Qualcomm is introducing a new slate of chips for truly wireless Bluetooth earbuds. You might not have realized it, but these Bluetooth earbuds are tiny computers now, and just as Qualcomm makes smartphone SoCs that end up in most smartphones, it also makes “Bluetooth Audio SoCs” that end up in a host of Bluetooth headphones. There are two chips in Qualcomm’s announcement, the QCC514x and the QCC304x, with the difference being that the 514x SoC is built for always-on voice recognition using assistants from Google and Amazon. You’ll be able to just shout the wake word, and the headphones will pick up.
As you might expect, the focus is on better battery life, with Qualcomm promising 13 hours of playtime from a 65mAh battery. Active noise canceling (ANC) is built into both SoCs, so expect to see this high-end feature make its way to many more headphones in the future. There’s also a “Hybrid ANC” mode, which lets some sound from the real world in so you can remain aware of your surroundings. Qualcomm also has a feature called “TrueWireless Mirroring,” which lets you use the left or right earbuds in mono mode, and even if you swap configurations, the sound will continue uninterrupted. Some previous designs had a “Primary” earbud that communicated with the playback device and then passed audio to the secondary earbud, but now, it looks like both earbuds talk to the playback device directly.
Qualcomm provided the above list of headphone vendors that use its previous-generation chips, and many of the big headphone vendors are on there. The big missing companies are Apple and Samsung, which build their own headphone chips, and Sony, which uses a combination of its own chips and some parts from Mediatek.
Just like with smartphones, Qualcomm knows how to build up the bottom end of the market by enabling smaller companies to build their own devices with its cookie-cutter “smart” hardware. This lets headphone companies work on the headphone part of the headphones, while all the Bluetooth connectivity and other smarts are baked into the platform. Qualcomm even has “Smart Headset Platform” reference designs that companies can start with.
Products with the new chips should be out by the second half of this year.