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April 20, 2023 3 min read

A Bluetooth audio codec is a technology that encodes and decodes audio data transmitted between Bluetooth devices, such as smartphones and headphones.

The primary purpose of a Bluetooth audio codec is to compress audio files for efficient wireless transmission while maintaining good audio quality and minimizing latency. It is also essential for ensuring compatibility and providing a versatile listening experience in various conditions. 

Here are the main reasons why we need Bluetooth audio codecs:

  1. Compression: Bluetooth has limited bandwidth, and raw audio files can be quite large, making it challenging to transmit them wirelessly. Audio codecs compress the audio data to a smaller size, allowing efficient transmission over Bluetooth without overloading the connection.
  2. Audio quality: Different codecs offer varying levels of audio quality based on their compression algorithms and bit rates.
  3. Latency reduction: Certain codecs are specifically designed to reduce audio latency. Lower latency ensures better synchronization between audio and video content, which is crucial when watching movies or playing games on Bluetooth devices.
  4. Compatibility: Having multiple Bluetooth audio codecs ensures that devices from different manufacturers can connect and communicate with each other. This allows users to mix and match devices from various brands without compatibility issues.
  5. Adaptability: Some codecs dynamically adjust their performance based on the content and wireless connection quality. This adaptability ensures a consistently good audio experience even in challenging wireless environments.

The choice of codec can significantly impact the performance and audio quality of Bluetooth devices. For a Bluetooth audio codec to function correctly, it needs to be supported on both headphones (or other receiving devices) and smartphones (or other transmitting devices) to ensure proper communication and audio transmission. If either of the devices doesn't support the chosen codec, they won't be able to communicate using that codec, resulting in a fallback to a more basic, universally supported codec like SBC.

We list the common Bluetooth audio codecs here. 

  1. SBC (Subband Coding): The default Bluetooth audio codec with basic audio quality (192-320 kbps). Universally supported but offers lower audio quality compared to advanced codecs.
  2. AAC (Advanced Audio Coding): A lossy codec providing better audio quality and compression efficiency than SBC (up to 250 kbps). Widely used in Apple devices but may have compatibility issues with some non-Apple devices.
  3. aptX: A Qualcomm-developed codec that improves audio quality with a bit rate of 352 kbps, providing near CD-quality sound. Offers better audio quality than SBC and AAC but may not be as good as LDAC or aptX HD.
  4. aptX HD: An enhanced version of aptX supporting high-resolution audio (up to 576 kbps). Offers superior audio quality compared to aptX and is suitable for audiophiles seeking high-quality wireless audio.
  5. aptX LL (Low Latency): A codec designed to reduce audio latency to around 32 milliseconds, ensuring better synchronization between audio and video content. Ideal for watching videos or playing games where audio-visual synchronization is crucial.
  6. aptX Adaptive: A dynamic codec that combines the features of aptX, aptX HD, and aptX LL. Automatically adjusts its performance based on the content and wireless connection quality, providing a versatile and consistent audio experience.
  7. LDAC: A Sony-developed codec that enables high-resolution audio transmission over Bluetooth with a bit rate of up to 990 kbps. Provides the highest audio quality among these codecs and supports high-resolution audio files (up to 24-bit/96 kHz).
  8. Samsung HD (Scalable Codec): Developed by Samsung, this codec is designed to provide high-quality audio and adapt to the available bandwidth in real-time. It dynamically adjusts the bit rate based on the strength of the Bluetooth connection, ensuring stable audio performance even in challenging environments. Samsung HD is primarily used in Samsung devices, such as Galaxy smartphones and headphones.
  9. HWA (Huawei's High-Resolution Wireless Audio): HWA is a proprietary codec developed by Huawei for high-resolution audio transmission over Bluetooth. It supports audio files with a resolution of up to 24-bit/96 kHz and a bit rate of up to 900 kbps. HWA is mainly found in Huawei devices, including smartphones and wireless headphones.
  10. LHDC (Low Latency High-Definition Audio Codec): LHDC is another high-resolution audio codec developed by Savitech. It provides low-latency, high-quality audio with a resolution of up to 24-bit/96 kHz and a bit rate of up to 900 kbps. LHDC is designed to offer better audio quality and reduced latency compared to standard Bluetooth codecs. It is available in select devices and wireless headphones.

In summary, these audio codecs offer varying levels of audio quality and performance in wireless audio systems. SBC is the default codec with basic quality, while codecs like AAC, aptX, and LDAC provide improved audio experiences. aptX LL and aptX Adaptive focus on reducing latency, and LDAC offers the highest audio quality among these codecs. Additionally, the overall compatibility of HWA, LHDC and Samsung HD may be limited compared to more widely adopted codecs like SBC, AAC, aptX, and LDAC.