In my quest to find a better wireless headset to take calls with, I ended up taking a dive into Bluetooth codecs.
It's pretty messy. My original intent was to find some earbuds that I could use during video calls, when I couldn't use my speakers and microphone. Maybe I'm not at my desk, or I really don't want to wear my headphones. I think it just couldn't continue sitting on my head much longer just because of how often I had to keep it on my head – AND it's gotten so much worse this year because the number of meetings I've been involved in have exponentially increased.
So I bought the cheapest earbuds that seemed reasonable quality for use – Anker's Soundcore Life P2 earbuds. Seemed fine, a little miffed that these earbuds can't share the same name sometimes (if I take the left ones out first, they're marked “Life P2 Earbuds-L”). But the moment the microphone activated on the earbuds, the audio quality more or less died. Calls are hard enough to pay attention to; it's so much worse when it's way more unclear.
That took me into a dive on Bluetooth profiles (A2DP vs HSP/HFP), which is something I haven't had to explore before. But basically, nothing was really pointing to a solution for higher-quality audio that could sustain both ways.
I ended up finding the following
- Bluetooth 5.2 is supposed to bring a marked improvement to bandwidth rates or something. I'm unsure if this is just marketing or not.
- There are two codecs that attempt to do duplex audio – or at least some form of having the microphone work whilst still having somewhat high quality audio on the headphones. That is Faststream and AptX-Low Latency, both of which seem to be horribly hard to find.
The most authoritative information on these seem to be Pipewire’s implementation of AptX-LL:
No, Faststream appears to be a hack that combines a 48 kHz 212 kbps SBC audio stream with a 16 kHz 72kbps voice stream. Compare this to msBC which is 16 khZ 60.8 kbps bidirectional. Basically you are getting average quality audio with slightly higher than HFP quality voice.
Whereas AptX-LL is 44 kHz 352 kbps bi-directional.
It seems to be incredibly hard to find headsets that support either nowadays. So I'm still looking, but I'm really hoping to at least maybe find some earbuds that support either of those protocols.
aside: I’ve been having frustrations searching Amazon for earbuds that support either of these protocols. It’s incredibly frustrating to search up “Bluetooth Faststream earbuds” or “Bluetooth Apt-X LL earbuds” and not get any relevant results. I took a plunge and ordered Anker Soundcore Life P2 Mini earbuds because I thought maybe it was supported – nope. Time to return those. I found some Chinese-branded Faststream sport headset earphones, and I think I’ve managed to find a Apt-X LL sport headset earphones too, so I guess I’ll try those and see how it goes.
And they’re all sport headsets, too. Sigh. Earbuds have so much marketing and no substance attached.