If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this business, it’s that plenty of people will easily sacrifice audio quality for convenience. And this is most evident in the popularity of wireless headphones and how it's easily the fastest growing segment in the headphone industry.
Recently however, there has been an increase in consciousness about the importance of high-resolution and high-quality audio. Music apps like Tidal and even Gaana are coming out with HD quality music that has made it possible for people to experience their music like never before. Which now begs the question, is it possible to have convenience without giving up on audio performance?
Qualcomm seems to think so. They launched the aptX HD this year, bringing 24-bit hi-res audio to wireless music. Which means that your Bluetooth speakers and headphones can potentially sound significantly better.
But what is it exactly? And what devices will work with it?
Let's discuss what the original aptX is first.
It is an audio coding algorithm created in the 1980s, popular with film studios and radio broadcasters. These days, aptX and Bluetooth go hand-in-hand, so you’ll find it on many computers, smartphones, AV receivers, headphones and speakers.
Basically aptX claims to have the ability to transmit music, at a full ‘CD-like’ 16-bit/44.1kHz bandwidth. Keep in mind however, it's ‘CD-like’ and not ‘CD-quality’ because aptX still compresses your music, which helps to reduce delays in audio coding and minimize latency issues. Classic aptX has a compression ratio of 4:1 and a data rate of 352kbps.
AptX HD is essentially an upgraded version of the aptX with the ability to transfer music in superior sound quality.
AptX HD was released to cater to the increasing popularity of hi-resolution audio, and supports sounds at 24-bit/48kHz. Compression remains at a ratio of 4:1, with a bit rate of 576kbps.
Whether sound will be the same as provided by wired hi-res, is still up for debate, but Qualcomm is pretty confident in calling it ‘better-than-CD’ sound quality.
There are certain necessities for using aptX HD. First, you need the right hardware. Specifically, the CSR8675 Bluetooth audio SOC (system on chip).
Not only can it handle end-to-end 24-bit audio, it also comes with greater digital signal processing than its predecessors. Qualcomm ensures a lower signal-to-noise ratio through encoding and decoding, with reduced distortion in the 10-20kHz range.
The necessity for a specific chipset means that you will get aptX HD only if you have the right devices to start with: there is no option for a software upgrade later. Nor is there any scope for any sort of audio ‘upscaling’.
However, in case you get a phone/player with aptX HD, you won't need to worry about them not being compatible with your headphones or speakers with the original aptX. They will work.
AptX HD will work with Android smartphones, tablets and portable media players.
The first manufacturer to get this technology is LG. The upcoming LG G5 will be the first smartphone equipped with this technology. It'll work in tandem with the LG Tone Platinum HBS-1100, the first Bluetooth headset to handle aptX HD.
As of right now, there aren't any other manufacturers of aptX HD-compatible hardware. Qualcomm doesn’t know (or isn’t revealing) what others there may be, as it sees its role more as an enabler of functionality. But, the company has suggested that more products may join on the bandwagon later this year, perhaps by the end of the summer but most likely at IFA 2016 in September.
Although it may be too early to comment on the quality of music, we do hope that wireless headphone brands join hands with smartphone/music player manufacturers to adopt this technology as soon as they can. Convenience and high-res music, what else could one ask for?
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