How Bluetooth Versions Affect Sound Quality on Headphones?

Georgi Karaivanov
Georgi Karaivanov

Updated · Nov 28, 2022

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Bluetooth is the de facto standard for wireless audio transmission, and with the technology constantly evolving, many seem to wonder how Bluetooth versions affect sound quality on headphones. Should you just replace your old earbuds with the ones boasting the latest Bluetooth version? Keep reading to find out.

Differences Between Bluetooth 4.2 and 5.0

When comparing Bluetooth 4.2 vs. 5.0, there are many differences that stand out. Bluetooth 5.0 is the newest version of Bluetooth and comes with the following advantages:

Better Data Transfer Rate

The data transfer rate affects the overall speed at which an audio file is streamed via Bluetooth. Bluetooth 4.2 has a maximum data transfer rate of 1 Mbps, while Bluetooth 5.0 increases that to 2 Mbps. That is double the rate and eight times the capacity of the previous version.

Extended Range

What is the range of Bluetooth 5.0?

Compared to Bluetooth 4.2, Bluetooth 5.0 has four times the range, boasting a reach of up to 800 feet (240 meters). This means you can transmit audio over greater distances with Bluetooth 5.0.

While this doesn’t improve the audio quality itself, it means you are less likely to experience common Bluetooth issues, such as audio dropouts and interference.

Dual Audio Broadcasts

As a result of the increased bandwidth, Bluetooth 5.0 can broadcast two separate audio devices simultaneously. This feature will allow you to connect two pairs of Bluetooth headphones to a single source or play music from your phone on two different Bluetooth speakers. Unfortunately, dual audio broadcasting is limited to Bluetooth 5.0.

Longer Battery Life

Since introducing the Bluetooth Low Energy module, also called BLE, Bluetooth has been much more power-efficient. Bluetooth 5.0 takes this to a whole new level by improving data transmission speed and range. As a result, Bluetooth 5.0 reduces power consumption by 2.5 times compared to Bluetooth 4.2.

Compatibility

One of the most significant features of Bluetooth 5.0 is that it is backward compatible with all Bluetooth 4.0, 4.1, and 4.2 devices. This means it is possible to use Bluetooth 4.2 headphones with a Bluetooth 5.0 phone.

The drawback is — when you have two devices with different Bluetooth versions, you only have access to the features with the older Bluetooth version. In other words, to get the advantages of Bluetooth 5.0, all the devices involved must run Bluetooth 5.0.

For instance, if you try to connect two pairs of Bluetooth headphones with Bluetooth 5.0 to a streaming source with Bluetooth 4.2, it will not work since Dual Audio is a feature exclusive to Bluetooth 5.0.

Bluetooth 5.3 Improvements

Bluetooth 5.0 was launched in 2016, and since then, three new upgrades have been released that boast minor enhancements to the protocol — Bluetooth 5.1 (2019), Bluetooth 5.2 (2020), and Bluetooth 5.3 (2021).

Bluetooth 5.3, the latest upgrade of Bluetooth 5.0, delivers a few notable improvements over previous protocols.

  • Connection Subrating feature — it enables rapid switching between low and high-duty cycles, which delivers a better user experience and preserves power.
  • Periodic Advertising Enhancement — it facilitates the processing of redundant data, which also reduces energy consumption.
  • Encryption Key Size Control Enhancements — an improvement that reduces the back-and-forth communication between the Bluetooth receiver and transmitter by enabling the Host to specify a key size.
  • Channel Classification Enhancement — a new feature that allows peripheral Bluetooth devices to perform channel classification when transmitting data across different frequencies, which improves connection reliability.

Does the Bluetooth Version Affect Audio Quality?

So, will all of these upgrades improve Bluetooth audio quality in any significant way? Unfortunately, no. While Bluetooth 5.0 offers many advantages over Bluetooth 4.2, such as a better data transfer rate and a more stable connection, it does not offer any improvements to the sound quality itself.

However, there are other factors that can impact the quality of your streamed audio, including the quality of the actual headphones themselves and the Bluetooth codec used.

Another thing you can try if you're unhappy with the sound of your headphones is messing with the equalizer settings.

Here is everything you need to know about Bluetooth audio codecs.

Bluetooth Codecs

A Bluetooth codec is short for code/decode and is one of the most important features to consider regarding Bluetooth audio quality.

