Apple is using a new voice codec with AirPods

Call quality over Bluetooth can be terrible depending on the codec being used in the HFP (Hands Free Profile). That is why AirPods might sound acceptable on an iPhone but terrible on a PC. It is also one of the reasons for vendors of business headsets recommend using their dongles with PCs, besides integration into softphones. Listen to these two samples:

Low quality Bluetooth codec CVSD
High quality Bluetooth codec mSBC

When I started helping people sound reasonable on Audio Social Networks like Clubhouse, we quickly addressed this issue. Marco Pfeiffer wrote a piece titled “Apple implemented the biggest improvement to bluetooth audio since 2009” which talks about improvements for the AirPods 3 which might also apply to AirPods Max and AirPods Pro. This is what the new Apple codec sounds like:

New Apple codec AAC-ELD

This is an encoding done from an existing recording. It does not take the placement of microphones at your ear into account. Real calls will never sound like this because the voice pickup itself is lacking.

I do not have AirPods 3, but I can test with AirPods Max and AirPods Pro. My AirPods Max sound OK’ish, but the AirPods Pro seem to be partially broken by now. I got mine at the product launch and they make all kinds of weird noises when I put my fingers on the left one. They also report they no longer fit my ears.

Recording myself with AirPods Max
Recording myself with the AirPods Pro
Recording myself with Jabra Evolve2 75

I don’t think that the Jabra sounds any worse, without having access to the Apple codec. In any case, do yourself a favor and record yourself on your PC, Mac or smartphone in a place you usually talk with others. You may be surprised, in a bad way.

A Bluetooth adapter will no longer be necessary

Bluetooth quickly became ubiquitous in mobile phones and smartphones and is now known for its “just works” simplicity.

The same was never true when using a Bluetooth headset directly with a computer. Users would have to jump through hoops ensuring they had the correct drivers, firmware, software, etc. before discovering that the audio quality was inadequate. Poly solved these problems with its own USB Bluetooth adapter.

Thanks to Poly and Intel® the end is now in sight for the USB Bluetooth Adapter with supported laptops.

I have been banging the same drum for years on end. People have no idea how bad they sound in conferences. If you ever talked to somebody who has paired his AirPods with a PC, you know what I mean.

Wideband Audio is just one issue. The other once is call control and integration in softphones. That is why I recommend using the Bluetooth dongle that came with your business headphones.

The first Poly Bluetooth headsets to support Intel® Engineered for Evo™ accessories program will be the Voyager Focus 2 and Voyager 4300 Series (through a firmware update). Look for the Intel® Evo™ platform brand on select premium 11th and 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processor-based laptops from a variety of manufactures.

What Poly describes here will be coming to other headphones as well. I am looking forward to trying this out. I have a Focus 2 and will get a 4300 soon.

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