Home » What is Snapdragon Sound? The Bluetooth audio tech explained

What is Snapdragon Sound? The Bluetooth audio tech explained

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The world of wireless audio can get pretty complicated when you get into all the nasty details. Bluetooth codecBluetooth version, hi-res audio —And what is this thing called latency that some people seem to be obsessed with? But perhaps the biggest question people have when buying new equipment is this: does it work? do you

Qualcomm, the company that owns and creates the vast amount of technology used in Bluetooth audio products, has a unique solution: Snapdragon Sound.

The name (which piggybacks on the Snapdragon processor brand) is a suite of technologies and a proof of compatibility, designed to give you peace of mind when you see them on your phone or wireless earbud set. But what exactly is it? And can you really stop worrying about whether your gear will work the way you want it to? Here’s everything you need to know.

Codec confusion

Before I explain what Snapdragon Sound is, let’s take a quick look at the events that led up to the creation of this brand.

Bluetooth audio codec A great piece of technology, but also a royal pain in the ass. Without an audio codec, you can’t hear anything using Bluetooth. Uncompressed music is too loud to fit in the limited bandwidth of a Bluetooth connection. But there is not just one Bluetooth codec, there are like 14. Most of SBC, AAC, LDAC, etc. are easy to understand. As long as your phone (or computer, tablet) and headphones (or earbuds, speakers) both have the same codec, they will work fine together. If it’s not in both places, it’s like a language that only one device knows how to speak.

However Qualcomm’s aptX codec family, there are now five, and it’s a little hard to wrap your head around. Classic aptX came first, followed by aptX HD, aptX Low Latency (aptX LL), and aptX Adaptive. These days we have aptX Lossless.

Each new aptX codec was intended to improve upon the previous while remaining compatible with devices that only supported older versions. AptX HD brought better sound quality than aptX by supporting higher bit depths and higher bit rates. aptX LL (short for Low Latency) was seen as the solution to the problem of latency (the gap between seeing something on the screen and hearing it). A corresponding bang from the headphones.

However, all three of these early aptX flavors had drawbacks. AptX couldn’t handle hi-res music. AptX HD did not perform very well when wireless interference dropped the data rate below the preset rate of 576 Kbps. Also, aptX LL wastes a bit of antenna. If you are using your phone for Wi-Fi, cellular and Bluetooth at the same time, aptX LL will be unreliable, limiting you to situations where you can connect a dedicated aptX LL USB dongle. on PC or console.

AptX adaptation to the rescue

Headphone box with the aptX Adaptive logo.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

In 2018, Qualcomm felt they had an answer. aptX Adaptive. It is flexible with the ability to operate in both Hi-Res (24-bit, up to 96kHz) and CD-quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) modes. Also very efficient. According to the company, it can offer all the qualities of aptX HD, but with less data and power consumption. Finally, it is highly scalable. This means it can automatically adjust the bitrate to match changing wireless conditions, ensuring you always get the best possible audio quality at any given moment.

Theoretically, it could also offer latency as low as aptX LL (without antenna issues), with some improvements in voice call quality. Fully backwards compatible with all products built to work with flavors. It’s time for a victory lap!

fragmentation frustration

It didn’t take long for phone makers and wireless headphone companies to start integrating aptX Adaptive into their products. But the foundation was beginning to crack. At this point, AptX and aptX HD had been part of the Android operating system for years, leading many to consider Android to be the equivalent of aptX.

But the big difference between aptX Adaptive and traditional aptX/aptX HD is that software alone cannot add it to your phone. It needs a Qualcomm chip to do many things that make it so powerful. Some Android phones, especially those made for budget budgets, don’t use Qualcomm chips and can’t run aptX Adaptive at all.

At least some Samsung, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Asus, Sony, Motorola, ZTE, and many other Android models include aptX Adaptive. However, Google has opted out and refuses to add the technology to any of its products. Pixel smartphoneAlso, Apple has never supported the aptX flavor on their mobile devices.

Still, it should be an easy landscape to navigate. If your phone and your wireless audio product of choice both support aptX Adaptive, what else do you need to know?

Qualcomm has made nearly all aptX Adaptive features optional, in a desire to provide manufacturers with enough flexibility. So if you buy a set of headphones that support aptX Adaptive, you’ll find yourself limited to 24bit/48kHz thinking you’ll get 24bit/96kHz performance. Alternatively, your earbuds may support that level of resolution, but it’s not enabled on your aptX Adaptive-enabled phone.

To make matters worse, it is very difficult to determine what is supported and what is not without looking closely at each product’s specs. Even within the same brand there are differences. For example, Master & Dynamic fully supports 24-bit/96kHz functionality. MW08 Wireless Earbudsbut its latest wireless headphones, MW75, limited to 24/48. Only if you dig deep and read their specs will you know.

Snapdragon Sound—one brand to rule them all?

Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound logo.
Qualcomm

Qualcomm eventually realized that all of this flexibility was beneficial to manufacturers (at least those who licensed their codecs). However, it has created a lot of uncertainty for buyers.

We created the Snapdragon Sound program to solve your problem perfectly. The name strongly suggests that this is another codec or technology, but it is not. Instead, it’s intended to demonstrate that the two products work together reliably and that a certain set of features is guaranteed. When you see “Snapdragon Sound” on your set of earbuds or your smartphone, you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they “just work.”

Well, mostly.

When Snapdragon Sound officially launched in 2021, it promised five key features. All of these have been tested and certified to work by Qualcomm.

  • AptX adaptation at 24-bit/48kHz
  • AptX adaptation at 24-bit/96kHz
  • Low latency mode for gaming
  • AptX Voice (ultra-wideband voice) on calls
  • Qualcomm Bluetooth Fast Link

Since then, however, Qualcomm has expanded its certified and tested feature set. In 2022, Added aptX Losslessis a codec capable of delivering bit-perfect CD-quality audio at 16-bit/44.1 kHz, a first in the world of Bluetooth audio.

And as of November 2022, the company said it Extending Snapdragon Sound, adding head-tracking spatial audio, an enhanced version of aptX Lossless up to 48kHz, and improved latency with back-channel audio for in-game experiences. These new Snapdragon sound features will start appearing on smartphones and wireless headphones in 2023.

Few people complain about getting new features, but Qualcomm distinguishes between those that support basic Snapdragon sound features, those that support aptX Lossless, and those that offer the latest updates, including spatial audio. does not provide a method to do so.

All Snapdragon Sound products, regardless of feature set, will continue to carry the same Snapdragon Sound logo. Qualcomm anticipates that each manufacturer will need to call out specific features that their products support. This, in a way, brings him back to when he was able to decide the aptX Adaptive feature that the manufacturer wanted to support.

Does this mean the Snapdragon Sound label is pointless? No, it’s still worth it.

At a minimum, all Snapdragon Sound products are backward compatible. Even if the earbuds are his previous Snapdragon sound model, but the smartphone is designed for the new Snapdragon sound revision, the earbuds can do everything they were designed for. As such, the label still stands as proof that the product you are about to purchase will work well. If any of these features are out of sync, they will not work.

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