There’s one sentence we hear every now and then, “the future of audio is wireless.” But what is wireless home audio? How does a wireless audio transmitter, a wireless audio receiver, or a wireless audio system work?
Then there’s that million-dollar question when it comes to wired vs. wireless audio: “do wireless audio technologies reduce sound quality?” That’s why understanding the workings of a wireless audio system can help you to choose the best wireless audio devices in the market today.
If you don’t understand how wireless home audio works, you are not alone. Many people don’t notice any sound quality differences in the various audio output devices today, and don’t understand the benefits of a wireless audio receiver or even a whole wireless audio system. For this reason, the 3.5 mm audio jack and port have been popular, for perhaps too long.
While Android ditched the headphone jack first, the port-less iPhone 7 accelerated the wireless audio debate. In 2016, an NDP report showed that Bluetooth headphones had outsold wired headphones for the very first time in American history. Now, the Galaxy Note 10 lacks a 3.5 mm port, too. Are we all getting ahead of ourselves here?
This conclusive guide helps demystify wireless audio in 2019. It also contains a bunch of handy tips to help you choose the best wireless audio system in 2019.
We’ll start with the basics to clear any confusion.
Let’s dig in.
Wired vs. Wireless Audio: What is the Difference?
If you know a little about how sound works, you know sound is basically a bunch of waves — waves of vibration.
Speakers use electromagnetism principles to produce audible sound. Here’s a quick primer.
To create vibration, electric and magnetic fields must work together. When an electric current flows through a wire, it generates a magnetic field — an electromagnet.
Unlike a permanent magnet, an electromagnet can dissipate its magnetism if the electricity flowing through the wire is switched off. In addition, it has the ability to alter its north or south pole depending on the direction of the electric current flowing through it.
Speakers use this ability to alter the flow of electricity during a voice call. The alterations can hit highs of thousands per second. Each alteration causes the speaker’s diaphragm, which is attached to a voice coil, to push and pull constantly — creating vibrations.
How Wired Speakers Work:
In wired speakers, electricity flows from an amplifier within the source system (say, a stereo) to the speakers over two wires. The two wires enable the stereo system to alternate electricity flow to the speakers.
This setup is so effective at making the electromagnets switch poles and generate push and pull, creating vibrations. This could be the reason why the world might have gotten too used to wires.
One more thing…
Sound travels fast in solid matter — faster than gases and liquids. And wires are solid matter, so they help tone down the problem of latency among speakers placed in different areas of a room.
This takes us to the next audio option: wireless audio.
How Wireless Speakers Work:
Wireless audio systems also use the same electromagnetism principle to convey audio over the air as their wired counterparts.
At the core of any wireless audio system are four components.
- An audio source
- A wireless audio transmitter
- A wireless audio receiver
- A wireless audio playback device
The audio source could be your phone. It is the “source” of the audio signal. Now, unless you still use vinyl records, the audio signal your source system produces is a digital file.
The thing is, our ears (the human brain, actually) interpret analog audio signals as a specific sound.
So, when your phone releases the digital audio signal, it has to be converted by a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to an analog version so your mind can make sense of it.
Furthermore, unlike a wired audio system, a wireless audio system needs to have a built-in amplifier to ramp up the analog audio signal to a level we can “hear”.
So, where do a wireless audio transmitter and receiver come in?
A transmitter works as a messenger, conveying an audio signal from the source to a receiver in a speaker.
After picking up the audio signal, the wireless audio receiver redirects it to your audio playback device. The device plays back the signal as an audible sound you can enjoy.
What are Some Common Wireless Audio Home Applications?
Let’s talk about the two most common and easy-to-use wireless home audio technology applications: Bluetooth headphones (or headsets) and TV or computer soundbars.
1. Bluetooth Headphones
Listening to music on headphones is awesome, but listening to music on wireless headphones is even better. Wireless headphones use Bluetooth technology, a standard that utilizes a common codec to condense digital audio signals on your phone or any other device you want to listen from. It then transmits the signals over the air to a pair of headphones.
