CD-quality music is still the benchmark for decent audio; it’s not quite high quality, but it’s noticeably better than the lossy, compressed music found on Spotify and your old MP3 library. If convenience is also important, actually listening to uncompressed CD-quality music on a phone can still be difficult. The source material has to be of high enough quality in the first place, and once it reaches your phone, you need a way to get it to your headphones without additional sound quality compression. Easy enough in the era of wired headphones, but a bit more difficult with wireless headphones.

Qualcomm’s new AptX Lossless standard should finally close the gap between the fidelity of CD-quality audio and the imperfect compression of Bluetooth. It’s still harder to get hold of than it should be, but after spending an afternoon comparing it to its predecessor, the difference in quality is huge.

NuraTrue Pro headphones, out of the box.

8 hours of charging from the headphones themselves.

NuraTrue Pro charging case.

The charging case offers an additional 24 hours of battery life.

Since the announcement of the new standard more than a year ago, it has taken some time for hardware to actually support it. In June, audio company Nura announced the first pair of headphones with AptX Lossless support, but only a few smartphones on the market are actually compatible with the new codec. This is finally starting to change with phones like the Asus Zenfone 9 shipping with built-in AptX Lossless support. Nura gave me a sample of the phone so I could put her new headphones through their paces.

The NuraTrue Pro themselves are true wireless headphones that look pretty typical. They offer 8 hours of charging from the earbuds themselves, an additional 24 hours from the case, and come with four microphones on each earbud for call handling and noise cancellation. These microphones are also responsible for Nura’s trademark personalized sound technology, which it claims measures your ears to optimize the sound for them. Nura is currently funding the headphones Through a Kickstarter campaignwhich the headphones are expected to go on sale in the fourth quarter of this year.

So what is AptX Lossless?

Critically, Nura’s wireless buds support Qualcomm’s AptX Lossless standard. The chipmaker says the new Bluetooth technology can transmit CD-quality audio (16-bit / 44.1 kHz) without any loss of detail (hence, “Lossless”). This is in contrast to the previous highest resolution codec, AptX HD, which is still heavily compressed, despite claims to deliver sound that sounds equivalent to 24-bit / 48kHz or even 24-bit / 96kHz.

AptX is not Lossless, despite being branded as lossless as a whole without compression. There’s still some compression here to get down to 1.4Mbps CD-quality audio 1Mbps bit rate that AptX Lossless is capable of transmitter. But the difference here is that the compression used must not result in any data loss and is “bit-for-bit” accurate. “Once it’s compressed, it’s exactly the same as the original,” says Nura CEO Luke Campbell. It’s getting smaller, but it’s the same as it was when it came out.”

Test methodology

I used Apple Music’s Lossless audio stream for my tests. I confirmed that all audio quality settings were set to the highest available option and checked the specific audio resolutions listed for each track. In some cases, these tracks were actually higher resolution than the CD-quality audio that AptX Lossless was able to transmit, but for the purposes of my benchmarking, that shouldn’t matter.

In theory the test should be relatively simple, but Qualcomm’s software doesn’t make it easy to see when you’re streaming through AptX Lossless. The new codec is technically an extension of AptX Adaptive, the company’s existing codec that dynamically scales the bitrate of your audio based on your environment. So when I plugged the NuraTrue Pro headphones into the Asus Zenfone 9, the Qualcomm tooltip popped up so I could note that it was lossless via “Snapdragon Sound” and “AptX Adaptive”. But amid Nura’s endorsement, I’m listening in an uncrowded space, and Qualcomm’s AptX site specifically mentioned it. the device supports AptX LosslessI’m sure I’m hearing lossless audio.

Neither Qualcomm’s software nor Android gives you an easy way to switch between different versions of AptX for EU testing. Instead, at Campbell’s suggestion, I used the NuraTrue Pro’s multipoint connection to directly compare listening through an AptX Lossless-compatible phone (Asus Zenfone 9) to a regular AptX HD-compatible phone (AptX HD-compatible phone). Honor 70). With this setup, I could have Apple Music stream losslessly to both phones, and then connect the NuraTrue Pro to each in turn to see what, if any, difference in sound quality I could see.

