Understanding Low-Latency Codecs

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Bluetooth technology is a dominant force in the world of digital audio these days, with more and more companies moving away from traditional “headphone jacks” and instead leveraging all that this wireless technology has to offer.

And while most people are familiar with how to take advantage of Bluetooth connectivity – most know how to turn Bluetooth on their devices, how to pair and connect Bluetooth hardware, and how to use this wireless technology – folks usually aren’t entirely aware of how Bluetooth audio really works behind the scenes.

When it comes to audio signals specifically there are a number of codecs used to significantly reduce the amount of latency you would have had to deal with otherwise as well as codecs that improve overall audio quality and significantly improve energy efficiency.

If you’re going to purchase Bluetooth hardware going forward to listen to your music and media you want to make sure that the hardware can support these low latency codecs – and that’s what our quick guide dives into below.

Understanding Low-Latency Codecs 101

There are a couple of different low latency codecs out there that work to significantly diminish the amount of time a digital signal processor has to take to decode the audio that it is playing, revolutionary new technologies that have made Bluetooth a whole lot more usable than it ever used to be the past.

In fact, one of the biggest struggles that people had when they first started to pioneer audio transfer over Bluetooth was figuring out how to cut down on latency times.

Traditional codecs – like the original few codecs produced by Dolby Laboratories – weren’t able to handle the heavy lifting of transferring Bluetooth, quickly decoding it, and then playing it back with next to no noticeable latency at all.

Lip-synching issues were a huge problem when audio signals were matched up to video playback on a separate device, a problem that has been resolved almost completely thanks to these new options.

Codecs like aptX, for example, are significantly less mathematics focused and memory intensive compared to “traditional standards” like AAC, for example. There’s a slight degradation in overall sound quality (not noticeable to most) but the latency improvements skyrocket significantly when using something like aptX.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Low Latency Codecs

The biggest advantage of low latency codecs like aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Low Latency (as well as others like LDAC and LC3) is the ability to all but eliminate latency wireless devices, totally getting rid of those lip syncing issues as well as input issues that plagued early Bluetooth devices running legacy codecs.

These modern low latency codecs also have significantly improved compression capabilities, allowing for the media that they are transmitting to be played back in higher qualities than what was possible before.

On the flip side of things, however, you’re never going to be able to get the same rich audio signal out of an aptX style codec that you would have gotten out of something like AAC or FLAC. Both of those codecs do not compress the audio anywhere near as much as low latency options will, resulting in a more authentic sound.

At the end of the day, really all comes down to what you are looking to get out of your Bluetooth hardware and just how seriously you take fidelity of the audio that you are listening to.

Those that want to listen to music or movie audio wirelessly while at the gym, working, or just kicking around the house or at a party probably won’t care that the low latency codecs are compressing things a bit to keep everything chugging along.

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