Bluetooth pairing requires an authentication process, which means your phone and headphones will only be synced to each other. Bluetooth is very smart and when you’re not listening to audio files, it does not use as much power as when you are. Low-energy Bluetooth tech connects your devices in the background to ensure everything is ready when you want to listen to music at full power.
The SoundLiberty 77 gives you AAC and SAB Bluetooth codecs v5.0 with a range of 50 feet.
That’s on top of specialized benefits such as a 20-hour battery life and IPX7 waterproofing. You can enjoy your tunes while working out — unafraid the sweat may damage your investment.
The fastest Bluetooth version so far (v5.0) reduces latency between your audio source and wireless audio receiver — and at a great price, too.
If you want Hi-Fi quality wireless home audio, you can get the TaoTronics BH060 headphones. They offer active voice cancellation technology and Bluetooth v5.0 connectivity. They will improve your focus by keeping noise at bay.
2. Sound Bars
These days, even the cheapest TVs rock high-definition displays. But there’s one feature they lack: quality sound. The solution is a wireless sound bar. Quality sound is key to a great viewing experience. Wireless sound bars use Bluetooth connectivity to pair with your TV, computer, and other devices. They are simple, expensive, and don’t come with frustrating wires.
TaoTronics produces TV and PC sound bars with Bluetooth v4.2 connectivity. Most smartphones, desktop computers, and laptops support Bluetooth v4.2.
You can connect your favorite audio source — and enjoy high-quality sound without concerns of tripping over wires — from anywhere you please.
After all, TaoTronics wireless sound bars have a Bluetooth range of up to 30 feet (9 meters on a clear line of sight). They are easy to set up and configure and are super affordable for the features they offer.
Does Bluetooth Wireless Audio Affect Sound Quality?
There’s always been an ongoing debate on this subject. The answer is simple: it depends on which Bluetooth codec you use.
Newer versions of Bluetooth wireless communication do not lower sound quality. Bluetooth is multifaceted. The quality of the wireless audio you hear will depend on the audio codec your wireless home audio device is designed to use.
AptX HD, the invention of telecommunications giant Qualcomm, is a codec that can wirelessly transmit 24-bit high resolution audio. This means Bluetooth devices now sound just as good as wired devices.
However, there are 3 factors that may affect Bluetooth sound quality
Narrow Bandwidth, Which Results in Data Compression
Bluetooth uses a very narrow bandwidth to transfer small amounts of data wirelessly over short distances. The most advanced version, 5.0, only attains transfer speeds of 2 Mbps.
The compression action is perfect for smartphones and other limited-storage devices because it helps conserve space and boosts data transfer speeds.
However, if you are listening to already compressed audio files, such as the digital audio files offered by streaming services, Bluetooth’s inherent compression tendency could reduce the fidelity of the audio you are listening to.
Depending on your wireless headphones’ manufacturer, Bluetooth may or may not automatically compress your files.
Unmatched Codecs between the Source and Destination Devices
If your source device (smartphone, laptop, stereo) and destination device (wireless headset or speaker) both support the codec used to encode the original audio file, that file may be transmitted and received without further alteration. Less compression means better sound quality.
However, if they support unmatched codecs, they will not be compatible. Incompatibility can cause the setup to perform at a lower wireless Bluetooth standard, like SBC.
Listening Environments Matter, Too
Bluetooth was originally conceived to help connect phone headsets to speakerphones — not for wireless audio entertainment. Whilst key to any wireless audio transmitter, it also transmits several other forms of digital data.
A noisy environment, with its additional sound waves, can interfere with the audio signals your device transmits or receives.
Wireless Audio Still Has a Long Way to Go
The low bandwidth, interruptions by external noises, demand for audio codec-compatible source and destination devices, and latency issues have hampered wireless Bluetooth technology in the past. But today, quality wireless home audio devices use hybrid or active noise-cancellation (ANC) technology to encode the digital audio signal to block off distortion from unwanted vibrations.
