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New Bluetooth will bring better music to your wireless earbuds

Expect earbud better battery life and a new ability to share music from your phone to several Bluetooth-connected friends.

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Bluetooth SIG; Stephen Shankland/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

Those wireless earbuds should sound better and their batteries should last longer with new audio technology coming to Bluetooth over the next year or so. The technology, called LE Audio, offers a better balance between sound quality and power consumption, industry backers said Monday at CES.

Bluetooth is a wireless communication technology offering a short-range radio link connecting devices like earbuds, earphones, speakers and hearing ads to audio sources like phones, PCs and cars. A host of players at the Bluetooth Special Interest Group have been concentrating on lowering its power consumption in recent years with the Bluetooth Low Energy version.

It's an important direction. Wireless earbuds are becoming common, popularized by Apple's AirPods but with competitors such as Samsung Galaxy Buds, Google Pixel Buds, Amazon Echo Buds, Sony WF-1000XM3 and Microsoft Surface Earbuds. Better power usage means you don't have to drop them in the charging case as often -- or that they can be made smaller for the same battery life.

The new audio compression technology sounds better than the earlier Bluetooth audio standard even when halving the amount of sound data being transmitted, according to Manfred Lutzky, head of communications audio work at Fraunhofer IIS, a German engineering organization.

Another big change coming with LE Audio is the ability for one phone, PC or other device to broadcast Bluetooth audio to many receiving devices. That'll be nice not just for sharing music with your friends, but also for places like airports, museums, gyms and theaters, the Bluetooth SIG said.

Expect the first Bluetooth devices supporting LE Audio to arrive in 2021.

Expect the first Bluetooth devices supporting LE Audio to arrive in 2021.

Bluetooth SIG

The LE Audio standard was developed specifically with hearing aids in mind. "Within a few years, most new phones and TVs will be equally accessible to users with hearing loss," Stefan Zimmer, secretary general the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association, said in a statement.

LE Audio should arrive in earbuds about a year from now, the Bluetooth SIG said in a statement, with PCs and phones arriving a few months afterward.