Results

To my ears, AptX Lossless had a small but noticeable effect on sound quality. It wasn’t a night-and-day difference (it turns out that Bluetooth audio compression has actually improved quite a bit in recent years), but they were small differences that were nice to pick out on familiar tracks. There’s a little extra clarity here, a little extra depth.

Addressing “Hotel California” by the Eagles (Apple Music reports it’s streamed in high-res 24-bit / 192kHz), the advantages of Lossless were most apparent at higher frequencies. The plucked guitar notes in the song’s intro had more brightness and sparkle, the Bluetooth quality was boosted to lossless levels, and every instrument throughout the track felt more present and audible. It didn’t sound at all bad When listening to the Honor 70, however, the Zenfone 9 had just a little extra detail.

That’s not to say that the differences were drastic, and it’s clear that the quality of the track’s mastering played a big role. I tried listening to “Lithium” by Nirvana (24-bit / 44.1kHz, a step smaller than CD quality) and it was harder to tell the difference between the two audio codecs. Perhaps Cobain’s opening guitar riff and vocals had a bit more room around them with AptX Lossless enabled, but I doubt I could tell the difference in a blind test. On a tighter trick like “Territory Pissing,” which sounded worse on a non-AptX Lossless device, the differences were a bit more pronounced, but the difference was slight.

Then I tried some techno with “Elliptic” by Vessels (16-bit / 44.1kHz, aka CD quality). While the non-AptX Lossless phone felt a bit drowned out by the rumbling bass of the track, the Zenfone 9 gave it a more balanced sound, with more high-pitched sound in the mix and more room to breathe. . It’s almost as if AptX Lossless helps pull the song out of the sea of ​​bass.

Finally, I listened to “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs (24-bit / 44.1 kHz). Each of the instruments here felt more three-dimensional when streamed through AptX Lossless. They sounded less like parts of a music track and more like physical instruments recorded in a studio.

NuraTrue Pro earphones, one in the charging case, one outside.

Nura’s trademark voice personalization technology is still present.

In any case, I would struggle to call the improvements offered by AptX Lossless transformative. But I felt like it added a little extra detail that I often don’t realize I’m missing. It’s almost like the moment you start streaming a video and it looks normal until it buffers properly and comes into focus. It didn’t look “bad” before, but when you see it in high quality, you become aware of the flaws.

There are always a lot of variables when testing audio transmitters, and I wouldn’t want to draw any conclusions about AptX Lossless from my time with the NuraTrue Pro. A codec may, for example, have a clearer effect on higher-end and/or over-ear headphones or different songs. But based on my listening, the effect of AptX Lossless was so subtle that I personally wouldn’t rush to buy a new pair of headphones based on a single audio codec (sorry Nura), and I definitely I wouldn’t buy a new phone to get support. Even if it was a choice between two pairs of headphones, I’d probably choose based on subjective sound quality rather than which model has the more advanced audio codec on the spec sheet.

Ideally, AptX Lossless will become one of the audio features supported by enough smartphones and headphones that you take advantage of without even realizing it. But while AptX is widely supported on many wireless headphones and Android phones, iPhones and AirPods aren’t. Lossless Bluetooth streaming may be a great upgrade for any audiophile who hates the idea of ​​listening to lossy audio, but its subtle benefits may be a tougher sell for more mainstream listeners.

Crowdfunding is inherently chaotic: companies seeking funding tend to make big promises. according to A study by Kickstarter in 2015, about 1 in 10 “successful” products that reach their funding goals fail to actually deliver rewards. From suppliers, delays, missed deadlines or over-promised ideas often mean in-store disappointment for products seen.

The best defense is to use your best judgment. Ask yourself: does the product look legitimate? Is the company making outlandish claims? Is there a working prototype? Does the company record current plans for manufacturing and shipping finished products? Completed a Kickstarter before? Remember: when you back it on a crowdfunding site, you don’t necessarily buy it.

Photography by Jon Porter/The Verge

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