Bluetooth Codecs Explained: Understanding What They Are and How They Work on Wireless Headphones

Bluetooth technology has been a game-changer for personal audio, and continual improvement in Bluetooth standards has made wireless headphones and earphones more popular than ever. Not only this, personal wireless audio devices are also very affordable these days where they are often preferred over wired earphones and headphones. Wired headphones are still the go-to choice for audiophiles for their superior sound quality, but if you’re looking for new headphones or earphones right now, you can buy some wireless ones to use with your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. .

You’ve probably heard the term ‘Bluetooth Codec’, which is one of the key specifications to keep an eye out for when buying wireless headphones and earphones. Support for the right Bluetooth codec can make a big difference in sound quality. But what exactly is a Bluetooth codec, and why is it important? Read on to find out.

What is bluetooth codec?

Without going into the details of audio formats or how streaming services work, we’ll first try to explain what a Bluetooth codec is, and how a Bluetooth codec works. To understand this, first it is important to know how Bluetooth itself works.

Bluetooth is a set of wireless standards that ensure that digital signals from a source device can be interpreted by the receiving device. In the case of audio, a source such as a smartphone converts the audio data into radio waves. Receiver devices, such as a pair of speakers or headphones, use a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to convert that signal into sound that can be heard by the listener.

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This entire process usually happens quickly and steadily, to ensure that the listening experience is not interrupted in any way. The higher the audio quality you want, the more data needs to be transmitted. To achieve this, the digital audio signal is compressed so that more data can be transmitted wirelessly at the same time. It needs to be dismantled at the receiving end. The Bluetooth codec (which is short for “coder/decoder”) is essentially a set of parameters and instructions on how this compression and decompression occurs. Both devices need to support the same codec in order to use it, and its maximum data transmission rate is an indication of its capabilities.

Bluetooth codecs work differently, and some basic codecs, such as the sub-band codec or SBC, discard a lot of signal data during the compression phase. This significantly degrades the quality of the digital audio signal and the subsequent analog audio you hear. Advanced Bluetooth codecs such as aptX and LDAC are capable of carrying more data wirelessly and can achieve higher stable bitrates, ensuring better quality signal is received on the audio output device.

Compatibility with Bluetooth codecs is required on both ends; Essentially, the receiving device has to be able to understand the ‘language’ of the source device, so to speak. Thus, the Bluetooth codec can only be used if both the source and the receiving device support it. If there is no match, the link will fall back to the same standard for both devices. This makes it important to match the codec support on your wireless headphones, earphones or speakers with your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Popular Bluetooth Codecs Explained

SBC (Sub-band Codec)

The most basic Bluetooth codec is SBC, and it is almost universally supported because it is part of the basic Bluetooth protocol. Practically every device capable of transmitting or receiving Bluetooth audio supports this codec, and it is what ensures the interoperability of any Bluetooth headset with any Bluetooth-enabled phone. In the absence of any other codec, devices will switch to SBC by default.

As mentioned earlier, SBC is very basic when it comes to data transmission and bitrate. It favors connection stability and power efficiency over sound quality. SBC supports transmission bitrates of around 345 kilobits per second, or kbps, but typically operates at a lower bitrate to improve stability and reduce lag.

Many entry-level Bluetooth headphones and earphones only support the SBC Bluetooth codec. This naturally means that the received audio signal is significantly compressed, and the sound quality is usually limited.

AAC (Advanced Audio Coding)

Not to be confused with the audio file format of the same name, the AAC Bluetooth codec is a step up from SBC in terms of being able to transfer audio data stably over Bluetooth. It supports a maximum transmission bitrate of 320 kbps, and is generally able to maintain a high bitrate without having to be adjusted repeatedly for stability. Specifically, this is the default Bluetooth codec turned on. Apple As well as devices like iPhones and iPads, Apple’s AirPods Bluetooth headset range.

AAC is also widely supported across the price range, on Android devices and by a lot of wireless headphones and earphones. Although AAC provides better sound quality than SBC, it compresses the audio signal significantly compared to the more advanced Bluetooth codecs.

Still, it’s a popular and practical codec, and one you should be looking for if you intend to use your wireless headset with Apple devices.

Qualcomm aptX, aptX LL, aptX HD, and aptX Adaptive

qualcomm aptx The codec family has been around for years, and since the original version was introduced, there have been new and improved iterations like aptX HD and aptX Adaptive. With bitrates going up to 576Kbps, and aptX Adaptive Codec implementing variable bitrates for flexibility and improved connection stability, aptX offers considerable improvements over both SBC and AAC.

Support for aptX codecs is common on Android devices, and is also available on some Apple Macs, but not yet on iOS devices. Although aptX has an impact on power efficiency and battery life, it provides significant improvements in sound quality over SBC and AAC, particularly the new aptX HD and aptX adaptive implementations.

Many headphones and earphones in the price ranges support the aptX codec set, typically using a compatible Qualcomm Bluetooth solution as part of the hardware setup. If you have a compatible source device, which can be had in just about any modern Android smartphone, it’s worth looking for support for this codec.

Samsung Scalable

Samsung introduced its measurable bluetooth codec recently. It has a variable, continuously adjusting bitrate of up to 512 kbps, and is said to enable high quality data transmission even in environments where there is a lot of radio interference. It is widely considered on par with aptX HD and aptX Adaptive in terms of transmission quality.

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However, Samsung has owned this technology and the scalable codec is only supported on Samsung devices for now. This includes many of the company’s true wireless earphones and headphones in the Samsung and AKG product ranges, as well as most Samsung smartphones and tablets running Android 7 and above.

A headset with scalable codec support makes sense if you have a compatible samsung Smartphone or tablet to use it. Most of Samsung’s recent audio products, including the Galaxy Buds series, support the scalable codec.

LHDC (Low-Latency and High Definition Codec)

In writing, LHDC One of the better Bluetooth codecs with support for flexible bitrates up to 900kbps. However, the biggest drawback of this codec is compatibility with devices. A lot of wireless headsets and source devices don’t support LHDC, and only a handful of brands like Xiaomi, Oppo, and Huawei have so far launched products that support it.

Matching these wireless headphones or earphones with an LHDC-compatible source device is particularly difficult at the moment, and that has stifled its popularity. The more widespread compatibility and adoption of the other codecs on this list, notably aptX and LDAC, give them an edge over LHDC.


Among the most popular Bluetooth codecs around, Sony LDAC There are variable bitrates in three settings – 330Kbps for stable connectivity, 990Kbps for focus on sound quality, and 660Kbps, which strikes a balance between the two. Although originally limited to Sony products, LDAC is now supported on a wide range of devices, including headsets from various brands, and many Android smartphones and tablets are compatible.

LDAC is considered one of the best Bluetooth codecs right now, enabling far greater detail and insight into transmitted sound than other codecs. It is most commonly seen on high-end wireless audio products, although there are some affordable ones that support it. Many mid-range and high-end Sony The headphones and earphones support LDAC, and if you use an Android phone it looks for the codec.

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