Skip to main content

Lossless Bluetooth audio? Qualcomm says it’s coming in 2022

Qualcomm has revealed its next-generation Bluetooth chips for makers of wireless earbuds and headphones, and the company predicts that 2022 will be the year that we see a whole slew of new innovations like lossless hi-res audio, audio sharing, lower latency, and Bluetooth broadcasting come to our phones and personal audio gear.

The giant mobile chipmaker says that its two new sound platforms, S3 and S5, will be provided to customers like Yamaha, Cambridge Audio, Master & Dynamic, and Audio-Technica — just to name a few — and that we can expect to see the first S3- and S5-based products by the second half of 2022.

These wireless earbuds and headphones will offer features that have never been available before, but there is a catch: The new features enabled via the S3 and S5 chips require a phone or other source device equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound technology. Several mobile companies like Samsung, Motorola, and OnePlus make Snapdragon Sound handsets, but two very big players — Apple and Google — don’t incorporate it. And given Apple’s reluctance to license Qualcomm’s aptX family of Bluetooth codecs, we don’t see that changing any time soon.

So what will the combination of the S3/S5 chips and a Snapdragon Sound device bring us that we don’t already have? Here’s the scoop.

Lossless audio

Apple Music Lossless

Ironically, it’s probably Apple’s addition of lossless audio to its Apple Music streaming service that makes this feature a headliner. At the moment, advanced Bluetooth codecs like Sony’s LDAC and Qualcomm’s own aptX-HD can deliver very high quality wireless audio streams to earbuds and headphones as long as those devices support them and they’re paired to phones or other sources that also support them.

But neither LDAC nor aptX-HD are considered lossless — they both remove some information from the original audio track in order to transmit it over the limited bandwidth of Bluetooth. Qualcomm says its S3/S5/Snapdragon Sound combo will provide lossless, 16-bit CD quality, as well as lossy support for hi-res, 24-bit/96kHz audio tracks. That’s a big step up for wireless audio. In the past, a set of wired earbuds or headphones were the only way to hear true lossless audio. Qualcomm previously announced aptX lossless in 2021.

When the first S3/S5 products arrive, it will be the first time Apple Music subscribers will get to hear those lossless tracks on wireless products, and yet, they’ll need a non-Apple phone to do it.

Lower latency

A person plays Asphalt 9 on the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Bluetooth connections have always involved some latency — the gap in time between when the audio is transmitted and when you actually hear it — but in most day-to-day use, it’s not a problem. Unless, that is, you’re a gamer. In some games, that latency (up to 300 milliseconds) can be long enough that it impairs your ability to react quickly. And as they say, you’re either quick or you’re dead.

Qualcomm says the new sound platforms will drop latency as low as 68 milliseconds, which it claims is 25% faster than its previous generation of products. While 68 milliseconds may not be quite the 5 to 10 milliseconds you can get from a wired connection, it’s at least viable for many gaming applications.

Enhanced sharing

Two girls wearing Happy Plugs Play headphones.
Happy Plugs

Qualcomm’s chips will also enable key features introduced by the new Bluetooth LE Audio standard, including audio sharing and Bluetooth broadcasting. With audio sharing, you’ll be able to set up a private stream, and let a specified number of earbuds or headphones listen to your music simultaneously. Until now, only select Apple phones and H1- or W1-equipped headphones or earbuds could take advantage of this capability, and only with a maximum of two listeners.

With Bluetooth broadcasting, you’ll be able to turn your phone into a miniature Bluetooth radio station. Anyone within Bluetooth range (as long as they have an S3 or S5 set of headphones or earbuds) will be able to tune in to your broadcast.

Another first for wireless earbuds will be the ability to record stereo sound using the mics from both earbuds. At the moment, only one mic is used for acquiring audio for phone calls and recordings.

Better noise cancellation

The S3 and S5 chips will feature Qualcomm’s third-gen active noise cancellation (ANC) technology. The company claims it will do a better job than the previous versions when it comes to both ANC and transparency modes, including the ability to react to changing conditions like wind noise or a poorly fitting earbud or headphone. These features will also consume less power.

Better calls

Finally, the two sound platforms are expected to improve what it’s like to have a phone call with someone who’s using these new products. Qualcomm says your voice will sound more natural thanks to “super wideband” voice quality, and that up to three mics can be used for echo canceling and noise suppression.

Editors' Recommendations

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…
These Fruity Pebbles earbuds are a cereal junkie’s dream come true
Fruity Pebbles-themed JLab Go Air Pop wireless earbuds.

You know what we don't get enough of these days? Headphone companies doing collaborations with sugary breakfast cereal brands. Thankfully that conspicuous absence will soon be filled by JLab and Post, with two special edition sets of Fruity Pebbles-inspired products: The $35 Go Air Pop, and the $30 JBuddies Studio.

These Flintstones-themed devices will be available directly from the JLab website starting on March 7, which is National Cereal Day -- but you knew that already, didn't you? JLab provided no rationale for why it chose to engage with Post Consumer Brands on this partnership, but it's a good bet that the company has been keeping close tabs on Skullcandy -- its closest competitor -- and its recent collaborations with Doritos on earbuds and gaming headsets.

Read more
Apple AirPlay 2 supports 24-bit lossless audio, but you can’t use it
An Apple AirPlay icon hovering above an Apple HomePod speaker.

Apple's wireless platform for audio and video streaming -- AirPlay -- is one of the best ways to play music from an Apple device to a wireless speaker. When at home, on a Wi-Fi network, it outperforms Bluetooth thanks to its wider bandwidth. The conventional wisdom has always been that AirPlay sets a hard limit on audio quality: iPhones and other Apple devices can only transmit lossless CD-quality audio, at 16-bit/44.1kHz, to an AirPlay-enabled speaker, leaving the technology incapable of supporting the higher-res streams now being offered by Apple Music and others.  But it seems that AirPlay can actually do 24-bit audio. Sort of.

The new second-gen HomePod, which Apple released in January, can stream lossless 24-bit/48kHz audio directly from Apple Music, using its own Wi-Fi connection to the internet. This isn't news: Apple added 24-bit lossless playback (via Apple's ALAC codec) to the first-gen HomePod and HomePod mini in 2021, along with Dolby Atmos support.

Read more
OnePlus Buds Pro 2 to support Android’s new spatial audio feature
The OnePlus Buds Pro 2 in black and green.

OnePlus has already let it be known that its next wireless earbuds, the OnePlus Buds Pro 2, are just around the corner. The new buds, as well as the OnePlus 11 smartphone, will officially launch at the OnePlus Cloud 11 event on February 7, 2023. But until now, we've been in the dark on almost all of the details. And while we still don't know key facts like pricing and battery life, OnePlus has announced that the new noise-canceling buds will be among the first to support Android 13's spatial audio feature.

OnePlus says the OnePlus Buds Pro 2 -- the successors to the OnePlus Buds Pro -- will "set a new standard for spatial audio stability and compatibility" when they launch outside China on February 7, 2023. The feature will work with audio that is spatial-ready, like Dolby Atmos Music, but OnePlus is also integrating the ability to up-mix standard two-channel stereo into a virtualized spatial presentation.

Read more