Qualcomm’s New Hearables Tech Could Boost AirPod Competition

Qualcomm revealed two new Bluetooth chipsets that could make it easier and cheaper for wireless earbud manufacturers to compete with Apple’s AirPods. Hearables built with the new QCC514X and QCC304X, systems-on-a-chip will be able to offer some of Apple’s premium features to entry-level products starting later this year.

Noise Cancellation and Voice Assistants

The most notable improvement from both chips is hybrid active noise cancellation. Users can choose between blocking outside noise or allowing in some sound to hear what’s happening around them. That’s currently only available in the more expensive earbuds. The chips make for better connectivity and sound quality than is currently standard while using less power and extending battery life. They also include Qualcomm’s TrueWireless Mirroring, a quick switch between stereo and mono modes enabling users to wear one or both buds depending on their need.

The difference between the chips is that the 514X supports always-on voice assistant technology. Most wireless earbuds lack that feature, with only Apple, Amazon, and Beats integrating it into some of their products. Qualcomm claims that the improved battery life of the chip won’t be negated by the feature. Earbuds built with the 304x will still support voice assistants but will need a button or other physical activation to awaken the AI.

“Customers rely on us to help them deliver premium sound with long battery life and robust truly wireless connectivity, even in congested environments, and this exciting new Qualcomm TrueWireless Mirroring technology is designed to deliver on those vital features when using wireless earbuds and headphones,” Qualcomm vice president for voice, music, and wearables James Chapman said in a statement. “We have added voice assistant support at all tiers as well as integrated digital Hybrid ANC without compromising power consumption, which further allows these new SoCs to deliver amazing experiences.”

Hearing Competition

The idea that the next generation of less-expensive wireless earbuds could include active noise cancellation and always-on voice assistants could shake up the still-evolving market. Gartner has estimated that consumers will spend $52 billion on wearable technology, including hearables, in 2020, and IDC has calculated that hearables make up almost half the volume of all wearables.

Every voice assistant developer has wireless earbuds devoted to their AI, from Amazon’s Echo Buds and Microsoft’s Surface Earbuds to the delayed Google Pixel Buds and recently released Samsung Galaxy Buds+. Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro are leaders in the market for now, but if third-party earbud makers can bring premium quality and features to products without upping the price, that might not always be the case. Premium hearables may eventually be defined by other measures, like the quality of sheepskin used.


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