Do Wireless Headsets Have A Delay?


Sound going out of sync on wireless headsets or headphones is a huge distraction when watching movies or playing video games. The sound lag issue often makes us question – do wireless headsets have a delay?

Yes, wireless headsets do have latency issues. If you’re listening to music using a wireless headset, you’ll notice a lag between when it starts playing and when you start hearing it. Nevertheless, if your wireless headset just has a millisecond delay, you won’t be able to tell.

So what causes it and how can you reduce the impact? Read on!

Why Do Wireless Headsets Have Latency?

Getting audio data from your phone or computer to your headset/headphones takes (a split second of) time. The sound quality of headphones varies from about 5-10ms. That’s when your phone or computer’s digital audio data is processed, transformed to an analog audio signal, and transmitted to your headphones or speakers.

Bluetooth devices require much more “processing” time. Initially, your sound source digitizes and processes sounds (phone or computer). The audio is then converted to analog and wirelessly transmitted to your ears through Bluetooth headphones. 

On the other hand, true wireless earbuds may have an extra delay to maintain the synchronization of the left and right buds.

Using Bluetooth headphones and earbuds causes a 32ms audio delay. Expect a 100-300ms delay if you’re using fully wireless earbuds. You won’t notice the 100-500ms delay if your headphones and phone (or PC) support Bluetooth 5.0 audio.

Working on laptop and wireless headset

What Causes Bluetooth Lag?

Bluetooth lag is mainly caused by the time it takes to convert an audio stream into audible sound in the ear. Why some devices experience Bluetooth delay may be explained by the variation in audio signal conversion between wired and wireless headsets. 

For wired headsets, the digital audio conversion process is simple and rapid. It’s the cable that delivers the audio signal from the mixer to the amplifier. The amplifier boosts the audio impulses such that they are perceptible to the human ear. The complete conversion process takes, on average, less than 7 milliseconds. 

When compared to wired headphones that can be converted in seconds, wireless headsets take far longer. 

First and foremost, an encoder decreases the audio stream’s loudness. Finally, a Bluetooth transmitter transmits the data from the headset’s receiver to a separate receiver outside the headset. It is also necessary to transfer the decoded audio signal from the receiver to the Digital-to-Audio Converter (DAC).

DACs take digital audio signals and turn them into electrical sound, then amplified and transmitted to the ear via the amplifier. Bluetooth headphones require more recording time because of the longer signal path. There is now a discernible difference between what is played and what is heard due to this shift.

Bluetooth wireless headphones

Basics Of Audio Codecs

The Bluetooth codec controls how audio data are “trimmed” and reassembled inside the receiving device. 

The more data to transmit, the more energy required. These Bluetooth codecs aim for optimum compression, preserving high quality while broadcasting at minimal bitrates. It’s worth noting that low bitrates don’t always equal terrible sound quality since effective compression also makes a difference. For instance, AAC has a lower bitrate than SBC and yet transmits better audio quality.

Types Of Audio Codecs: How Do They Affect Wireless Headset

There are several different Bluetooth audio codecs available, each with its unique compression and transmission algorithm. Bluetooth audio streaming necessitates the use of a codec, and some are better than others. For a better listening experience, make sure your source and Bluetooth headphones support high-performing codecs.

Sub-Band Codec (SBC)

Although SBC has a poor track record for audio quality, it can be highly adaptable. It has a greater bitrate than MP3 (up to 345kbps). However, if the connection grows worse, the speed will drop to 128 kbps. It is also capable of 48kHz sampling rates. Higher-quality codecs usually don’t make much of a difference. Even undetectable in loud settings. 

Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) incorporates an SBC codec, and it’s found on all Bluetooth devices. SBC codec is completely free to use (other codecs require a fee by manufacturers). As a result, if your connection breaks down or your device does not support the best codec from your headphones, SBC will be selected automatically.

Advanced Audio Coding (AAC)

AAC compresses aggressively but also saves more data.  The processing power necessary to decode and encode data while using Bluetooth to send it takes more energy. AAC is superior to SBC due to the latter’s superiority in technology. 

Scalable To Lossless (SLS) is an AAC implementation that allows lossless audio to be sent wirelessly, while AAC-LD (Low Delay) is an AAC implementation that lowers delay. In contrast to SLS, which is a Bluetooth standard, AAC-LD is not. 

Not many devices support these two codecs.

aptX

In terms of audio quality and latency, aptX trumps SBC. It’s vital to have the former while you’re viewing movies or TV shows. It was designed to replicate the sound quality of wired headsets. 

In Bluetooth devices, it’s still fairly popular, and Android has a solid integration of it. The aptX codec is built into every Android smartphone. 

