Bluetooth LE Audio: what are the differences?


Mis à jour le 25 July 2022.

Wireless audio transmission is unavoidable these days, especially when it comes to audio on-the-go. The progressive removal of headphone outputs on smartphones has driven users to purchase Bluetooth IEMs, Bluetooth headphones and, more recently, True Wireless IEMs, which are also connected via Bluetooth.

During CES 2020, the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group) presented the next generation of the famous wireless transmission protocol that is designed to provide serious improvements in audio quality. Called LE Audio, this new Bluetooth standard was meant to gradually replace the old Classic Audio standard in 2021.

Delayed due to the global pandemic, the arrival of the first audio devices to adopt Bluetooth LE Audio should finally occur by the end of 2022, as the specifications of this new standard are now officially defined.

“Today is a proud day for the Bluetooth SIG member community,” says CEO of the Bluetooth SIG Mark Powell. “Our members overcame the many challenges placed on them these past few years to complete the largest specification development project in the history of the Bluetooth SIG. LE Audio extends the boundaries of what’s possible for the wireless audio market.”

Thanks to the personal sharing feature of Bluetooth LE Audio, it will be much easier to share the same music to several party speakers from a single smartphone.

Bluetooth LE Audio: based on Bluetooth Low Energy

As their names suggest, the Classic Audio standard is based on classic Bluetooth radio transmission while the LE Audio standard is based on Bluetooth Low Energy radio. 

In addition to improving the quality of audio transmission over Bluetooth headphones, earphones and speakers, the LE Audio standard introduces new features that allow new, more efficient Bluetooth devices and applications to be developed.

Bluetooth LE Audio: new LC3 codec

LE Audio compatible Bluetooth headphones will provide better sound quality thanks to the LC3 codec.

Bluetooth LE Audio includes a new high-quality audio codec that isn’t processor intensive, therefore requiring little power. By using the best compression techniques developed by Fraunhofer Labs, the Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3) guarantees the best audio transmission quality while using less data. The LC3 codec gives developers greater flexibility, allowing them to make better design decisions with key product features such as audio quality and power consumption.

“Extensive listening tests have shown that LC3 will provide improvements in audio quality over the SBC codec included with Classic Audio, even at a 50% lower bit rate.”

Manfred Lutzky – Head of Audio for Communications at Fraunhofer IIS

Developers will be able to take advantage of these energy savings to create products with an extended battery life or, in cases where the current battery life is sufficient, reduce size by using a smaller battery.

Bluetooth LE Audio: multi-stream transmission

One of LE Audio’s major innovations is the ability to transfer multiple, independent, synchronized audio streams between an audio source device (such as a smartphone) and one or more audio sink devices. Notably, this feature will improve the performance of True Wireless earphones by allowing the smartphone or DAP to send the right or left audio stream directly to the earphone, which is not currently the case. Today’s True Wireless earphones work using a master/slave pattern in which only one of the two earpieces (the master earpiece) is connected to the smartphone and receives the entire stereo audio stream. This earpiece then sends the left and right streams to the earphones, via the wireless connection between the two earpieces. 

Bluetooth LE Audio compatible True Wireless IEMs should provide a more precise and better spatialized sound.

Thanks to LE Audio, acoustic and stereo imaging will be much better with True Wireless IEMs.

Bluetooth LE Audio: hearing aids 

Thanks to its low energy consumption, higher quality audio codec and multi-streaming abilities, the LE Audio standard can be used for hearing aids. It will therefore be possible for the same audio stream to send a corrected sound at different volumes to one of the earpieces so that it is precisely adapted to the hearing loss of the user.

“LE Audio will be one of the most significant advances for users of hearing aids and hearing implants.”

Stefan Zimmer – Secretary General of EHIMA (European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association)

EHIMA’s engineers have contributed their specialist knowledge to help improve the audio experience, especially for those that are hard of hearing. As a result, within a few years most new telephones and televisions will be accessible for users with hearing loss.

Thanks to Bluetooth LE Audio, future wireless TV headphones (such as the Sennheiser RS 2000 pictured here) could easily be adapted to the needs of people with hearing impairments.

Bluetooth LE Audio: Auracast

The LE Audio standard has more than one string to its bow and allows an audio source to broadcast one or more audio streams to an unlimited number of Bluetooth devices. This technology, called Auracast, opens up new opportunities, especially concerning audio sharing. The Bluetooth Auracast audio sharing feature supported by LE Audio can be personal or location-based. 

Auracast technology will make it very easy to share music from one’s smartphone with several users equipped with Bluetooth headphones. It will also be possible to wirelessly stream music to multiple Bluetooth speakers simultaneously.

With personal audio sharing, people will be able to share their Bluetooth audio experience with others around them. For example, it will be possible to share music from a smartphone with friends that have LE Audio Bluetooth earphones or headphones, or to stream music from a smartphone to several Bluetooth speakers at the same time.  

With Bluetooth LE Audio, it will be possible to stream your music directly and simultaneously to several Bluetooth speakers.

With location-based audio sharing, public venues such as airports, sports bars, gyms, cinemas, and conference centers can share Bluetooth audio with multiple people to improve user experience.

Bluetooth LE Audio: compatibility

The LE Audio standard isn’t compatible with the Classic Audio standard of current Bluetooth devices. To enjoy the features offered by Bluetooth LE Audio, the source (smartphone, DAP, computer…) and transmitter (Bluetooth earphones, True Wireless earphones, Bluetooth headphones, Bluetooth speakers…) will both have to be LE Audio compatible. An LE Audio source won’t be able to send sound to a Classic Audio transmitter, and vice versa. Consequently, when making a purchase it is important to check which standards are supported to avoid being disappointed due to incompatibility. Let’s hope that manufacturers start by using Bluetooth controllers that are adapted to both standards in their devices so that users won’t have to change all of their equipment at once…

Eventually, the Bluetooth Classic Audio standard will be replaced by Bluetooth LE Audio. 

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Traductrice et rédactrice avec des goûts très éclectiques en matière de musique et de cinéma. Lorsque je ne suis pas au travail, vous pouvez me retrouver en train de regarder “Lost in Translation” de Sofia Coppola pour la centième fois, ou d’écouter un disque de David Bowie, Kate Bush, Joy Division ou Daft Punk sur ma platine Rega Planar 1. Étant d’origine britannique, je suis également adepte de séries à l’humour absurde comme Monty Python’s Flying Circus et The Mighty Boosh !

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