We take a closer look at the different versions of Bluetooth and how they affect your wireless listening experience.
since its inception, the core idea of bluetooth has remained essentially the same. however, the technology itself has undergone numerous improvements.
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In audio data transmission alone, each version of bluetooth has shown immense improvements.
but how exactly are all these versions of bluetooth different? and with the recent introduction of version 5.2, do you need to update your equipment?
To help answer that question, we’ll give you a rundown of the advancements seen in the different Bluetooth versions over the years. We’ll also talk about related factors that can affect your headphones’ sound quality and performance.
the different versions of bluetooth
Before we get into the specifics – here’s a little Bluetooth history.
The name “Bluetooth” was taken from King Harald “Blåtand” Gormsson, a Danish king known for uniting Denmark and Norway. the king was nicknamed “blue tooth” because of a single rotten tooth in his mouth that was bluish-gray in color.
According to the founders of bluetooth sig, the name was meant to be temporary until the team could think of something cooler.
The development of Bluetooth technology was initiated by Ericsson Mobile CTO Nils Rydbeck in 1989. The first version was finally standardized in 1994 by Jaap Haartsen, an engineer and researcher from the same company.
here’s a quick look at the different versions of bluetooth over the years.
- bluetooth 1.0-1.2 (1999)
- bluetooth 2.0-2.1 (2005)
- bluetooth 3.0 (2009)
- bluetooth 4.0-4.2 (2010)
- bluetooth 5.0-5.2 (2016)
bluetooth 1.0-1.2 (1999)
bluetooth was designed to replace the computer’s rs-232 serial port. This was widely used to connect PC peripherals like modems and printers. In the years that followed, Bluetooth 1.2 was finally integrated into different devices. some of these are wireless headsets, mobile phones, laptops, cars, and digital cameras.
bluetooth 1.0a and 1.0b featured maximum data transfer speeds of around 732.2 kb/s, with a connection range of 10 m or 33 ft. version 1.2 improved on this by increasing the data transfer rate to 1 mbps. Other enhancements include:
- faster device discovery and pairing
- improved adaptive frequency hopping (afh) which reduced signal interference
- implemented extended synchronous connections (esco) to improve voice quality
Despite improvements, bluetooth 1.2 did not have enough bandwidth to transmit high-quality audio. And understandably, since, at the time, bluetooth was primarily intended for calls rather than music.
bluetooth 2.0-2.1 (2005)
The arrival of bluetooth 2.0 marked a period of significant growth. This is due to the increased global demand for bluetooth enabled devices. among these devices were the first bluetooth-enabled stereo headphones.
The most noticeable improvement in version 2.0 was the improved data rate (edr). this increased the data transfer rate up to 3 mbps. Other enhancements include:
- increased connection range of 30m/100ft
- lower power consumption and longer battery life for wireless devices
- improved pairing system with ssp simple safe)
however, sound quality remained mediocre. this is because most devices used the sbc codec. Known for its mediocre digital file compressions, this resulted in poor sound quality, prone to audio lag.
bluetooth 3.0 (2009)
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bluetooth 3.0 + hs (high speed) came with a wi-fi connection capability which enabled faster data transfer speeds. this allowed better transmission of audio data. as well as the transfer of large amounts of data such as video.
One of the most significant changes in bluetooth version 3.0 was its ability to use a wi-fi connection to transfer data, which it did at speeds of 24 mbps. Other enhancements include:
- improved l2cap and mac modes and alternate phys for transferring large digital files
- improved power control and wireless devices to adjust power levels as needed. this helps maintain a good bluetooth connection
- unicast connectionless data made it easy to quickly transfer smaller amounts of data
The disadvantage of bluetooth 3.0 was its high power consumption. quickly drained the batteries of bluetooth-enabled devices.
bluetooth 4.0-4.2 (2010)
Bluetooth 4 brought forth Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Bluetooth Smart. Bluetooth Smart allows smaller devices like fitness trackers, hearing aids, and headphones to stay paired longer using less power. Bluetooth Smart Ready allows primary devices like laptops, tablets, and smartphones to act as connection hubs that could send and receive data from Smart devices.
Bluetooth 4.0 improved more than its power consumption. The introduction of the aptx codec also improved the transmission of audio data. this is due to its higher bitrate and efficient lossy compression algorithm. Other enhancements include:
- increased connection range at 60m or 200ft
- less interference between bluetooth and 4g/lte signals
- better pairing and repair of devices
- higher packet capacity and data range for iot devices
- better data transmission with adaptive frequency hopping (afh)
Smart devices can be easily paired with devices using older bluetooth models. but they are better combined with other smart devices. this is for them to benefit from ble’s new power saving feature.
bluetooth 5.0-5.2 (2016)
The latest version of bluetooth, bluetooth 5, was released in July 2016 and focused on providing a better working framework for iot devices.
Bluetooth 5 provides a higher bandwidth capacity of 2 Mbps. it also extended the connection range up to 240 m. In addition, it comes with a low complexity communication codec (LC3). this is a new audio protocol that transfers audio data at lower bit rates without sacrificing audio quality. Other notable improvements include:
- lower power consumption
- larger messaging capacity
- backward compatibility with bluetooth 4
- dual audio function allows you to connect to two different devices at the same time
- addition of slot availability mask (sam) which further reduces interference with lte
To take full advantage of these new features, your peripherals must also support bluetooth 5.
Yes, you can still use a Bluetooth 5 device with a Bluetooth 4 device. But if you want to take advantage of that extended range or dual audio feature, you’ll need to make sure your smartphone or laptop is also compatible. otherwise your bluetooth connection will simply revert to the previous version.
bluetooth 4 vs. bluetooth 5: which one to choose?
