Not all audio sounds exactly the same, and it's not just because of the disparities between headphones. The Bluetooth codec also matters, and when you're talking high-res codecs, like aptX HD and LDAC, you start to see that earbuds are already on board in supporting them. Not all wireless earbuds go that far, but this group certainly does.
Given that LDAC is a Sony-made codec, it's hardly surprising the WF-1000XM5 would support them. These earbuds are already among the best available for audio quality and active noise cancelation (ANC). Still, with LDAC, you can also get better fidelity when playing audio content from a device that supports it.
Bowers and Wilkins know how to make good audio products, and the PI7 S2 carry on from their predecessors, including compatibility with aptX Adaptive, so you get aptX HD and aptX Low Latency. Now you have excellent audio quality with the option to go with 24-bit streaming when paired with a device that can give it to you.
Bose takes a turn with Bluetooth codecs by finally supporting aptX Adaptive, only adding to what makes the QuietComfort Ultra one of the best available. You can also expect outstanding ANC performance on top of the excellent audio quality when paired with the right device delivering higher fidelity.
Bang and Olufsen are renowned for audio performance, and that's certainly the case with the Beoplay EX, handling playback with aplomb supporting the aptX Adaptive codec for high fidelity and lower latency. You pay extra for the privilege, but take good care of them, and they'll serenade your ears every time.
It's easy to find a pair of wireless earbuds that don't break the bank, yet offer features you don't always see in other, more expensive pairs. You get support for LDAC, LHDC, and 192kHz/24-bit audio, so you have real flexibility when listening to hi-res sources. It doesn't hurt that you get ANC to go with all that, too.
The Technics EAH-AZ80 may not be on everyone's radar, but our review showed they're good enough to compete with every other pair on this list. Not only do you get LDAC support for hi-res playback, but also some of the best audio quality for the price. They're also comfortable and have great app support to boot.
You may not know this, but 1More has built a quiet reputation for making great earbuds, and we felt that way when reviewing the Evo. LDAC codec support adds hi-res playback to the mix when listening from the right sources, only made easier by the very comfortable fit in your ears. Extra features add to an impressive package.
Final hails from Japan, and they know a thing or two about audio, which is why the ZE8000 are a premium pair of earbuds that support aptX Adaptive. They also play better with Android devices, generally, because the app just seems to run better there. Either way, you can expect great sound, even if the ANC isn't world-class.
It's no surprise that Sennheiser finds a spot on this list, but it may surprise you that not a whole lot of its earbuds support hi-res codecs. These wired earbuds do when you plug them in, taking your audio to a whole new level. You pay a lot to get there, but the results may blow you away once you see what they can do.
Why Bluetooth hi-res codecs matter
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If you think of audio the same way you would a screen, you may see it differently. Much like HD, 4K, and HDR have altered how we watch video content — and what we're willing to accept because of it — the same could be said about audio playback as well. Like Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive (which includes aptX HD) and LDAC, Bluetooth codecs bring hi-res audio to the masses through support on both the device side (i.e., phones) and the audio side (i.e., earbuds). Not every mobile device supports these codecs, nor does every service streaming music. A few exceptions include Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited.
The whole purpose behind hi-res audio is to try and get your ears as close to what audio sounded like coming out of the studio. Lossless audio is defined as being recorded and mastered in better than CD quality at 20-bit/48kHz or higher. These codecs won't always get you way above that, but they are certainly doing better than the more compressed audio streams you often hear from the most popular services.
Sony has tried to do it with LDAC, its own codec that it licenses out to others, including some of the best wireless earbuds. The WF-1000XM5 are only one pair supporting it, with others doing the same, as seen on this list. Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive is already another standard for hi-res, given that it's basically two codecs in one.
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Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.