High-quality DACs and amplifiers are built into many a wireless audio system to boost audio files’ fidelity and listening preferences such as bass, normal, and treble.
The best wireless hearable devices now support Bluetooth v5.0 which carries the most amount of detail to add to the richness of an audio file. Advanced Bluetooth codecs are helping produce high-definition wireless audio.
Bluetooth also supports several optional codecs including:
- MPEG 1 & 2 Audio (ultra-popular MP3 is an MPEG 1 layer 3 optional codec)
- MPEG 3 & 4
Audio file formats differ, each offering compressed/uncompressed and lossy/lossless wireless audio. TaoTronics uses AptX HD audio codec in its sound bars, headphones, and earbuds.
This is because AptX HD is an advanced Bluetooth codec that offers above CD-quality (48KHz/24-bit LPCM Audio data) audio.
However, wireless audio still has a long way to go. Here’s why.
Limited Transmit Bandwidth: Things Could Be Better
The speed of data transfer between Bluetooth devices is still not the best. While Bluetooth v5.0 promises device-to-device transfer speeds of 2 Mbps, two times what Bluetooth v4.2 supports, it’s still considerably lower than for Wi-Fi, the other popular wireless technology. A wireless audio transmitter with Wi-Fi 5 can use data transfer speeds of up to 54 Mbps.
Bluetooth is also too slow to stream video which requires at least 10 Mbps. High transfer rates may overload the limited bandwidth, causing the streaming service to stutter or completely crash.
Both The Source and Headphones Must Support AptX/ AptX HD
The most frustrating thing about AptX and AptX HD is that the source device and the device that becomes the wireless audio receiver must support the same codec in order for it to work. For Apple fans, this spells doom. The iPad and iPhone do not support AptX while Macs do. There’s good news for Android users. Most Android smartphones and wireless music players support the technology.
Audio Latency Issues
Bluetooth headphones should offer 100 ms of latency at most because the human ear can perceive latency above that figure. With Bluetooth audio, latency is the time it takes for an audio sample on a digital file on your player to arrive in your ear. The lower the latency, the better.
But high latency is still one of Bluetooth’s biggest shortcomings, especially when playing back audio via a smartphone. Latency is very high and is also dependent on the specific type of phone.
Bluetooth audio profiles offer diverse audio latency features. The latency figures for AptX codec are 100-150 ms and 40 ms for AptX low latency codec. However, many wireless products do not support AptX low latency because capable source devices are very few in number.
Wireless Audio: Future Trends to Look Out for
Social audio, which allows audiophiles to seamlessly share their favorite tunes with family and friends online, is gradually becoming a big thing. We have a feeling that we’ll be seeing more people record and share their audio content in real time and also create podcasts.
Bluetooth is a ubiquitous, easy-to-use technology, but network audio offers a more stable connection for a wireless audio transmitter to transfer high-fidelity wireless audio files over large areas. It allows people to stream audio files while simultaneously taking calls, texting, or emailing. If newer versions of Bluetooth do not offer more advanced features, Wi-Fi may just take over the wireless device market.
As smart gadgets become an integral part of our daily lives, more audio OEMs will create connected wireless audio products that sync personal preferences with smart wireless speakers, streaming services, and much more — to deliver truly personalized audio experiences.
Once considered state-of-the-art technology, 4K UHD video has become the norm these days. UHD audio, its audio equivalent, may become commonplace very soon. We expect to see it in UHD TVs and computer monitors where it will take the place of its predecessor, high-resolution digital audio.
To Sum Up
Judging from the current advancements in wireless home audio technology, a wireless audio system is indeed the future. From 2019 onwards, you’ll be hard-pressed to differentiate between wired and wireless devices when it comes to audio sound quality.
Our top tip? If you want the best high-fidelity headphones, speakers, and sound bars, get those that support AptX HD and feature Bluetooth v 5.0.
You can check out TaoTronics range of Bluetooth Wireless Headphones and Sound Bars here!