The first Bluetooth-enabled stereo headsets were released in 2004, but they didn’t become a feasible option for wired headsets until the 2010s. This was around the same time Bluetooth 4 was released.
Bluetooth 5, on the other hand, wasn’t released until 2016. This means you’re likely using headphones equipped with some version of Bluetooth 4.
If so, you might be wondering: Is it necessary to upgrade to bluetooth 5? To give you an overview of the differences between the two versions, you can refer to this table.
When it comes to speed, the difference between bluetooth 4 and 5 is obvious. the former has a maximum speed of 1 mbps, while the latter clocks in at 2 mbps. the higher bandwidth enables faster data exchange with less delay and faster response times between devices.
Bluetooth 4 has a range of up to 60m (10m indoors), while Bluetooth 5 can maintain connections up to 240m (40m indoors). This increased connection range and higher speeds are good news for wireless earphones. can allow you to enjoy your music from a greater distance with fewer audio interruptions.
Bluetooth 5 is backward compatible with Bluetooth 4 devices. This means you can easily use a pair of Bluetooth 4.2 headsets with a 5.0 phone.
but some newer improvements in bluetooth 5 will not work with 4.2 devices. An example of that is Bluetooth 5’s dual audio feature. It allows you to connect two pairs of headphones to a single phone. or play music from a phone on two different speakers.
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then if your audio device is only compatible with 4.2, it is better to go for the same version of headphones. And if you have a phone with bluetooth 5 and you want to take full advantage of its functions, it is also better to upgrade your peripherals to bluetooth 5.
for reference, when connecting to mac remember they use bluetooth 5 on 2019 and newer models. while for windows 10 pc, it highly depends on the bluetooth adapter equipped with your device.
compared to other versions of bluetooth, bluetooth 4 saw improvements in power consumption. however, its performance still falls in the mid-high range. bluetooth 5 further improved this by increasing its data transmission speed and range. As a result, devices require less power to send and receive data, ultimately extending battery life.
bluetooth 4 has a message capacity of less than 37 octets and an actual data payload of only 31 octets. Instead, bluetooth 5 message capacity goes up to 255 octets in length. this means more efficient data transmission and less transmission time.
Signal reliability is improved with bluetooth 5 due to improved frequency hopping and slot availability mask (sam).
improved frequency hopping means bluetooth 5 can use a wider selection of channel streams compared to the 12 streams bluetooth 4 uses. the introduction of sam determines when an lte channel is transmitting data. it also helps bluetooth devices to avoid these specific channels. Together, these two features reduce signal interference, thus maintaining your bluetooth connection.
other factors that contribute to bluetooth performance
Aside from the Bluetooth versions, there are other Bluetooth characteristics that affect your Bluetooth headphones’ performance. Here’s a quick discussion on them:
bluetooth profiles are a set of specifications or rules that determine how a device can be used. Nowadays, you can delegate many tasks to your wireless headphones. some of them are making and receiving calls or controlling music playback. These tasks require a specific bluetooth profile to work properly, so it’s good to understand what each profile does.
- hfp (hands-free profile): allows the headset to make calls and access phone features such as number redial, call waiting, and voice dialling.
- hsp (headset profile): allows users to make and receive calls, hang up, and adjust voice volume through their headset.
- a2dp (advanced audio distribution profile): allows users to stream audio from one device to another. some examples of these are a smartphone to a headset, a smartphone to a car stereo, or a microphone to a computer.
- avrcp (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile): allows users to use their headset as a remote control for media playback. with this profile, you can pause, play, and stop music playback, as well as skip tracks.
- pbab (phone book access profile): allows the headset to access to the phone contacts for its call announcement feature.
bluetooth classes indicate the output power and wireless range of a bluetooth device. higher power output means longer range. Class 1 and 2 bluetooth devices generally include laptops and computers. on the other hand, other smaller mobile devices belong to class 3.
- class 1: 100 mw (20 dbm), 100 meters (300 feet)
- class 2: 2.5 mw (4 dbm), 10 meters (33 feet)
- class 3: 1 mw (0 dbm), 1 meter (3 feet)
Understanding which class your Bluetooth device belongs to is essential to making the most of its range. So if you want to take full advantage of that 300-foot range capability when listening to music, both your phone and your headphones need to be Class 1 devices. If your phone is Class 1 and your headphones are Class 2, the connection it will simply fall back to the lower class rank.
a bluetooth codec is a program that compresses and decompresses audio data in a specific format and transmits it at a specific bit rate.
codecs with higher bit rates, such as sony ldac (990 kbps), generally offer better sound quality. this is because more data is transmitted and less compression occurs. it is in stark contrast to the more common sbc codec.
the sbc codec transmits data at 192-320 kbps and produces poorer sound quality.
Currently, both bluetooth 4 and 5 can handle codecs with higher bit rates. therefore, upgrading to bluetooth 5 will not miraculously improve the sound quality of your headphones.
There are different types of wireless connection, but bluetooth remains king to this day. however, the different versions of bluetooth do not only determine the sound quality of our wireless headphones. and with each advancement, each version has given us a smoother listening experience. Ultimately, sound quality is determined by a combination of factors, such as bluetooth profiles, codecs, and classes.
Hopefully, with a little help from this guide, these concepts now make a little more sense. Whether it’s gaming, watching TV, exercising, or casual listening with your true wireless earbuds, now you can decide whether or not to upgrade to bluetooth 5 or not.
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