Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound To Lift Wireless Audio For Low Latency Higher Fidelity Ear Candy

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Over the past year, the importance of crystal-clear audio has become readily apparent on our computing devices. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many institutions implementing work/learn from home policies, and many people have relied on videoconferencing to keep in contact with team members. Videoconferencing thrives on quality video and audio experiences, and Qualcomm is tackling one of those aspects on mobile devices today.

Enter Snapdragon Sound, a suite of hardware and software technologies that aims to bring more immersive audio experiences to mobile users. Snapdragon Sound will apply to mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, Snapdragon-powered laptops, and wireless audio accessories like headphones and earbuds.

Taking a broad look at what Qualcomm is offering comes down to three key pillars: Mobile Platforms & Technologies, Processing & Connectivity, and Audio & Video Technologies. Together, Qualcomm says that it can deliver premium sound, clean Bluetooth audio connectivity, lower latency, and improved battery life for your mobile device and wireless accessories. The company can do this by controlling the entire stack from end-to-end. Also, Qualcomm manages the hardware, firmware, and software not only on your mobile device but also on the output device (i.e., your earbuds). That means we will have to wait for a new wave of Snapdragon Sound-enabled wireless accessories to hit the market.

Snapdragon Sound can support 24-bit 96kHz audio with its wealth of interrelated stacks and Bluetooth latency that can dip down to as low as 89 milliseconds. Faster pairing is also supported along with enhanced voice quality when using Bluetooth devices.

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So, what kind of hardware do you need to support Snapdragon Sound? Well, Qualcomm says that you'll need a Snapdragon 8-Series Mobile Platform like the new Snapdragon 888 in conjunction with the FastConnect 6900 connectivity suite. You'll also need a Bluetooth chip like the QCC515x, aptX/Aqstic codecs, and active noise cancellation (ANC) support. While support is currently limited to 8-Series SoCs, Snapdragon Sound will eventually filter down to Qualcomm's cheaper chipsets.

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"The human ear is highly sensitive to glitches, latencies, and other challenges which commonly occur when streaming music, video conferencing, or gaming over wireless connections. By focusing end-to-end, we are looking to deliver innovations to solve common consumer pain- points across virtually all audio interaction points," said James Chapman, Qualcomm VP and GM for the Voice, Music, and Wearables division.

We already touched on the shift to remote working as part of the reason behind the Snapdragon Sound initiative. However, there are also other reasons, including removing the 3.5mm jack on most smartphones leading consumers to wireless headphones. More powerful SoCs have enabled smartphones to deliver immersive on-device gaming experiences while streaming options like GeForce NOW and xCloud place a big emphasis on low latency. 

Probably one of the biggest reasons for the extreme focus on audio quality is music streaming. Streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora are very popular, with many placing a heavy emphasis on sound quality. In fact, Spotify recently announced a HiFi Lossless premium tier for true audiophiles that don't mind paying for better sound quality. Snapdragon Sound is a big step in the right direction for ensuring that all these audio experiences are optimized for users.