Bluetooth has had a lot of different versions since its inception in 1998. With so many updates over the year, it can be confusing to know how each of these is different from its predecessor, and how much of a difference it makes when you’re trying to assemble gear.
This article will explain why the last few versions have been the greatest leap the technology has taken in its long run, and specifically what the newest versions are bringing to the table that could revolutionize Bluetooth audio for the future.
While Bluetooth has had many different updates over time, most of these have been fairly mundane changes that come with technology maturing - faster speeds, better processing capabilities, more data etc. It wasn’t until Bluetooth 5.0 was introduced in 2016 that the first real significant modern changes were made. You can tell since the last version before this was Bluetooth 4.2 - that’s obviously a fairly significant jump. If interested check out our article, Bluetooth 4.2 vs Bluetooth 5 sound quality.
Bluetooth 5.0 was capable of data transfer at double the previous speed - which is obviously immensely helpful for pairing, as well as eliminating any annoying latency issues, especially with regard to streaming videos, movies and tv over the internet.
Bluetooth 5 also greatly expanded the range over which signals could be transmitted between devices. This previous range was about 50 feet, and theoretically farther if there were absolutely no obstructions in the way, but that doesn’t generally happen all that often when you are using bluetooth in a home or work setting.
Bluetooth 5.0 upped this to about 120 feet, meaning you could be outside, in different rooms, on the beach with lots of things in the way and your signal would be able to remain pretty strong without cutting out, which is a huge bonus that ups the usefulness of your wireless tech exponentially.
Finally, Bluetooth 5.0 probably warranted the jump to an all new number name because it introduced 8 times the data capability of the previous versions. This opens up a world of possibilities, perhaps one of the most noteworthy examples of this to mention being Samsung’s Dual Audio.
The Galaxy S8 was the first smartphone to employ Bluetooth 5.0, and introduced (and also named) this feature. This essentially allows you to play audio on two connected devices at the same time. So, you could have one phone streaming music to two different connected headphones, or perhaps to two different bluetooth speakers. Now this is not just a Samsung specific feature, but it is an example of the overall greater data capabilities of Bluetooth 5.0.
It’s important to start with some of these key points because - as you can maybe tell by the name - there isn’t a ton of difference between Bluetooth 5.0, 5.1 and 5.2. There are small incremental improvements that are made, but that doesn’t mean that they are on the whole insignificant.
One of the biggest changes that resulted from the upgrade to 5.1 is the use of different direction finding methods. These different methods are Angle of Arrival and Angle of Departure, which essentially allows your receiver and transmitter to know exactly where they are positionally situated in relation to one another. Previously, the technology would have to essentially guess the distance between devices. This can be a lot more precise now.
Bluetooth 5.1 also introduced slight improvements in the caching and pairing processes that make advertising and discovery much more efficient.
Advertising here is the term used for the process devices use to announce they are ready to pair. The improvement in this area is mostly due to something called randomized channel indexing. In short, in previous versions of bluetooth, a device would have to go through a specific set of channels to discover and connect to the item it was pairing too. Now the channels can be accessed at random without having to run through each of them in sequence. This makes the process faster, and makes it less likely interference will occur in areas when many bluetooth devices are being connected simultaneously.
Then come the early times of Covid, when 5.2 is released, introducing some exciting innovation to Bluetooth technology.
One of the first big things to mention in this enhancement is Low Energy power control. Low energy was introduced with Bluetooth 4, but it was not sophisticated enough to be used with most practical applications, like streaming music. That still required lots more computing power, so low energy was really only used for smaller scale operations, such as with fitness watches or things like that.
With Bluetooth 5.2, larger amounts of information can finally be transmitted over lower bandwidth and at lower power. Essentially, this is achieved through the new LC3 codec, which results in information being more compressed on the input side, but being decompressed on the output side much more efficiently.
5.2 also offers an Enhanced Attribute protocol, which allows parallel transactions between two bluetooth devices to occur simultaneously. For instance, this would be useful if many apps on your smartphone are using a bluetooth device at the same time. Instead of one being blocked while the others are in progress, these can all operate concurrently.
Finally, perhaps the most interesting innovation of 5.2 is the use of Isochronous Channels. This takes the Dual Audio feature farther, allowing for multiple connections of bluetooth devices to single sources. This means if you are using your wireless headphones at home, instead of having to switch between your laptop, phone, tv etc, your headphones could be simultaneously connected to all of them and switch automatically and seamlessly.
Furthermore, this is offers some great breakthroughs with respect to broadcast capabilities. Once Bluetooth 5.2 is widely integrated, it may be possible that you could head into a crowded bar, see something of interest on the TV, and then tune into that stream with your bluetooth headphones - or possibly, even everyone watching the same program could access different language streams. Beyond the convenience of this prospect, it also spells out a revolution for hearing aid technology, as the hearing impaired will be able to beam in whatever they’re listening to directly into their earpieces. That’s pretty exciting stuff.
Now, we come to the latest technology, Bluetooth 5.3. The upgrades here are only incremental with respect to the previous version. And I have to say, these small advancements don't have much to do with sound resolution, so we won't delve too deeply here. But the main improvements offer better efficiency, less signal interference and increased security. How these improvements will manifest in the next generation of Bluetooth headphones, DAPs and DACs remains to be seen. But for certain, the developments we've seen since Bluetooth 5.0 have allowed for high resolution music to be transmitted with less power consumption. So, already, we can expect better battery life from our wireless headphones and Bluetooth audio products.
Bluetooth 5.0 introduced the most revolutionary changes to the technology yet, and the newest improvements through Bluetooth 5.2 and 5.3 promise to push us into the next level of high fi wireless audio, and game changing methods of communication, entertainment and interconnectivity. While it seems it will be a while before the technology is totally integrated across most devices, it seems safe to say it will be well worth the wait.
You may want to check out our video as well that covered the same topic.