Full LE Audio Specification Crosses the Finish Line

Fri, 07/22/2022 - 11:29

The Future of Bluetooth Audio, Defined

This week, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced the completion of the specifications for LE Audio, Bluetooth’s low-power, high-quality audio protocol solution for Bluetooth Low Energy. Long in development, LE Audio is the game-changing next step for Bluetooth audio and introduces previously-impossible features and functionality – power savings, higher quality audio via the LC3 codec, and brand new use cases via broadcast functionality.

We’ve previously looked at the emerging ecosystem of Bluetooth devices with LE audio in our LE Audio White Paper. In this post, we’ll look at a few key takeaways from the finalized Bluetooth specification. These highlights are adapted from the Bluetooth SIG and reflect some of the most significant points of focus for the release of the completed specification, including the introduction of Auracast™ broadcasting.

#1: Better Audio with Less Power

LE Audio brings Bluetooth’s original and most defining application, wireless audio, under the umbrella of the more recent Bluetooth Low Energy specification. Bluetooth Low Energy first arrived to the market as an ultra low power protocol for lightweight, infrequent communications in sensor-type applications. It did not support audio at the time, due to the need for higher throughput, lower latency, and other disqualifying factors.

Now, LE Audio is able to fill that need, providing higher quality audio with less power consumption due to many sub-features (most notably the LC3 codec, which you can sample for yourself on the Bluetooth SIG’s website). This lower power consumption is especially critical for enabling longer battery life for smaller devices, including in next-generation hearing aids.

#2: Broadcast Audio – A Brand New Use Case

The LE Audio specification is just now complete, but new audio topologies have been in development for some time. Where as traditionally Bluetooth audio has been one listening device (such as earphones or a headset) connected to one sending device (such as a phone or stereo), LE audio introduces new schemes to allow many listeners to listen to a single broadcast. The methodology, now branded as Auracast™, creates many new possible use cases for Bluetooth audio that previously did not exist.

For example, Auracast might enable moviegoers in a theater to tune into a language-specific audio stream for the movie they’re watching. Translation services can be similarly be enabled in public venues to allow users to tune in to a live event translated in their language. Transportation hubs can make it easier for users to listen to realtime updates on arrivals and departures, delays, and more. Auracast can even enable users in their homes to share audio to multiple headsets in the home for shared listening in a unique way.

The Bluetooth SIG has a dedicated web page to demonstrating Auracast use cases and how Auracast works. Visit https://www.bluetooth.com/auracast/ for more information.

#3: Extensibility for Developing LE Audio Applications

Last but not least, the Bluetooth SIG notes that the completion of the LE Audio specification provides a way forward for developers intending to develop new wireless audio applications. By providing a comprehensive and flexible architecture for LE audio, the Bluetooth SIG has opened the door for the most exciting applications and use cases that have yet to be imagined.

Bluetooth technology arose over a few decades from the de facto standard in wireless audio to the complete center of the personal wireless ecosystem. LE Audio presents an opportunity for another great expansion of the ways Bluetooth can bring wireless audio into more places, serve more users, and create applications that can change the way audio is shared and distributed.

Route to Market

The Bluetooth SIG has begun to provide qualification for products that include LE Audio, and those products are on the road to the market now. It’s a matter of months, not years, before LE Audio devices begin to reach consumers across the world. With more LE Audio receiving devices available, the potential for applications like Auracast™ transmitters and receivers grows as well.  

Laird Connectivity’s LE Audio Evaluation Kit, created in partnership with Packetcraft, provides a way to prototype LE Audio applications now, early in the life cycle of LE Audio. The new LE Audio evaluation kits are comprised of Laird Connectivity’s BL5340 Bluetooth 5.2 development boards, a custom audio interface board, and Packetcraft’s comprehensive software solution for LE Audio. The BL5340 is the most advanced, most secure and highest performing dual core MCU wireless solution available. This series of robust, tiny modules features the Nordic nRF5340 SoC and directly targets the highest performance with the lowest power budget.

For more information on the future of the Bluetooth LE Audio ecosystem and the types of applications it enables, see our white paper: The Future of Sound: Envisioning the Ecosystem of Bluetooth LE Audio.