Qualcomm, the company that makes a significant number of the tiny chips that give Bluetooth devices their wireless capabilities, has just announced its latest SoCs (system-on-a-chip): The Qualcomm QCC514X and Qualcomm QCC304X. And though you will likely never run across these names or model numbers as you’re shopping for a new set of wireless headphones or true wireless earbuds, they’re about to have a profound impact on what those gadgets can do and how much they’ll cost.
ANC for all
Perhaps the most significant change these new chips will bring is active noise cancellation (ANC). ANC has been a popular feature in wireless headphones and has recently made its way into true wireless earbuds too. Unfortunately, it tends to be found only on the most expensive models like Apple AirPods Pro ($249) and Sony WF-1000XM3 ($199-230).
With Qualcomm’s new chips, ANC is built-in, which means that manufacturers won’t have to go to the trouble (time and money) of integrating their own proprietary ANC technologies to offer this feature. In as little as a year, we could see ANC go from being a premium feature to something that appears on true wireless earbuds at almost every price.
Currently, Bluetooth true wireless earbuds must typically share a single wireless connection back to your phone. One earbud is always the primary and it shares the connection over its own wireless link to the secondary earbud. The problem with this arrangement is that the primary earbud might not always have the strongest connection to your phone, or, you may want to use the secondary bud on its own.
Either way, this can result in bad or zero connectivity. Qualcomm’s latest chips use the company’s TrueWireless Mirroring tech, which alleviates this problem by automatically transferring the primary wireless connection between the two earbuds, effectively eliminating the whole idea of primary and secondary. True wireless earbuds that use these chips will let you use just the left earbud, just the right one, or both, without worrying about dropped connections.
One of the coolest innovations in the true wireless space from the past two years is Apple’s H1 wireless chip. Among other benefits, it enables hands-free access to Siri, Apple’s voice assistant. The only other company to offer a similarly hands-free option is Amazon via its Echo Buds — but that only extends to Alexa.
True wireless earbuds that embed Qualcomm’s more expensive chip, the QCC514X, will get this functionality, and it won’t be limited to a single voice assistant. Earbuds that use the less expensive QCC304X can also grant voice assistant access, but you’ll need to press or tap a button to do so.
One weakness that has plagued even the most expensive true wireless earbuds is a lack of decent battery life. Recently, we’ve seen some models — like the Samsung Galaxy Buds+ and the Master and Dynamic MW07 Plus — achieve up to 11 hours before needing to be popped back in their charging cases, but these are still rarities.
If Qualcomm’s claims for its new chips are accurate, we could soon see true wireless earbuds that deliver truly all-day performance, with up to 13 hours between charges. Throw in the extra capacity of the charging cases and that should extend the total time to almost 40 hours, assuming the case holds two full charges (most cases hold more than that).
When will we start to see new true wireless earbuds that include the latest Qualcomm chips? Given all of the uncertainty at the moment, that’s a tough thing to predict. Still, it wouldn’t surprise us if the first models appeared in time for the 2020 holiday season. We’ll let you know as soon as we spot them!