Android 12 news is coming fast and furious at the moment, but one of the smallest changes introduced in Beta 1 might make life a little easier for fans of Bluetooth headphones. The beta introduced support for Bluetooth LE Audio, a low-energy, high-efficiency mode for headphones and other audio devices. The API support is live now: if your headphones support LE Audio, they should use it automatically when connecting.
LE Audio is an expansion of the Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) system that’s been around since the introduction of Bluetooth 5.0. Bluetooth LE was previously only for very low-power devices that needed to last for a crazy-long time on very little battery power, like Tile trackers. But new improvements in the codec system will allow audio transmission over Low Energy connections, which wasn’t possible before.
The application for headphones is clear, but this will also be of benefit to newer and more advanced hearing aids. LE Audio also allows for multiple streams to be sent from a Bluetooth audio source to output devices natively — so you and a traveling partner could listen in to the same tablet on two sets of headphones for that cross-country flight.
So, can you use LE Audio? Well, probably not yet. The technology needs to be supported by newer Bluetooth radios — most of the ones that are in existing phones just won’t cut it, even if they support the older Bluetooth LE standard. For example, Qualcomm’s only radio that was made with Bluetooth LE Audio support is the QCC3056, introduced in December of last year. Bluetooth LE Audio support is included in the Snapdragon 888 and 865+, but not the older 865.
LE Audio compatibility seems to be restricted to the most high-end and recent Bluetooth headphones, at least for now; most manufacturers seem to be waiting for 2021 or 2022 refreshes to introduce it. The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones introduced in mid-2020 don’t support it, but leaks indicate that the upcoming WF-1000XM4 earbuds might. As a rule of thumb, if both your phone and headphones are compatible with Bluetooth 5.2, they can probably handle Bluetooth LE Audio.