Qualcomm owns the audio codecs that begin with “aptX.”  Even though Bluetooth was invented in 2007, the codec had already been patented in 1988 and used on commercial sound equipment.

aptX HD 

aptX HD has better profiles and larger bitrates (576kbps).  It has a sampling rate of 48kHz and a depth of 24 bits. As a result, the sound is more open and has a wider dynamic range. Even though it’s not a lossless codec, the amount of data lost is low. 

However, this codec is only supported by a small number of devices. Many different smartphones and headphones OEMs use it, like Sony, Huawei, Google, and others. 

Audio codec device

aptX LL 

If you’re annoyed by lag in videos or video games, this codec is your best bet. It’s almost impossible to notice the lag when using this because of the extremely low latency of only 32ms. Not many devices currently support aptX LL, but it is expected to witness higher implementation in upcoming devices. 

aptX Adaptive

It incorporates all of the aptX codecs and is widely regarded as a futureproof audio codec.  Consequently, it can transmit HD-quality Bluetooth music with a more comprehensive dynamic range while maintaining lower latency. 

Sony LDAC

In terms of sound quality, LDAC takes the cake, with bitrate reaching 990kbps. It accomplishes this by retaining a 96kHz sampling rate and a 24-bit depth. LDAC is built into every Android device running Android 8.0 or above. Unfortunately, this codec is only supported by a small number of headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM3 is one of the most renowned.

LHDC and LLAC 

The bitrate speed of up to 900kbps is offered by LHDC, which has some outstanding specifications. Even though the LLAC’s maximum bitrate is just 600 kbps, it’s still relatively good, with a delay of only 30ms. 

Unfortunately, Huawei’s smartphones are the only ones that support LLAC and LHDC codecs.

Samsung Scalable Codec

Samsung has a codec that is quite comparable to aptX adaptive. Bitrates range from 88 kbps to 512 kbps, while the surroundings determine the speed of this codec. The first truly wireless earphones featuring Samsung’s Scalable Codec are the Samsung Galaxy Buds+.

Bluetooth LE Audio LC3

The Bluetooth Low Energy Audio codec arrived at the beginning of 2020, which was a pleasant surprise. LE Audio includes Low Complexity Communications Codec (LC3) to provide high-quality audio transmission while using less energy. 

The new codec offers far more than just higher bitrates; it also improves the entire fluidity of the experience. When you’re farther away from the Bluetooth transmitter, the sound quality degrades more gradually. Multi-stream transmission is also supported by LC3 so that you may send one stream to one wireless earbud and another to the other. But this comes at the expense of bitrate. 

Hearing aids now can stream audio straight to your earpiece, thanks to LE Audio.

Man wearing glasses and wireless headset

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Bluetooth 5.0 Have Lower Latency?

Bluetooth 5.0 does indeed have a shorter latency than the previous Bluetooth versions. In particular, provides a more reliable connection by transmitting a strong signal and reducing latency. Bluetooth 5.0 is not without its flaws, one of which being the possibility of real-time audio delays.

How Do I Reduce The Delay On My Bluetooth Headphones?

You can reduce or eliminate latency by trying out different methods. To reduce latency, use the methods listed below: 

  1. Audio input device:  Disable audio input. Select “No device” under Audio Input Device. 
  2. Decrease the audio buffer size: Smaller audio buffers give lower latency. But be careful not to lose sound quality. 
  3. Reduce CPU load: CPU load influences audio buffer size, which affects delay. Reducing CPU load can assist with latency. For example, if you have too many apps open on your phone, try reducing the number. 
  4. Tweak track delays: Track delays can be severe at times. In this scenario, you’ll need to delay each track so the music starts when it should. Move the clips to fit the tunes. 
  5. Fixing sampling rate: In computing, the sample rate is the number of samples sent every second. A higher sampling rate will decrease the delay. You can try to tweak the sampling rate on your device. 
  6. Using native drivers: Instead of your computer’s sound card, using dedicated native drivers can also assist decrease latency. Core or ASIO audio drivers generally have lower latency. 
  7. Eliminate all latency-inflating plug-ins: Abnormal delay can occur under certain conditions. If this is the case, start by removing each plug-in one by one until you find the one causing the delay.

Conclusion

Latency was once a major problem with previous models of wireless headphones. But contrary to common perception, technology has resolved much of it now, and the current lineup of wireless headsets does not pose latency issues as widely as previous models. 

Will future Bluetooth technology eradicate sound delay? We’ll see. But for now, you can use all the information presented above to choose the right wireless headset to experience lower latency. 

How do you like the guide? Did it help with your wireless headset latency issues? 

Jayden Smith

Hi, I am Jayden. I have a strong interest in the latest hearing electronics including headphones, earbuds, headsets and speakers. I love to research and write information about them on a part-time basis sharing some tips for beginners looking for the perfect device.

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