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Get ready for a new generation of wireless headphones: Bluetooth LE Audio is now a done deal

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) — the entity tasked with evolving the Bluetooth wireless standard over time — has announced that it has completed its work on the new LE Audio specification, which officially opens the doors to a new wave of wireless headphones, earbuds, speakers, and hearing aids that work with the new standard.

Bluetooth LE Audio is fully backward-compatible with older Bluetooth versions, so you don’t need to worry about buying a new set of earbuds or headphones only to discover that they don’t work with your phone or computer. But it does add several new capabilities like Auracast (a broadcast-style audio sharing feature) and the LC3 codec, which promises better audio quality while reducing latency and extending battery life. To enjoy these additional features, both the transmitting device (like your phone) and the receiving device (headphones, earbuds, etc.) will need to support them.

Bluetooth LE Audio diagram.
Bluetooth SIG

“LE Audio extends the boundaries of what’s possible for the wireless audio market,” said Mark Powell, CEO of the Bluetooth SIG, “including the introduction of Auracast broadcast audio, a new Bluetooth capability that promises to deliver life-changing audio experiences to consumers, bringing friends and family closer together and making public locations more accessible and enjoyable for all.”

So far, no companies have announced devices that support any or all LE Audio features, but that’s expected to change in the coming months, according to the Bluetooth SIG. It anticipates that LE Audio product availability will begin to accelerate as the 2022 holiday season approaches.

Like the HDMI 2.1 standard for TVs and video products, the LE Audio specification does not require that all LE Audio-certified devices support all LE Audio features. So when these products do begin to emerge, buyers will have to pay particular attention to the fine print. It’s possible, for instance, for a set of headphones to support the LC3 codec without supporting Auracast, which could be a problem if you had assumed that the promise of “LE Audio” in the item description meant that Auracast was automatically included.

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Simon Cohen
Contributing Editor, A/V
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like…
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