improve the performance of products like truly wireless earbuds. 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.
  • Bluetooth Hearing Aids for People with Hearing Loss - Building on its low power, high quality, and multi-stream capabilities, LE Audio adds support for hearing aids. Bluetooth audio has brought significant benefits to a large percentage of the global population, with wireless calling, listening, and watching. 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. Engineers from EHIMA contributed their specialist knowledge to improve the audio experience especially for hard of hearing people. As a result, within a few years most new phones and TVs will be equally accessible to users with hearing loss.
  • Broadcast Audio for Audio Sharing - 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. Bluetooth Audio Sharing can be personal or location-based. With personal Audio Sharing, people will be able to share their Bluetooth audio experience with others around them; for example, sharing music from a smartphone with family and friends. With location-based Audio Sharing, public venues such as airports, bars, gyms, cinemas, and conference centers can now share Bluetooth audio that augments the visitor experience.
Availability

The Bluetooth specifications that define LE Audio are expected to be released throughout the first half of 2020.

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