Especially after a tremendously fruitful year for true wireless sound (TWS), lossless audio streaming and connected audio, Qualcomm’s 2022 State of Sound report reveals significant insights into 6,000 consumers’ listening habits and their expectations for audio experiences from their devices. The report demonstrates that sound is more important than ever, and for retailers with stakes in the fast-evolving TWS market, offering competitive products for a vast range of consumers is essential to keeping skin in the game. Let’s dive into some of the highlights of the report and what the conclusions mean for TWS retailers in 2023.
Audio Quality Matters to Listeners
The importance of sound quality is increasing along with the demand for lossless and HD Audio, music personalization and advanced hearing features. Qualcomm’s report reveals extremely high sentiment around audio quality for its impact on well-being and overall user experience. Most notably, the study determined that 58 percent of listeners are seeking either high-resolution or lossless audio quality — and the introduction of lossless streaming services from Apple, Tidal and now Spotify will only continue to drive this expectation.
This demand for high-quality audio is especially high for TWS listeners. Lossless audio quality is a key purchase driver for 66 percent of consumers, while spatial audio would drive 41 percent to pay more for their TWS purchases. Our latest study at Knowles supports Qualcomm’s conclusions: In a blind listening test, consumers heard a selection of music clips derived from 200 Billboard Hot 100 songs. The results of the study determined that the best listening experiences rest on full-bodied, high-definition sound with ample treble response.
We are seeing consumers who want more personalized audio for an immersive experience. The emergence of spatial and lossless audio — combined with next-generation mobile hearable apps and sensors that enable sound personalization, hearing augmentation, health and well-being — will bring about the “Headphone 3.0” revolution in 2023.
Bluetooth LE Audio Upgrades Level Up the Listening Experience
The success of lossless TWS is dependent on the availability of the new high-fidelity, low-power Bluetooth codecs. Consumer expectations mirror this: Qualcomm reports that robust connectivity, lossless streaming and automatic Bluetooth pairing are key consumer demands and purchase drivers. 2022 was pivotal for these three features and their advantages to TWS consumers. Even though hi-res streaming services have been ready to deliver for some time now, only the newest Bluetooth LE codecs have been able to deliver lossless bit rates and an extended bandwidth to TWS devices.
Surprisingly, Qualcomm shares that consumer awareness of the latest Bluetooth LE advancements is high, with 75 percent reporting familiarity. As the benefits of Bluetooth LE audio become more well-known, implementing upgraded codecs will remain a key differentiator for retailers looking to deliver rich, seamless music listening experiences.
The Use Cases for TWS are Diversifying
The report reveals that while listening to music remains the number one-use case for TWS earbuds, other uses are on the rise. Voice and video calls, entertainment, gaming, podcast listening, hearing augmentation and fitness tracking are frequently cited uses for TWS. Hearables are also moving toward a more personal experience, with apps that use biosensors becoming more intelligent and thus more useful for consumers who want to track health, mood, attention, and fitness.
Much of this demand stems from the availability of advanced features and functionalities, which became more widespread following the rise of remote work and social connection during the pandemic. But it is also being made possible by the availability of more comfortable earbuds with longer wear, better battery life and smaller form factors for comfort without compromising performance.
The availability of advanced features and personalization options will remain a key checkbox for consumers in 2023. From active noise canceling (ANC) to support lossless sound quality to context awareness for safety, and from hearing personalization to accommodate varying hearing abilities to voice assistants for better remote collaboration, the TWS market is uniquely positioned to pique consumers’ interest in a range of use cases.
Purchase Drivers are Expanding
TWS is growing in popularity across a range of markets, so naturally, consumers across different demographics will have different expectations for what devices offer. While we’ve discussed the importance of sound quality and ANC as a key purchase driver, Qualcomm reports that other top considerations for consumer behaviors include the price of TWS devices, the comfort for long-term wear, the battery life, and the ease of use, setup and compatibility across other devices.
The reliability, simplicity and versatility of devices remain top consumer values for the TWS category. However, now that more use cases are prevalent for TWS users, convenience and comfort during use are ranked high on the must-have list. While many consumers will be apt to invest in the highest-performance devices available, retailers should closely consider which foundational values consumers are unwilling to compromise on and ensure their product mixes encompass the features that support those requirements.
What It Means for Retailers
Qualcomm’s report provides an invaluable look at consumer interests and behaviors when it comes to music listening and device performance. In the new year, retailers should expect that the high expectations of TWS earbuds will continue to evolve and become more diverse as new and legacy brands compete to create the best possible listening experience.
Prioritizing comfort, battery life and high-quality audio delivery are essential drivers for consumers, but it’s also critical to understand the broad range of use cases TWS serves in modern lifestyles and offers a selection of products that satiate the interests of many consumers.