Qualcomm’s new fully wireless in-ear chip makes banded Bluetooth buds obsolete

qualcomm qcc3026 fully wireless headphones bluetooth
Qualcomm

There are now several excellent fully wireless earbuds on the market, but there are several reasons we still prefer and recommend banded Bluetooth in-ear headphone.

For one thing, banded wireless headphones are often much more affordable than their fully wireless counterparts, and for another, they typically offer significantly longer battery life. After all, for most people on the go, five hours of listening time between charges — the best currently available on the market — is simply not enough.

That’s all about to change.

Today, Qualcomm announced its new QCC3026 headphone chip, a flash-programmable Bluetooth Audio System-on-Chip (SoC) that was purpose-built to take fully wireless headphones to the next level. With it, manufacturers will be able to offer up to 50 percent reduced power consumption and increased functionality, finally bringing the battery life of fully wireless in-ears to banded wireless levels. Plus, the chip will be more affordable than its predecessors, which means that we may begin to see fully wireless headphones at much lower prices.

Put simply, if you took a set of last-gen fully wireless headphones and put this new chip in them, they would have double the battery life, taking the paltry listening times we have seen in the fully wireless space to newer — and significantly more usable — levels.

qualcomm qcc3026 fully wireless headphones anthony murray headshot
Anthony Murray, Qualcomm’s senior vice president of voice and music Qualcomm

“[A battery increase like this] is pretty unheard of,”  said Anthony Murray, Qualcomm’s senior vice president of voice and music, in an interview with Digital Trends. “Normally with generational steps, you may have a five to ten percent savings, but it’s really a radical reduction.”

In addition to the massive battery savings, the new chip will offer manufacturers dedicated components for active noise cancellation and hearing augmentation, meaning that augmented reality applications will be much more realistic without huge sacrifices to listening time. The QCC3026 is also faster than previous chips, which will allow for more efficient processing of heart rate and step sensors, as well as increased digital signal processing capabilities for better sound.

They’ve also made it much easier to use voice assistants hands-free.

“Normally with generational steps, you may have a five to ten percent savings, but it’s really a radical reduction.”

“Another key block we decided to add is based on the whole emergence of products like Amazon Echo and the Google Home product — these smart assistants,” says Murray, “On the current generation products you can push a button on a headset and talk to your favorite assistant, but this new chip has what we call ‘always-on voice’. That means if you want to initiate a session with the cloud assistant you don’t need to push a button, you just say, ‘Alexa’ or ‘OK Google’ or whatever your assistant is.”

The company hopes that increased processing power will also allow for various machine learning techniques  — whether that’s allowing the headphones to help hearing impaired people focus in on one particular voice in a crowd, or to customize sound profiles based on an individual’s specific hearing.

The announcement of this better, more affordable chip comes with some other very interesting news: Cell phone maker Oppo has announced it will offer a set of fully wireless headphones using the QCC3026 chip with its new Find X smartphone, providing buyers with a fully wireless listening option right out of the box.

oppo find x hands on back top half

“Because of all the optimizations we’ve made with the new QCC 3026, they are able to get all the superior audio performance, benefit from the significant power reductions,” said Murray, “This actually allows them to consider bundling [fully wireless headphones] with the phone — which historically hasn’t happened with phone makers.”

Whether or not other premium phone manufacturers — especially those making jackless phones — will follow Oppo’s lead and bundle headphones in-box, the technological leap being offered by Qualcomm’s new chip should mean many more exciting products will hit the market in the next two years.

Come 2020, consumers may have no reason to purchase a set of banded wireless in-ears apart from nostalgia.

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