Next-generation Bluetooth LE Audio improves sound quality and battery life, and adds audio sharing

Thanks to the next-generation Bluetooth LE Audio, the latest Bluetooth devices won’t only sound better and last longer, they’ll also be able to easily share audio with other listeners and even receive broadcast transmissions in airports, museums, auditoriums, and more. Unveiled Monday at CES in Las Vegas by the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group), the new set of Bluetooth capabilities should start coming to phones, tablets, headsets, and even public venues within the next 12 to 18 months.

The LE Audio standard boasts the new LC3 (short for Low Complexity Communications) audio codec, which offers a boost in audio quality over SBC (the current default Bluetooth codec) while using the same amount of bandwidth.

Even better, the new LC3 codec is capable of serving up the same audio quality as SBC while using only half the power, which means Bluetooth LE Audio has the potential (depending on how it’s implemented) to wring a lot more battery life out of your Bluetooth audio devices. And yes, Bluetooth LE Audio will still support such optional, higher-quality codecs as Qualcomm’s aptX and aptX HD.

Another important Bluetooth LE Audio feature is its multi-stream capabilities, which for the first time will allow for multiple audio streams between Bluetooth audio devices.

Bluetooth multi-stream audio should pay dividends when it comes to truly wireless earbuds, allowing for phones, tablets, and other Bluetooth audio sources to connect directly to each earbud, which should make for better audio synchronization and stereo imaging. Currently, Bluetooth devices can only connect directly to a single earbud, which in turn connects to the second earbud, a less efficient process that can lead to a loss of synchronization and “wandering” audio elements in a stereo sound image.

Multi-stream Bluetooth audio will also make it easier for a single Bluetooth headset to connect simultaneously to, say, a phone and a PC, while also letting you wake up Alexa, Google Assistant, or another digital assistant without interrupting the audio stream.

Bluetooth SIG officials seem especially bullish about Bluetooth LE Audio’s personal and location-based broadcast capabilities, which could lead to some fascinating applications when it comes to public venues like airports and concert halls.

On a smaller scale, Bluetooth Audio Sharing lets you share what you’re listening to with other nearby Bluetooth users. While plenty of headset manufacturers have already come up with their own solutions for sharing Bluetooth audio with nearby friends, the arrival of LE Audio will mark the first time that Bluetooth has natively supported audio sharing.