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Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless promises CD-quality audio for wireless headphones

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Your next set of earbuds could make the most of Amazon Music HD or Apple Music lossless

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

2021 has been a big year for lossless music now that Apple has gone in on the higher-quality streaming and Amazon is no longer charging an added premium for it. But one of the main challenges confronting lossless audio is how to play it wirelessly (at full fidelity) on wireless headphones and earbuds. Qualcomm thinks it has found a solution with the new aptX Lossless, which is part of the company’s Snapdragon Sound program announced earlier this year.

With aptX Lossless (which is technically an extension of aptX Adaptive), Qualcomm says it’ll be able to stream CD-quality, 16-bit / 44.1kHz lossless audio over Bluetooth. The first devices to feature the new technology are expected to be available in early 2022. Snapdragon Sound leans on the whole hardware chain for optimal performance — so both your Android mobile phone and your earbuds or headphones will need to support it.

But if they do, Qualcomm says Snapdragon Sound will automatically detect a lossless audio source and be able to play it at much higher data rates than previously possible with aptX HD. The company has managed to outdo Sony’s LDAC in terms of bandwidth: aptX Lossless can hit up to 1Mbps compared to LDAC’s ceiling of 990kbps. There’s still some compression being applied; CD-quality music typically has a sample bit rate of 1.4Mbps. But Qualcomm is using lossless compression to deliver mathematically bit-for-bit exact audio reproduction.

In environments with a lot of wireless congestion, the bit rate will dynamically scale down as low as 140kbps to maintain the best audio performance based on connection quality. LDAC can struggle in real-world scenarios when you’re pushing it to its bit rate limits, so it’s not surprising to see Qualcomm offer a solution to smoothen out the experience.

CD quality is where aptX Lossless tops out. You can still play hi-resolution audio tracks, but that’ll result in lossy streaming, so you’ll want to keep a wired solution around if you’re big on those 24-bit 96kHz files.