We’re on the cusp of the new, better generation of Bluetooth audio. Bluetooth LE Audio promises to use less power, but can also increase audio quality dramatically, including support for Hi-Res Audio (or close to it). There’s been one catch – even though headphones that support LE Audio have started appearing (such as the Technics EAH-AZ80 and Earfun Air Pro 3), devices that can actually transmit it are few and far between.
But Creative has a solution for that – the company will launch some Bluetooth LE Audio USB-C adapters in the near future that can plug into devices such as laptops to enable the higher-quality and more reliable wireless tech on those devices.
The adapters are already available in bundles with Creative’s new wireless headphones that are generally geared more towards gaming, as is usual with Creative. But Creative has confirmed that the adapters will be sold separately, but there’s no price or exact release date.
The one to keep your eye on is the miniature Creative BT-L3 – it’s available in a bundle with the Creative Zen Hybrid Pro cans, plus a boom mic. That bundle costs $129 / £119 (around AU$230), while the Zen Hybrid Pro headphones alone cost $99 / £89, so we might assume a price of around $30-40 for the adapter on its own.
There is also the BT-L4, which is slightly larger, but the main difference here seems to be its support for Creative’s SXFI spatial audio tech, which is obviously only relevant to other Creative products.
These are the first publicly available Bluetooth LE Audio dongles that I’m aware of (Qualcomm showed off a concept version previously), and they solve the big problem LE Audio enthusiasts (me) have had: the severe lack of support.
I want my… I want my LC3
Bluetooth LE Audio and the LC3 codec that powers it are designed to do three things: use less power at the same audio quality we have now, connect more reliably even during interference, and provide the option of much higher-quality music streaming, more like aptX or LDAC.
Slowly but surely, the best wireless headphones and best wireless earbuds are starting to support Bluetooth LE Audio. I already mentioned options from Earfun and Technics, and the Sony WF-1000XM5, a notable addition to the roster. And many more earbuds have the right equipment, and could potentially add support via a software update.
But it’s all pointless if nothing can actually transmit LE Audio to them. Again, lots of phones have the right hardware, but it’s not enabled. Android technically supports it, but it’s hidden in a developer menu, which means no one is turning it on. And Apple said nothing about it coming in iOS 17, so we might have to wait until late 2024 at the earliest to get it on iPhones.
Windows has only just added support for LE Audio, so it depends on whether your Bluetooth hardware supports it, and there’s no word about it on Mac, predictably.
So the arrival of this USB-C attachment will be fantastic for those who want to take advantage of next-gen wireless tech and improved audio quality from the best music streaming services.