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How Qualcomm's new audio tech could transform your wireless earbud experience

Qualcomm announced two new audio chips, and one promises big upgrades to how your earbuds stay connected to your devices.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
Qualcomm's new S7 and S7 Pro audio SoC

Qualcomm's audio chips power some of the most popular headphones from brands like Bose, Audio-Technica, Jabra, Edifier, and Anker. As device connectivity, audio quality, and noise-canceling technologies become more powerful, Qualcomm is still aiming for the moon.

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Qualcomm announced the new S7 and S7 Pro Gen 1 sound platforms, which promise better audio performance, improved device connectivity, stronger ANC, and AI-powered hearing enhancements. 

The new technologies are considered more intelligent, powerful, and stronger than any previous Qualcomm Sound system on a chip, but there are a few standout features.

Qualcomm says its 4th-generation ANC built into the Qualcomm S7 platform "automatically and dynamically adapts to provide strong ANC performance based on different variables," like earbud fit, noise changes in your environment, and whether the earbud becomes loose in your ear.

Also: The best earbuds: Expert tested and reviewed

Additionally, the Qualcomm S7 Pro platform will provide high bit-rate audiophile audio over Wi-Fi with such low power consumption that the tiny batteries in your earbuds won't overwork themselves.

Qualcomm's Vice President Dino Bekis explained to The Verge that lossless Bluetooth listening is impossible with Qualcomm's current advanced AptX Adaptive codec. But he says that with the S7 Pro platform, Wi-Fi connectivity can be inside an earbud, which allows for 96kHz lossless audio playback. And with that, the earbuds should maintain their usual battery life.

Lossless listening is impossible over Bluetooth because Bluetooth technology can't transmit data at the high speeds required for lossless playback. However, various audio codecs like Qualcomm's AptX, Apple's AAC, and Sony's LDAC provide higher-quality audio streaming via Bluetooth. Still, they're not lossless.

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With Wi-Fi inside the earbuds, you can continue audio streaming if the earbuds lose connection with your device's Bluetooth. Qualcomm's new Expanded Personal Area Network (XPAN) technology will allow you to keep your headphones connected to your device, even with walls and floors between your connected devices, thanks to Wi-Fi connectivity.

Qualcomm promises to upgrade the connectivity technology inside earbuds equipped with the S7 Pro platform.

So, there's no upgrade to Bluetooth coming with the S7 Pro platform; that's a separate upgrade that headphones manufacturers are responsible for implementing into their devices.

However, to take advantage of Qualcomm's S7 and S7 Pro audio platforms, your smartphone must have Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip, which should be available next year. Audio products with S7 and S7 Pro likely won't appear until next year.

Also: With Snapdragon Seamless, Qualcomm seeks to change how your devices interconnect

It's expected that next year's flagship Android smartphones will have the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip. 

If you're curious about Apple, its products won't apply to Qualcomm's latest technologies. Apple creates its own audio chips, the H2 audio chip being the latest. Apple's H2 chip is in the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the upcoming Vision Pro mixed-reality headset.

Apple is toying with wireless lossless listening, but for now, it's only available when the AirPods Pro 2 are connected to the Vision Pro

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