Bluetooth headphones have become quite popular in the last decade, even more so since we (sadly) got rid of the headphone jack. And while you don't need to be an audio geek to use Bluetooth headphones, it's very useful to learn about the tech that goes inside them to know which ones to buy.

In this article, we'll learn about two of the commonly used Bluetooth codecs—aptX and LDAC—that companies use to make their Bluetooth headphones work. So, which is better: aptX or LDAC?

What Is a Bluetooth Codec?

A Bluetooth codec is a software program that transmits audio from the source (your phone or laptop) to your headphones. It compresses this data to reduce its file size and encodes it in a format that your headphones understand. Using the same codec, your headphones then decode this encoded data so you can hear your music.

Simply put, a codec is a language that both your phone and your headphones understand and use to communicate with each other. That's why in order for you to hear your music, your headphones (a Bluetooth receiver) must support the same audio codec as your phone (a Bluetooth transmitter).

Related: DAC vs. Amp: What's the Difference?

Bluetooth Audio 101

headsets and DAC for listening to lossless audio

Before comparing aptX and LDAC, let's first understand a few necessary terminologies.

  • Sample rate: The number of samples (pieces of data) taken from the original audio file in one second. It is represented with kHz or Hz. The higher the sample rate, the more accurate the sound reproduction. A higher sample rate generally means better audio quality.
  • Bit depth: The number of digital bits (1s and 0s) used to represent a single sample. The bit depth determines the file size and is denoted by "bit." Higher the bit depth, the bigger the file size.
  • Bit rate: The number of bits transferred from source to receiver in one second. It is indicated with Kbps or Mbps. A higher bitrate means better audio quality but also a larger file size.
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Related: Audio Quality Explained: Bit Depth vs. Sample Rate

What Is the aptX Bluetooth Codec?

aptX Bluetooth Codec
Image Credit: Rydo87/Wikimedia

aptX, an acronym for Audio Processing Technology, is a family of Bluetooth codecs developed by Qualcomm for wireless transfer. Its oldest version, aptX, was developed in 1980 and is still used in most Android devices. However, iOS devices do not use aptX codecs.

For so long, wireless audio had a bad rep in the audio industry for its poor quality compared to wired audio. But this started to change when Qualcomm developed aptX to enable high-quality audio for wireless devices. Taking advantage of this, Sennheiser launched the first aptX-enabled Bluetooth headset in 2009—marking aptX's entry into consumer-grade headphones.

Since then, Qualcomm dropped more versions of aptX to address various pain points in the audio industry. As of 2022, there are seven aptX codecs: aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX Low Latency, Enhanced aptX, aptX Lossless, and aptX Live.

Related: Ways to Reduce Bluetooth Latency

What Is the LDAC Bluetooth Codec?

LDAC Bluetooth Codec
Image Credit: Sony/Wikimedia

LDAC was developed by Sony and was released in 2015. Sony brings both lossy and lossless technology together in LDAC codec. LDAC was developed to enable high-res audio over Bluetooth paired with its adaptive bitrate. Due to this, LDAC doesn't have several variants like aptX, which makes the obvious difference between the two codecs.

Based on the signal strength, LDAC can switch between three bitrates: 330 kbps, 660 kbps, and 990 kbps. Given its capability to offer high-res audio, the Japan Audio Society (JAS) certified it with their "Hi-Res Audio Wireless" certification. Similar to aptX, LDAC is not available for iOS devices and is available on Android devices running Oreo 8.0 or above.

Related: Exciting Ways to Get More Out of Bluetooth on Android

aptX vs. LDAC: Which Is Better?

bluetooth audio codes explained

In this section, for the sake of convenience, we are only focusing on aptX variants that closely compete with LDAC.

Codec Bitrate Max Sample Rate Max Bit Depth Latency
aptX 384kbps 48kHz 16-bit 50-150 ms
aptX HD 566kbps 48kHz 24-bit ~150 ms
aptX Adaptive 279kbps–420kbps 48kHz 24-bit 80 ms
LDAC 330 kbps/660 kbps/990 kbps 96kHz 24-bit ~200 ms

Right off the bat, LDAC produces the best sounding audio when it's on the upper end of its adaptive bitrate, i.e., 990 kbps. However, LDAC tends to suffer from unstable audio when there's signal fluctuation as it keeps switching between the three bitrates.

Another downside of LDAC is that when it swaps to its lowest bitrate, 330 kbps, it performs worse than the original aptX codec at 384 kbps bitrate. However, aptX HD with its 567 kbps bitrate falls behind when compared to LDAC's mid-tier 660 kbps bitrate.

In addition, aptX Adaptive offers a more reliable audio quality compared to LDAC. The former adjusts its bitrate freely within its range of 279 kbps–420 kbps as per the signal strength. The latter can only switch between its three pre-set bitrates—making aptX Adaptive a better choice to avoid sharp jitters in your audio.

Related: Are Expensive Headphones Worth It? Things You Should Know Before Buying

Which Bluetooth Codec Should I Use?

  • Casual listening: For listening to music, you need a codec that offers high-audio quality that maintains consistency even if you're away from your phone. aptX and aptX Adaptive are great choices for this purpose. However, if you want the best sound possible, LDAC is the clear winner.
  • Gaming: For mobile games like PUBG, codecs like aptX and aptX Adaptive are preferable as they offer low latency and stable audio quality.
  • Watching videos: Similar to gaming, you need a low-latency codec to ensure both the video and the audio from your Bluetooth headphones or speakers are in sync. For this purpose, aptX Adaptive is more suitable than the rest.
  • Making calls: For calls, you need good audio quality so codecs like LDAC and aptX Adaptive are better choices. aptX Adaptive houses a feature called aptX Voice specifically added to maintain clear audio during calls.

Choose a Codec That Works for You

Bluetooth technology is still relatively new (in the grand scheme of things!), and it has a long way to go to stay on par with wired technology. This is why the differences between these codecs are very minimal and barely noticeable in real-time by untrained ears.

However, you must consider two thingsbefore buying Bluetooth headphones: your usage and their compatibility with your phone's codec. Once you are sure about these two, it's much easier to pick a pair of headphones.

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