3 Trends That Will Make Wireless Audio Even Better in 2023

Wireless audio has been around for years. From the early days of Bluetooth stereo to the current state of the art with active noise cancellation (ANC), Bluetooth multipoint, and wireless charging, products and their underlying technologies continue to improve.

Will 2023 continue this momentum with more innovations? Absolutely. Here are three trends that will define wireless audio in the coming 12 months.

Bluetooth LE Audio

Bluetooth SIG

In 2020, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) – the organization responsible for developing and defining Bluetooth as a technology – announced LE Audio. This is a new way to do wireless audio over a Bluetooth link using a Bluetooth Low Energy radio (thus the “LE” in LE Audio) instead of the more power-hungry Bluetooth Classic radio.

Two years later, we’re finally starting to see the first LE Audio-compatible devices hit the scene. When paired with a phone that also supports LE Audio, these headphones, earbuds, and speakers will use a new default Bluetooth codec called LC3. The Bluetooth SIG says the LC3 will offer the same audio quality as the current default SBC, even when using only half the data.

In theory, today’s battery life estimates could double.

When you consider the LC3’s low latency, low complexity, and low memory footprint, it all adds up to wireless audio devices that use much less power to perform the same tasks they’ve always done. In theory, today’s estimated battery life could be doubled, allowing the AirPods Pro, for example, to last up to 12 hours of operation instead of six. That is if Apple decides to support LE Audio – which has yet to be confirmed.

For gamers, lower latency means less delay between the flash they see on screen, and the corresponding bang they hear through their wireless headset – a distinct improvement for games that require fast reflexes. .

Two women listening to wireless headphones.
Bluetooth SIG

But the LE Audio feature that intrigues me the most is Oracast, which will let you broadcast a Bluetooth audio stream to anyone within Bluetooth range of your phone, computer or tablet.

What would you even use it for? Think airport announcements, art gallery and museum tours, real-time translation feeds at conferences, audio feeds from the TV in your gym. All of these can be broadcast, and you’ll be able to select them on your smartphone in the same way you can currently find and connect to a public Wi-Fi access point.

It’s not yet clear which devices will support Auracast, as it’s an optional, not mandatory, LE Audio feature.

Ultra Wide Band (UWB) Audio

A person with an Apple Air Tag.

One thing LE Audio isn’t promising is audio quality beyond what’s currently available through traditional Bluetooth classics. This is because although the LC3 codec is more efficient, it is still limited in how much data it can use. To get a truly high-res audio experience, you need a lot of data — much more than Bluetooth can reliably support.

That’s why all eyes are now on Ultra Wide Band technology, or UWB for short. UWB is designed to send tons of data over very short distances while requiring less than 10% of the power used by Bluetooth. We’re talking across-the-room versus parking lot distances. And it might be the perfect solution for those who want a wireless alternative to the headphone cable that’s (until now) been the only way to get true Hi-Res audio quality (which we define as lossless, 24- bit/96kHz or better).

No manufacturers have so much as hinted at taking advantage of UWB for wireless audio, but a number of tantalizing hints lead us to think that’s about to change soon.

First, when MQA founder Bob Stuart announced the company’s new audio codec, MQair, he indicated that the codec was designed to take advantage of UWB’s high-bandwidth connections. I pressed Stuart on the matter and he refused to give more information, but he clearly knows something we don’t.

Apple AirPods Max.
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Second, Apple has been in an odd situation for a while now: Apple Music was recently upgraded with a catalog of lossless, high-res tracks included with every subscription, but the AirPods Max don’t include those tracks. Does not support them at their full standard, even when using a wired connection. UWB can remedy this.

Third, UWB is already here. Apple has UWB chips in all of its current iPhones and currently uses the technology to control its AirTag location tracking devices as well as the AirPods Pro 2 charging case. Still use UWB.

Apple’s current generation of wireless headphones and earbuds won’t work with UWB audio, but perhaps it would make a lot of sense for Apple to launch a new UWB chip – the U2? – and place it inside the next AirPods Max. Doing so would give Apple end-to-end wireless high-res audio, a feat no other company has yet pulled off.

Better, cheaper hearing aids and hearing enhancements

Sony CRE-C10 OTC hearing aid inside carrying case.
Sandra Stafford/Digital Trends

When the federal government finally released new rules on the sale of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids in 2022, it opened the floodgates to many new competitors — especially audio brands like Sony and Bose. . We are already seeing results. Sony has launched a set of tiny hearing aids for the price you’d normally pay for these devices, and it’s following them up with a Bluetooth-enabled model that looks like traditional earbuds.

This will not only drive the entire industry forward as both new and established players compete for your dollars. It will also damage hearing aids. The more people wear them, the more they will be accepted, which in turn will lead to more innovation and lower prices.

In 2023, people who have a hard time following a conversation in busy environments will have more hearing aid choices than ever before. And thanks to Bluetooth LE Audio (see above), hearing aids are going to be compatible with even more devices. Everything from your phone to your TV can now connect directly to hearing aids, making them far more useful.

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