A Bluetooth codec compresses music files to make them smaller, making it easier to send them via Bluetooth. Using a codec is necessary, as the less audio data there is to transmit, the more reliable the Bluetooth connection is. The most popular codecs you will come across include the following:

  • SBC
  • AAC
  • aptX
  • aptX HD
  • LDAC
  • LC3

Which Bluetooth codec you choose can make a difference to how your music sounds.

Subband Codec (SBC)

The SBC codec stands for Subband Codec and is the universal Bluetooth codec supported by all Bluetooth devices.

However, it does not have the best reputation compared to other Bluetooth codecs due to its high-lossy compression algorithm, which results in poorer audio quality. It also has high latency, which means it is not the best for gaming and streaming content.

aptX/aptX HD Codec

If you want to enhance your Bluetooth listening experience, Qualcomm’s aptX codec is a much better option than SBC. It uses an improved lossy compression algorithm that shrinks music files to a size similar to SBC while managing to keep more of the audio’s original frequency range. This results in a CD-like audio quality.

Its HD version, aptX HD, uses 24-bit wireless tech and offers the highest-consistency audio possible in a Bluetooth device.

However, to get the benefits of aptX, both the transmitting and receiving devices must support aptX. In addition, the aptX family of codecs is not supported by iOS devices.

Advanced Audio Coding (AAC)

AAC, which stands for Advanced Audio Coding, is the default high-quality codec for iOS devices. Unlike other codecs, AAC uses psychoacoustics to shrink music file size for quick transmission. The implementation and sound quality of AAC are much better on iOS than on Android devices.

LDAC

LDAC is a proprietary codec developed by Sony that enables the transmission of high-resolution audio over Bluetooth. In addition, it can switch between three pre-set audio qualities depending on the signal strength.

The main disadvantage of this Bluetooth codec is that it is not as widespread and can only be found in select Sony products, such as the WH-1000XM5 and the WH-1000XM4 headphones.

You can read more about these headphones and others that made our list of best headphones for music.

Low Complexity Communication Codec (LC3)

The LC3 codec was introduced with Bluetooth 5.2 and is specifically designed for use in LE (Low Energy) Audio. This new Bluetooth codec can transmit audio files at much lower bitrates without sacrificing the audio quality. It can also be incorporated into any Bluetooth profile.

However, LC3 was first introduced in Bluetooth 5.2, which means you will need a device with that specific Bluetooth version (or a newer one) to use the benefits of LC3.

Bottom Line

Different Bluetooth versions have different features, such as data transfer rates and range, but the Bluetooth version has no actual effect on the quality of the sound coming out of your Bluetooth device.

What can actually impact Bluetooth audio quality is the Bluetooth codec used — the piece of software which determines how audio content is transmitted from the source device to your headphones. For the best Bluetooth sound quality, use the aptX or the LC3 Bluetooth codec.

FAQs.


Does the Bluetooth version affect sound quality?

No, the Bluetooth version has no real effect on sound quality. The Bluetooth version affects other features, such as data transfer rates, range, and power consumption.

How can I improve Bluetooth sound quality?

There are several ways to improve Bluetooth sound quality. First, you can update your device’s firmware to resolve low-bitrate streaming or high-latency issues. If you have a newer device that supports the AptX or AptX HD codecs, you should also make sure that the other device you use for Bluetooth audio streaming is compatible with these codecs.

What is the latest version of Bluetooth?

Bluetooth 5.0 is the latest version of Bluetooth, introduced in 2016. Bluetooth 5.0 has three versions available: Bluetooth 5.1 (2019), Bluetooth 5.2 (2020), and Bluetooth 5.3 (2021).

How do Bluetooth versions affect sound quality on headphones?

The Bluetooth version your device is running has no significant impact on the sound quality. Bluetooth audio quality depends on other factors, such as your headphones and the Bluetooth codec used.

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Georgi Karaivanov

Georgi Karaivanov

My fascination with technology began from quite an early age thanks to computers and video games. Nowadays, I love anything related to music production and astronomy. Coincidentally (or is it?), both of those have a great deal to do with tech. Honestly, most of the stuff that can be accomplished with modern electronics kind of seems like magic to me. This is why I feel this strong need to constantly learn more about it and talk about it, almost to the detriment of others.

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