Qualcomm’s latest Bluetooth chips could bring ANC to lower-cost earbuds

They could make voice assistant support more universal, too.

Today, Qualcomm unveiled its next-generation of ultra-low-power Bluetooth Systems on a Chip (SoCs). The SoCs are designed for true wireless earbuds and hearables, and they could make top-end features, like active noise cancellation (ANC) and voice assistant support, more universal.

The Qualcomm QCC514X (premium tier) and Qualcomm QCC304X (entry/mid-tier) both support Qualcomm's TrueWireless Mirroring technology, which wirelessly connects just one earbud to the phone via Bluetooth. The other earbud mirrors the connected one, and if a user removes the connected bud from their ear, the mirroring bud can quickly take over the connection without any interruption.

The SoCs have integrated Hybrid ANC, and because they're designed to deliver extended playtime -- up to 13 hours based on a 65mAh battery -- users will be able to use ANC with minimal impact on battery life.

The difference between the SoCs is in how they handle voice support. The premier tier, QCC514X, has dedicated support for Always on Voice that can be accessed with a wake word. At the entry and mid-tiers, the QCC304x offers pushbutton voice activation, so OEMs will be able to bring voice assistant capabilities to lower cost devices. This could make voice assistants more widely available in true wireless earbuds.

We may see more ultra-low-power Bluetooth options in the near future. At CES 2020, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced a new spin-off standard for audio, called LE (low-energy) Audio, which will include native support for devices like hearing aids and added features like audio sharing. SIG is expected to release the LE Audio Bluetooth specifications in the first half of this year.