What Qualcomm's new chips mean for upcoming true wireless earbuds

Qualcomm introduced two new Bluetooth audio systems-on-a-chip that will power upgraded true wireless headphones hitting stores in the coming months.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
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David Carnoy
2 min read

The new chips will power new true wireless earbuds released later this year.


If you're wondering what to expect from upcoming AirPods competitors, one way to get an inkling is from the new chips that will power them. And the latest new silicon is Qualcomm's new QCC514X and the QCC304X, the tech giant's next-generation, ultra-low-power Bluetooth audio systems-on-a-chip. Designed for entry-level and midtier products, they'll start appearing in new true wireless earbuds and "hearable" accessories in the second half of this year, the company announced Wednesday.

What do they bring to the table? Both chips are designed to improve battery life, connectivity, sound quality and call quality, and offer the ability to easily switch between stereo (wearing two buds) and mono (wearing only one bud) modes, a feature Qualcomm calls TrueWireless Mirroring. Also, they both offer hybrid active noise cancellation with a hear-through transparency mode that allows sound to leak into the buds so you can hear what's going on around you. That means we'll see active noise canceling become a more standard feature, even in more moderately priced true wireless earbuds.  

While both SoCs support access to voice assistants, the higher-end QCC514X has always-on "hands-free" voice assistant support (by simply saying the wake word) for various voice assistants, including Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa. That's a feature currently not found outside of true wireless headphones from Apple , Beats and Amazon (remember the Echo Buds?). Qualcomm highlights the QCC514X's enhanced battery life compared to those models, even with the always-on voice assistant feature activated.

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Some of the brands currently using Qualcomm Bluetooth Audio SoCs.


Qualcomm says the QCC514x and QCC304x are able to deliver up to "13 hours of playtime based on a 65-mAh battery, depending on settings and other factors," with active noise canceling having minimal impact on battery life. Additionally, the extended playtime on the device allows for the "shrinking of the battery used in the charging case." For comparison, the AirPods Pro deliver around five hours of battery life with noise canceling activated.

Qualcomm's not the only one in the Bluetooth audio system-on-a-chip game. Apple makes its own, of course, and Samsung recently announced new SoCs for next-generation wireless earbuds. Other value competitors power the multitude of no-name true wireless earbuds that populate the virtual shelves at Amazon.

Some of the current true wireless earbuds using Qualcomm include models from Jabra, Bang and Olufsen, Libratone, Anker, Master & Dynamic, Audio-Technica, Klipsch, Cambridge Audio and 1More. Later this year, we should see highly anticipated new models from Bose (the Earbuds 500 and Noise-Canceling Earbuds 700) and Sony (the rumored WF-1000XM4) and perhaps Jabra will come out with a noise-canceling version of its Jabra Elite 75t, since it's been a close partner with Qualcomm in developing its true wireless earbuds.  

Read more: Best noise-canceling true wireless earbuds of 2020

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