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Bluetooth audio just got a lot better with Android O [Diving into Android O]

Android O offers a number of high-quality Bluetooth audio codec options that should help to move us towards headphone jack quality.

Published onMarch 21, 2017

Be sure to check out our Diving into Android O series for more coverage!

The Android O Developer Preview was just made available this morning, and there are a ton of new features to dig through. From better battery life to adaptive icons, Google is stocking its newest version with new settings and features that will have enthusiasts incredibly excited. And while some hardware manufacturers are beginning to remove the headphone jack from their devices to make space for… courage, the newest edition of Android is giving devices even better Bluetooth audio with support for advanced codecs like LDAC, and the AAudio API.

If you weren’t aware, LDAC is a codec created by Sony which can transfer up to 990kbps of data compared to the 328kbps cap of the much more common SBC codec. The codec also has a frequency of 44.1 kHz, which is the same frequency as playing directly from a CD, a huge step forward for Bluetooth audio. Previously, the codec was only available on specified Sony products such as Xperia and Walkman devices, but the codec being baked into Android itself means you should be able to play back these high-res files on any compatible Bluetooth headphones, though manufacturers will likely need to pay a hefty licensing fee to play it back.

Two other options being supported are Qualcomm’s aptX and aptX-HD, high quality streaming protocols which offer much higher bitrates than more common options already on the market. While Google doesn’t directly reference these protocols in the update notes, we did find them hidden within Android O’s developer settings. aptX-HD enables 24-bit music quality over Bluetooth, and can even be used to enhance audio performance when applied to standard resolution content. The HD protocol is also backwards compatible with existing aptX products, so you should be able to bump your music quality with the flip of a switch.

What's the situation with Bluetooth audio?
Tasker Profile Bluetooth speakers headphones

The AAudio API is a new native API from Google designed specifically for apps that require high-resolution, low latency audio. Google says that apps using this API can read and write data via streams, and while the API is not yet complete, they are looking for feedback from developers to help build the API overtime. This will hopefully have something complete and ready once Android O launches in Q3, but until then you’ll want to stick to other high-quality options until this is complete.

With Bluetooth 4.1 and 4.2 already in the mainstream and Bluetooth 5.0 making its way to devices in the near future, we’ll hopefully be able to emulate the quality of plugged in devices soon. Do any of these changes interest you?