I witnessed the true wireless headphones developments since the day of Bragi Dash back to 2014, the downfall of Doppler Labs with Hear One earbuds in 2017 and Kanoa’s scam.
True wireless earbud is a tough business except big names such as Apple, Samsung.
In the next couple of years with 5G and IoT we are expected to see more interesting things with TWS.
For now my predictions for 2020. This post was originally published in 2019 and I frequently update it.
This audio codec will be common in future TWS.
Hearing Aid Feature
Soon TWS will be able to evaluate user’s hearing profile, which enhance the the sound at certain frequency ranges. From the transparency mode it will become a helpful feature for people with hearing impair.
Users will go through some tests designed for the measurement, they will listen to some tracks like sound sweeping from low to high frequencies to determine what they are missing by multiple-choice questions.
Companies like Nuheara have taken this approach, but the AirPro will have this feature with iOS 14 upgrade.
Ambient sound mode gradually transform to sound amplification feature or building it as a setting, AirPods Pro and Galaxy Buds Pro and Nuheara IQbuds Max are among pioneers investing into this feature.
True wireless earbuds with wire listening mode
Again this is not new, MMCX Bluetooth TWS module can turn your IEMs with MMXC connector into TWS listening experience.
But it’s not easy to add wire listening mode to the TWS since it require a port either 3.5mm, MMCX or 2-Pin ports. This can either increase the size and weight of earbuds – more complicated than it seems.
But I think it’s feasible and when you can replace earbuds’ dead battery you can enjoy the sound from it with a cable – that’s great!
Airpods with long stem and now bean-shaped Galaxy Buds Live. But it’s not just about the design but the ergonomic fit that works for most people’s ears.
This tech helps you hear better while make call in noise environment. You will perceive the the caller’s voice directly by the Cochlea via vibrations.
Surround sound effect audio
Apple Airpods Pro just got this feature called spatial audio. It’s very interesting that if you place your iPad on the table, turn your head to other directions, you will hear the sound coming from the table other than remaning the same without Spatial Audio.
Pearl Audio’s campaign has met their goal to launch the first pair of solar-powered earbuds. But I am not sure how they place the solar panel on such small space of earbuds, does it work? theoretically I could we would see in the next year.
Operating System (OS) For Earbuds
SiriOS rumored to launch in 2020, the OS developed by Apple for Airpods. Conventionally Apple often developes OS for their devices, and the Airpods 2 has a Siri-voice-actived feature, by saying “Hey, Siri”, it’s very likely Airpods 3 will run SiriOS.
Feature Drop will soon land on Pixel Buds, it means the earbuds will get software update like any OS system.
To extract the most out of a track, earbuds can enhance the sound that you would be heard. This can be done by figuring out user’s hearing profile – how you hear the sound at different frequencies. The earbuds then auto-calibrate to match that hearing profile.
Bose recently announces it will close all retail in some regions, because most products such as speakers, headphones are increasingly purchased online. When you look for a pair of earbuds, sound quality is what you can get to know by reviews, but for the fitting it’s quite tricky. The fitting test will give the information how the earbuds will fit into your ears. Just by taking a photo of your ears, uploading to the fitting test app, it will give a percentage that indicate how well the earbuds fit such as if they are too large for your ears.
Battery tech is steady moving forward – it is smaller and holds charge longer.
True wireless earbuds (TWS) get benefit from it.
The current longest battery life for true wireless earbuds is 6.5 hours.
Quick charging is a great feature – 5 minutes of charging gives a lot more than you expected 2 or 3 hours of listening music.
It is not just the battery, the ultra-Low power consumption chip will consume less battery, making earbuds last even longer.
Qualcomm QCC5100 chip for example can manage the power more efficiently and saving 65% power for earbuds’ battery compared to their current chips made for small Bluetooth audio devices.
Balanced Armature drivers also requires less power to operate than dynamic drivers (aka moving coil unit).
BA drivers are also smaller, leaving more room for other hardwards or battery.
Bluetooth 5.0 seems to be the fit for IoT. It’s uncertain it will improve the sound quality but the Bluetooth connectivity is easier to set up. If your phone supports Bluetooth 5.0 – it can simultaneously connect to 2 separate earbuds, no more the need for syncing between 2 earbuds.
The latency means the delay users encounter when watching movies. The audio lags behind the video. Similarly you play game or wear VR headsets – it’s quite irritating.
New technology with ultra-low latency will erase the gap by increasing either transmission bandwidth or Bluetooth transmission efficiency.
Active Noise Cancellation
Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) isn’t necessary, though this term is often highlighted in marketing campaign.
If it works consistantly like Bose QC series – it could be a good thing but most of them don’t.
Just in some situations such that noisy subway – other than that it won’t matter. And if you switch ANC on it will consume a lot of battery, but it’s not true for Airpods Pro, with ANC switched on the Airpods Pro are still able to play less than Airpods 30 minutes.
Adaptive ANC could be soon a part of TWS, it can auto-adjust the NC levels based on the environment, this tech has been developed by Qualcomm to deliver more consistent sound.
Hi-Res Audio Wireless raised a new sound quality standard for true wireless earbuds. I started to see a few getting this certification like Sony WF-1000XM4.
If you think Apple Airpods sound great – Nope it’s not a standard for sound. You can easily find a pair that offers a better sound – because it provides better noise-isolation therefore better bass and richer sound.
Longer lasting battery and better sound aren’t trade off – earbuds will look bigger and may cause discomfort. And they also need a larger charging that may not fit into your pan pocket.
Better sound also means more drivers, BA will be used with DA to cover the wider frequency range. KZ TWS E10, for example, are built with 5 drivers, one dynamic and four balanced armatures.
Other than plastic, wood or carbon fiber will be used as housings for earbuds.
Earbuds will couple with smart wristband. When not in use earbuds can be stored and charged in wristband, you no longer have to take a carrying case with you on the go. Wearbuds have already run their campaign on Kickstarter. Aipower becomes the first wristband that host true wireless earbuds. Browsing on Aliexpress you can find several wristbands.
Call quality is better
Not just for listening music, Bluetooth earbuds should delivers the call performance as good as Bluetooth headsets. So you can call back your friend or your business partners with a double touch/press without removing your earbuds.
More microphones will be built into earbuds to detect and filter out the background noise. This counts on the Bluetooth processors, the Qualcomm QCC3020 supports 2 mics for noise reduction. The microphone sensitivity will improve until the call performance of earbuds reach the professional Bluetooth headsets.
Portless charging case
Iphone probably will go portless.
The wireless charging technology recently reaches a new milestone, it charges faster and more phone makers ultilizes this tech. Eventually whether the device gets Micro USB type C or it won’t matter. The charging case for TWS gets benefit from this trend.
The House of Marley Redemption ANC aren’t 100% made from Bamboo, but it shows new type of material could be used to mold the housings.
How much do you pay for a good pair of TWS?
From $80 to $100 you get a quality TWS such as 1More Stylish True Wireless with solid connection, great build quality, 6.5 hours of battery and wise sound.