New Qualcomm Bluetooth chips will bring active noise cancellation to cheaper earbuds

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Qualcomm's new chip will make adding high-end features to wireless earbuds cheaper.

True wireless earbuds are incredible. Whether you’re wearing them while working out or during your daily commute, cutting the cord without wearing bulky headphones is great for people on the move. However, the distinction between high-end wireless earbuds and budget-friendly ones is vast. Often, consumers have to drop upwards of $200 for a pair that has all of the features they want—such as active noise cancellation (ANC).

Fortunately, a new Bluetooth chip from Qualcomm is going to change that. The chipmaker unveiled its QCC514X on Wednesday. The ultra-low-power chip will make support for high-end features in wireless earbuds more accessible.

Enhancing the Wireless Experience

Qualcomm’s latest Bluetooth semiconductors fall into the category of Systems on a Chip (SoCs). These are designed specifically for true wireless earbuds as they are undoubtedly some of the most sought-after consumer devices on the market today.

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It’s worth noting that Qualcomm unveiled two SOCs: the premium QCC514X and the entry-level QCC304X. Both chips feature the company’s TrueWireless Mirroring technology. This allows just one bud to connect to the user’s phone via Bluetooth. Meanwhile, the other earbud mirrors the connected one and can take over without interruption if the previously connected bud is removed.

Each of Qualcomm’s new SoCs feature integrated Hybrid ANC. Typically, noise cancellation is battery-draining feature. However, Qualcomm’s new chips are designed to deliver longer playtime. This means that owners can use ANC without impacting their battery life in a significant way. Ultimately, the chips can deliver up to 13 hours of playtime when used with a 65mAh battery.

So, what actually separates the two chips? The answer is how they handle voice control. The more expensive QCC514X supports Always-on Voice, allowing users to access their digital assistant of choice hands-free by saying a wake word. By contrast, the entry-level QCC304X requires users to push a button to activate voice control.

Although this is less convenient, the fact that voice control is present at all in the lower end chip is a good sign. It will allow true wireless earbud manufacturers to include the premium feature in less expensive models.

Market Impact

While Qualcomm’s new chips won’t revolutionize the wireless earbud market on their own, they are a step in the right direction. Rolling out chips that deliver high-end features without the premium price tag is huge for consumers.

As more device manufacturers ditch the headphone jack, wireless earbuds will become even more important.

For that reason, ultra-low-power Bluetooth was a hot topic at this year’s CES 2020. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group announced a new standard called LE (low-energy) audio. Specifications for the new protocol are expected to be announced in the first half of 2020.

However, Qualcomm’s new SoCs are ahead of the trend. As a result, they should find their way into a huge number of true wireless earbuds in the days to come.

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