New year, new Bluetooth: LE Audio adds support for hearing aids and shared listening

Announced at CES 2020, the next generation of Bluetooth audio will allow for high-quality listening at low data rates.

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At CES 2020, Bluetooth SIG announced the next generation of Bluetooth Audio called LE Audio.

The new phase of Bluetooth will add support for hearing aids, introduce audio sharing, multistream audio, broadcast audio, and enable audio on low energy, according to a press release.

SEE: CES 2020: The big trends for business (TechRepublic)

Bluetooth audio will soon operate in two modes. LE Audio will function on Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) radio, while Classic Audio continues operating on the Bluetooth Classic radio (BR/EDR).

LE Audio will cover the same features offered with Classic Audio, but introduce additional features that both improve performance and add functionalities, as stated in the release. 

Top features of LE Audio 

LE Audio is referred to as the "next generation" Bluetooth for a reason. Here are some of the new capabilities it will bring. 

1. Low Complexity Communication Codec (LC3)

LE Audio will enable a new high-quality, low-power audio codec. This means that LC3 will be able to offer high-quality listening experiences even at low data rates, providing more flexibility to developers who have previously had to make trade offs between audio quality and power consumption, according to the release 

"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," said Manfred Lutzky, head of audio for communications at Fraunhofer IIS, in the release. 

"Developers will be able to leverage this power savings to create products that can provide longer battery life or, in cases where current battery life is enough, reduce the form factor by using a smaller battery," Lutzky added.

2. Multistream Audio 

LE Audio will also allow multistream, the transmission of multiple, independent, synchronized audio streams between an audio-enabled device, such as a smartphone, to another audio device, according to the release. 

"Developers will be able to use the Multi-Stream Audio feature to improve the performance of products like truly wireless earbuds," said Nick Hunn, CTO of WiFore Consulting and chair of the Bluetooth SIG Hearing Aid Working Group, in the release. 

"For example, they can provide a better stereo imaging experience, make the use of voice assistant services more seamless, and make switching between multiple audio source devices smoother," Hunn said. 

3. Enhanced hearing aids

Using its high-quality, low-power, multistream features, LE Audio will add support for hearing aids. While Bluetooth has helped a significant number of people wirelessly call, listen, and watch content, LE Audio will help bring that functionality to those with hearing loss, as stated in the release. 

"LE Audio will be one of the most significant advances for users of hearing aids and hearing implants," said Stefan Zimmer, secretary general of the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association, in the release. 

"EHIMA engineers have contributed their specialist knowledge to improve the audio experience especially for hard of hearing people. As a result, within a few years most new phones and TVs will be equally accessible to users with hearing loss," Zimmer said. 

4. Broadcast audio and audio sharing

LE Audio will also feature broadcast audio, which allows an audio device to broadcast one or more audio streams to an unlimited number of other audio source devices. Broadcast audio's most exciting use Bluetooth use case involves audio sharing, according to the release.

Audio sharing can operate on both a personal and location-based basis. Personal audio sharing allows users to share their Bluetooth audio with those around them. For example, one could share the music they are listening to via smartphone with surrounding friends and family. 

The location-based audio sharing allows public venues such as gyms, bars, airports, and conference centers to share Bluetooth audio with large audiences, improving visitor experience, according to the release. 

"Location-based Audio Sharing holds the potential to change the way we experience the world around us," said Peter Liu of the Bose Corporation and a member of the Bluetooth SIG board of directors, in the release. 

"For example, people will be able to select the audio being broadcast by silent TVs in public venues, and places like theaters and lecture halls will be able to share audio to assist visitors with hearing loss as well as provide audio in multiple languages," Liu said. 

For more, check out CES 2020: The trends and tech business pros should care about on TechRepublic.

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