Phones, headphones, computers, and your TV, are all likely Bluetooth compatible. This valuable technology enables us to stream music to a wireless speaker, use earbuds for hands-free calling, and sync fitness trackers to our cell phones. For years, we’ve been in awe of Bluetooth technology, but now we are stoked to learn a new version will improve our user experience.
Out with the old – Bluetooth Classic
We’ve known this technology for years as Bluetooth Classic. It’s single stream technology, meaning it only connects to one device at a time. Although seemingly magical at times, it only takes one pesky device to cause a mix up! For example, how many times when streaming to a wireless speaker has your favorite playlist been interrupted by someone walking into the same room watching TikTok videos? Or is it a regular occurrence on family road trips when your car’s Bluetooth suddenly starts playing a passenger’s podcast during your audiobook hour?
Or consider this: you want to share media using two (or more) sets of headphones— so you and a friend can watch the same movie, for example — but current Bluetooth technology only allows one connection at a time. (Of course, there may be times when sharing headphones could be a great way to get closer to your special someone, just like when you share a dessert. So, in those cases, you might want to keep the new Bluetooth technology to yourself!)
A better approach – Low Energy (LE) Audio
Think of a Bluetooth Classic connection as a single physical cable with two ends; each plugged into a device. This outdated technology doesn’t allow functionality to share audio from one source to multiple Bluetooth connected sources. But fret no more! The new 5.2 version of Bluetooth with Low Energy (LE) Audio, removes this roadblock with “multi-stream” technology. Multi-stream technology allows an unlimited number of devices in a common area to connect simultaneously using one source. The result – the ability to stream music to as many people on multiple wireless devices as one likes!
Imagine going to a museum and instead of receiving a headphone box to use for a self-guided tour, you simply tune into the museum’s audio stream from your own wireless headphones or hearing aid(s). Or if you are attending a business meeting where the presentation is being streamed in multiple languages, you can choose the language channel that is most comfortable for you. Likewise, if you frequent establishments where multiple TVs are displayed, you can tune into the monitor of your choice without disturbing anyone nearby.
Eliminate background noise with Assistive Listening Systems
LE Audio technology improves Assistive Listening Systems (ALSs), also called Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs). These devices improve “speech to noise” ratio. They bring sound directly into the ear and separate background noise. These devices improve the hearing ability of people in noisy situations such as conferences or concerts. While current ALSs provide tremendous benefit to people with hearing loss, they suffer from a number of challenges. Those challenges include audio quality, cost, spill-over, and privacy issues. Bluetooth Audio Sharing enables an advanced new type of ALS with higher audio quality and greater privacy.
Bluetooth compatible hearing aids
For hearing aid users, LE Audio is a win! Bluetooth Classic didn’t properly support hearing aids for a variety of reasons including high power consumption, latency issues, and a lack of binaural listening.
In Akoio’s recent blog, “There’s a hearing app for that…” they discuss this in more detail. But thanks to LE audio, hearing aid users can expect the same features as current Bluetooth headphones and earbuds, including wireless calling, streaming, and noise cancellation. Also, few hearing aids have seamless connectivity with a phone app, unless the app is created by the manufacturer of the hearing aid. In the future, a single app can work with many Bluetooth LE devices from multiple manufacturers giving the user more choices and a better experience.
Better sound quality with LC3
One more technology feature to learn is LC3 (Low Complexity Communication Codec), a new standardized audio codec built within the new LE Audio. This technology produces better sound quality than Bluetooth Classic, and it extends instrument battery life.
I think we can all agree that it’s an exciting time for audio streaming! Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait. The first hardware components supporting LE Audio reached developers in late 2020. This suggests that the first consumer products are launching any day now. Support for Broadcast Audio may not appear in public spaces until 2022.
About the author: Zac Covan has worked many roles in the tech sector ranging from R&D at a 3D printing company, manager of a QA Engineering team, and as a Product Manager at a top tier digital agency. He worked at some of the top recording studios in NYC, and has a Bachelor of Science in Recording Engineering from Full Sail University. Zac also spent time working for Apple on their Accessibility team.
At Akoio, we hope to keep our audience informed about all things hearing wellness related. After all, how can you #conquerlife, if you don’t know what’s available to make your hearing experience the best it can be? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to stay informed on #hearingwellness.