This hot new audio tech could change headphones forever

Key Takeaways

  • Qualcomm has announced new audio platforms, the S7 and S7 Pro, that offer improved ANC and other capabilities for headphones and earbuds.
  • The S7 Pro, in particular, introduces micro-power Wi-Fi, allowing users to have extended range and listen to music or make calls without staying close to the source device.
  • These platforms offer enhanced audio experiences and support features like lossless music streaming, but users will need compatible earbuds/headphones and phones equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset.

You’re probably already very familiar with the name Qualcomm. It’s the company that builds some of the best smartphone chips and modems around, including those that will go into the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra. But it’s also a company that makes smaller, lesser-known chips like the ones that might power your headphones or earbuds. And it’s those chips that could be about to change the way we use our headphones forever.

Announced during the Qualcomm Snapdragon Summit 2023 event, the new S7 and S7 Pro platforms are designed to give headphones and earbuds new capabilities, including improved ANC features and more. But while there are multiple improvements across both chips, it’s the S7 Pro that will no doubt capture the most attention. Because it has the potential to change how we listen to music, watch content, and make phone calls in a way that perhaps last happened with the arrival of the very first AirPods.

Forget Bluetooth, it’s all about Wi-Fi

Qualcomm shared details about its plans via a press release, saying that the new platforms are designed for earbuds, headphones, and speakers. Both the S7 and S7 Pro are the company’s “most advanced audio platforms ever, which with the combination of high-performance, low power compute, on-device AI, and advanced connectivity will ignite a new era of audio innovation to deliver breakthrough user experiences.” That all sounds impressive, of that there’s no doubt. But it’s when you get to the S7 Pro and talk of Wi-Fi that things get interesting.

“The S7 Pro also includes micro-power Wi-Fi to extend the range of audio devices far beyond what is possible today using only Bluetooth – allowing users to walk around a home, building, or campus while listening to music or making calls,” Qualcomm says. The idea is that you’ll be able to listen to music, make phone calls, and more further away from the source device. No more having to stay relatively close to your phone or computer – so long as you have Wi-Fi, everything will work. And you’ll benefit from actual lossless audio as well, bypassing the data bandwidth limitations enforced by Bluetooth.

“These platforms set a new benchmark for high-performance sound at ultra-low power. They are packed with premium technologies that work together with on-device AI to deliver immersive and personalized audio experiences wherever you go – whether in a meeting, socializing, gaming, listening to music or just needing some quiet time,” Dino Bekis, vice president and general manager, Wearables and Mixed Signals Solutions, said via that press release. “The S7 Pro Platform with our micro-power Wi-Fi and revolutionary Qualcomm XPAN technology further transforms the sound experience by enabling whole home and building audio coverage, support for up to 192kHz multi-channel lossless music streaming and enhanced multi-channel spatial audio for gaming.”

You will, however, need to be using earbuds or headphones with this tech installed, but that isn’t all. You’ll also need a phone running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, which won’t land in phones until early 2024. That also rules out iPhones, so Apple users will have to hope that the same lossless audio feature AirPods Pro 2 (USB-C) have when connected to the Vision Pro headset will roll out further in due course.

As for everyone else, these new audio chips won’t arrive in new products for a few months yet – so phone makers should have plenty of time to get their ducks in a row, too.

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