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Qualcomm promises sub-20-millisecond latency for Bluetooth audio

An example of a Qualcomm S3 Gen 2 Sound Platform-equipped USB-C dongle.

Gamers who are tired of relying on dedicated wireless transmitters to achieve the kind of low-latency audio they need for fast-action gaming will soon have some more flexibility in their choice of gaming headsets. Qualcomm has announced that its S3 Gen 2 sound platform, which was introduced in 2022, can now support sub-20 millisecond (ms) latency on Snapdragon Sound-equipped devices.

In the past, Qualcomm’s aptX Low Latency codec has been able to deliver around 42ms of latency, which was already far better than 100ms to 300ms lag times exhibited by traditional Bluetooth headphones and earbuds. But for gamers looking for absolute immediacy in their gear, even that level of performance wasn’t good enough to forgo wired connections or dedicated transmitters. Sub-20ms latency, however, becomes a literal game-changer — few human beings will be able to tell the difference between this amount of lag and zero lag.

Snapdragon Sound also offers a high-quality, low-latency voice back channel for multiplayer games with real-time chat.

In an ideal world, Qualcomm’s S3 Gen 2 latency performance will work directly between a smartphone and a compatible set of wireless earbuds or headphones. However, for now, the solution is targeted toward USB dongles and adapters for computers. Qualcomm tells Digital Trends that it expects most manufacturers will combine earbuds or headphones with a pre-paired S3 Gen 2 adapter in the box.

In addition to the promised low-latency performance, Qualcomm says this new generation of S3 Gen 2-equipped adapters will be compatible with the full spectrum of Bluetooth 5.4 LE Audio features, including audio sharing and the upcoming Bluetooth Auracast platform, which will let you turn your laptop into a Bluetooth broadcasting station.

If you use a set of compatible wireless earbuds, like the recently announced Denon Perl Pro, you’ll also be able to take advantage of Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless codec, which can deliver bit-perfect CD-quality sound over Bluetooth.

The challenge for folks will be to successfully figure out whether the products they own — or the products they’re considering buying — will enable all of these features. Unfortunately, there are now several generations of Snapdragon Sound technology and all of them bear the same logo. It’s up to the manufacturer to provide detailed specifications for each product, and ultimately it’s up to the buyer to read and understand them.

In this way, Snapdragon Sound has become as challenging a landscape to navigate as the HDMI 2.1 standard, which has many optional capabilities.

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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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