True wireless sound (TWS) technologies are joining forces with the digital audio market to deliver premium music listening experiences to consumers globally. Now that new Bluetooth codecs have made it possible to process and reliably stream HD audio wirelessly, the rest of the earphone design is evolving to complete the listening experience with more range, personalization, and comfort than ever before.
New and renowned manufacturers alike are developing products to enrapture a broad range of listeners from bargain seekers to the most discerning audiophiles. The latest earphone designs are more complex than ever, and OEMs are drawing from a range of advanced features to differentiate their products in the competitive market. For consumers, however, it’s often tricky to choose earphones that will deliver the best performance. What should consumers look for in earphones to enjoy an HD audio experience?
Understanding HD Audio
The definition of HD audio varies, but it typically refers to digital music that can be streamed at the same mastering quality as CD playback. HD audio tracks use lossless compression to preserve the sound quality of the original recording, a serious upgrade from familiar MP3 files, which are compressed into a small file format to accommodate storage constraints. While HD audio was once a stamp of excellence touted by high-end wired headphone brands and audiophile communities, it’s now embraced by household music streaming brands like Tidal, Amazon and Apple. MP3 and AAC codecs have been at the root of digital music streaming since its inception, and now, there are high-data rate and lossless music streaming codecs that do not compromise on sound quality.
Not all wireless earphone models can accommodate high-performance, lossless streaming. Many manufacturers have yet to enter the market with compatible designs due to the difficulty of designing for HD audio.
Qualcomm reports that while sound quality is the top priority for most consumers, they also want their earphones to offer functionalities and designs that deliver comfort, convenience and personalization. In working with several leading brands in the commercial audio and hearing health spaces, I’ve discovered that satisfactory TWS purchases are determined by several benchmarks, including active noise canceling (often referred to as ANC by manufacturers), rich sound range, comfortable fit and other advanced features.
A Crash Course in Advanced Features
Hearing personalization is pretty much what it sounds like: After performing a hearing response check via the earphones, the playback is personalized to match the listener’s unique hearing abilities and preferences. This often involves amplifying higher ranges to compensate for a reduced ability to hear treble, which often comes with age. Simply put, hearing personalization makes high-quality listening accessible to more consumers.
Many software companies are developing algorithms that enable additional advanced features for leading brands to offer additional personalized listening experiences and use cases for TWS earphones. Features such as conversation enhancement, voice call and context-aware transparency modes to hear surrounding sounds can support a variety of unique challenges and use cases for listeners.
ANC is another feature for consumers to consider when selecting high-performance TWS earbuds. ANC in loud environments requires the headphones to support high bass output, but with minimal distortion as to not mar the listening experience. But simultaneously, HD audio performance and hearing personalization require high treble output for full-range, rich sound.
Comfort and performance also determine customer satisfaction; nobody wants their ears to hurt halfway through their favorite album or podcast. And, since TWS earphones often double as work-from-home tools for videoconferencing, webinars and more, all-day comfort is especially important. Acoustic components need to be small enough to maintain sufficient headroom for the addition of sensors for spatial awareness, monitoring health parameters, longer battery life, and more.
The Pieces of the Premium Sound Puzzle
There’s a lot that modern TWS design can offer, and consumers shouldn’t have to settle. For a listening experience that meets these requirements, consumers should seek TWS devices with a hybrid driver. Often noted in the specifications of a product, a hybrid driver incorporates a dynamic speaker and balanced armature tweeter to enable sound performance and support these advanced features. A dynamic woofer delivers rich, clear bass, while a balanced armature tweeter achieves the crisp mid-range and high-frequency treble performance required for HD audio and hearing personalization.
The full-range sound performance provided by this hybrid driver design makes a significant difference to listeners. In a recent blind listening test performed by Knowles, consumers listened to a selection of sound clips derived from 200 Billboard Hot 100 songs. The participants report a preference for music listening with an extended treble response, noting a more satisfactory experience with a detailed sound range. In addition, the small balanced armature tweeter in the hybrid driver design supports comfortable wear and preserves space for product designers, so there is ample headroom to add components for advanced functionalities. The dynamic woofer and BA tweeter work together to deliver the clarity and balance required for ANC performance and hearing personalization.
The TWS market is evolving rapidly to meet the demands of consumers and the rapid pace of HD audio evolution. The components that make up today’s earphones play a major role in the performance, range and capabilities of the hardware. To listen to music as the artists intended, prospective TWS buyers should look beyond just familiar brands and seek out hybrid driver designs that prioritize treble performance and clear, impactful bass to experience sound at a new level of precision.