Surround Sound Via Bluetooth? Not So Fast…

Surround Sound Via Bluetooth? Not So Fast…


There was plenty of big tech news to come out of IFA this past September – from voice AI alliances, to the unveiling of Sony’s venture into the smart speaker realm – the end of 2017 has given us a glimpse into what innovations we can look forward to in 2018. A popular trend we noticed at IFA was the expansion of wireless technologies – from headphones, to speakers and smart phones – wireless capabilities are evolving from a simple point-to-point connection (Bluetooth) to more complex multi-room, multi-channel streaming over standard Wi-Fi. We found that the war between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity is still being fought, but some concessions have been made (for example, new Marshall Headphones Bluetooth speakers have added Wi-Fi for multi-room capabilities, signaling an acknowledgement of the limitations of Bluetooth.)


One headline in particular caught our eye during IFA regarding the Bluetooth capabilities in the new Moto X4 smart phone, which allows users to link the phone with up to four devices simultaneously. According to CNET, “[t]his is the first phone that lets you broadcast your music to multiple different Bluetooth devices at once. You can connect the phone to four different speakers or headphones — of any kind, as long as they have an A2DO profile — and play the music in sync across all four.” This technology is being lent to Motorola by French startup, Tempow, who specialize in multi-Bluetooth audio and hope to see their version of Bluetooth embedded into smart TVs in the near future to achieve “surround sound-like capabilities” in the living room.


The truth is, even with the added ability to connect to more than one device, Bluetooth still has too many drawbacks as a wireless standard to fuel the smart home of the future. For example, you’ll experience interruptions in your music if you get a call or text while using your phone as a source device; there are severe range limitations (around 30 feet), and it produces low quality sound (Bluetooth uses “lossy data compression,” which means that it encodes its data in inexact approximations and partial data discarding to represent its content. This creates a more garbled sound quality and makes Bluetooth audio devices more vulnerable to dropouts.)


Wi-Fi, on the other hand, has a much longer range than Bluetooth (roughly 100 feet inside, and up to 300 feet outside) so you can use one system throughout the entire home and extend it into your backyard if you place your router in a central location. Not only can Wi-Fi connect to more than four speakers at a time to create a real 5.1 surround sound system, it can support multi-room systems and multiple channels, which Bluetooth can not. This means that within your wireless home entertainment system, you can actually create a system of speakers, such as “left,” “right,” “center,” and “stereo.” You can also choose to play one speaker, multiple speakers, or all of your speakers at any given time, without always having to reconfigure the devices. Wi-Fi systems also tend to support superior sound quality because they have a wider bandwidth than Bluetooth and it uses a lossless codec, which Bluetooth does not. Therefore, Wi-Fi can support high resolution and lossless audio without significant lag. So for true surround sound in your living room, or anywhere else in your home, Wi-Fi is the best and only wireless standard option. For more information about the differences between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, check out this blog post.


Tempow’s multi-Bluetooth technology in the new Moto X4 smart phone has gotten some people excited, especially when it comes to situations where Wi-Fi isn’t available, like at a park or the beach. But in the home, the overall limitations of Bluetooth as a wireless standard prevents it from achieving what Wi-Fi already does. Need we say more?

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