Sony has long been a leader in the world of wireless earbuds, pioneering features like active noise cancellation (ANC) and hi-res audio, but it has never produced a set of wireless buds that can do Bluetooth Multipoint — the ability to connect a set of earbuds to two devices simultaneously. This omission has become even more notable in recent years as brands like Jabra, Anker Soundcore, 1More, and JBL have all adopted it, even on models costing less than $100.
At last, however, Sony has decided to do something about it: starting in November, the company will add Bluetooth multipoint to its LinkBuds, LinkBuds S, and its flagship WF-1000XM4 earbuds via a firmware update.
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Similarly to multipoint on wireless headphones, these models will be able to receive music from one device, say a PC, and then switch seamlessly to a second device like a phone, in order to answer a phone call — reverting back to the PC automatically when the call is done. Though according to Sony’s press release, you have to download and install a second app called Auto Play if you want to automatically revert to the first device.
Multipoint is a very handy feature that has been thrust into the spotlight since the pandemic forced a huge number of people to work from home, alternating between Zoom calls, phone calls, and their favorite media. So what took Sony so long to bring multipoint to market?
The company hasn’t said, but I suspect it’s been faced with a technological hurdle due to its support of its in-house hi-res audio codec, LDAC.
LDAC is capable of delivering lossy, but nonetheless hi-res 24-bit/96kHz audio from a compatible device to a set of compatible earbuds (under ideal conditions). But to do that, LDAC eats up a huge amount of Bluetooth bandwidth. At its most demanding quality level, LDAC consumes 990kbits per second — almost the entirety of what Bluetooth can handle. That leaves precious little bandwidth for things like a second, constant Bluetooth connection.
In fact, on every set of wireless earbuds I’ve tested that offer both LDAC and Bluetooth multipoint, the two features are mutually exclusive — enabling one of them disables the other. Even on Sony’s wireless headphones like the WH-1000XM4 and XM5, which support both features, a choice must be made — you can’t use them simultaneously.
It’s possible that Sony was looking for ways to avoid applying a similar set of rules to its own earbuds. Unlike many other manufacturers, Sony makes a lot of the chips that it uses in its products, and perhaps it expected to arrive at a homegrown solution.
One way that Sony could do multipoint and hi-res audio would be to adopt Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive codec, which offers a similar, if not identical level of audio performance as LDAC, but with far lower bandwidth requirements. I’ve reviewed several great aptX Adaptive earbuds that also do multipoint. But Sony appears to be going in the other direction. When it introduced its WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones, it dropped support for aptX and aptX HD, which had been available on the XM4’s predecessors, the WH-1000XM3, and I’ve not seen a set of Sony headphones or earbuds since then that include any of Qualcomm’s codecs.
Sony’s multipoint announcement was actually something of a footnote within a press release designed to highlight two changes to the company’s LinkBuds products: a new $200 “Earth Blue” color for the LinkBuds S that is made using recycled water bottles, and a new version of the LinkBuds designed for enterprise use, called the LinkBuds UC ($250).
The LinkBuds UC come with their own dedicated USB dongle in the case, which lets them connect to a Mac or PC directly, without relying on Bluetooth. The buds are also certified for use with Microsoft Teams, and you can customize the earbuds’ gestures — including their clever wide-area tap ability — to perform Teams-specific tasks like raising a hand, instead of the usual playback and volume commands for music.
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