Qualcomm might be best known for its mobile platforms that you’ll find under the hoods of multiple smartphones, from Samsung and OnePlus to Oppo and Motorola, but within those platforms, there are a number of technologies present.
One of those is Snapdragon Sound, which has a number of features under its umbrella. This is everything you need to know about Snapdragon Sound, including what it is, what it offers and which devices have it.
What is Snapdragon Sound?
Snapdragon Sound is a technology developed by Qualcomm that is designed to deliver the best audio experience, whatever you’re doing. Whether that’s gaming, streaming music, or making voice and video calls. It guarantees a certain level of HD audio quality between compatible phones and headphones with low latency and high-quality voice calls, too.
Snapdragon Sound was first announced at the beginning of 2021, available on the Snapdragon 888 chipset. It then came to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 mobile platform, and more recently, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform that Qualcomm revealed at its Snapdragon Summit in November 2022.
According to Qualcomm, Snapdragon Sound is “the only solution designed to deliver Lossless music, industry leading low latencies, and by utilising Qualcomm Bluetooth High Speed Link technology, the most robust Bluetooth connections.”
It’s an end-to-end audio system and it has a number of features built into it – more on those further down – though in order to benefit from the features, both the phone and headphones or speakers need to use Qualcomm hardware inside.
What features does Snapdragon Sound offer?
Snapdragon Sound has a number of features within it, as mentioned. For 2022, Qualcomm announced Dynamic Spatial Audio, improved latency and lossless audio.
In order to experience some of those features though, you will not only need to have a phone running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 mobile platform, but you will also need to have a pair of headphones or a speaker with the Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 chipset or S5 chipset inside.
If you have both of those though, here are the features you’ll get and what they mean.
Dynamic Spatial Audio
Snapdragon Sound offers Dynamic Spatial Audio for both wired and wireless headphones and the idea is to deliver a more immersive experience. It’s what Apple offers through its AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro models, with Qualcomm bringing the technology to Android here.
When watching a film or listening to music with Spatial Audio or Dolby Atmos, the sound remains locked to where the device you are using it on is, even if you turn your head left or right, up or down. The technology allows for a more natural and encompassing listening experience.
With the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and the devices with the Snapdragon S3 or S5 chip, there’s improved latency for gaming on Snapdragon Sound. This should mean that you’ll get lag-free gaming and a better experience overall. Qualcomm reduced the latency to 48ms, which is quite significantly lower than the typical 300ms you’ll find on Bluetooth headphones. Again though, you will need compatible headphones and a compatible smartphone to benefit.
There is another element to this part though. Qualcomm also announced an improved version of the S3 Gen 2 chip in June 2023, six months after the Snapdragon Summit. This chip has been designed to be used in adapters and dongles, and it is claimed to deliver <20ms latency, which is closer to what you would expect from a wired headset, which is usually around 5ms to 10ms. The idea is that you plug the dongle with the S3 Gen 2 chip inside into your device – whether laptop, USB-C phone, TV – and you will experience ultra low sub 20ms latencies from a wireless headset when gaming. The headset has to be a Snapdragon Sound-approved headset with an S3 or S5 chip inside and it also supports voice back-channel for in-game chat.
One of the key features of Snapdragon Sound is aptX Lossless audio. Qualcomm announced support for 16-bit 48Hz lossless audio with its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform and S3 and S5 chips, which is a smidge better than CD quality, which is 44.1Hz. For devices running the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, lossless is available at 44.1Hz, whereas those with Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 offers 48Hz lossless through Bluetooth LE.
Lossless is designed to produce an identical copy of the track you’re listening to, adapting based on your environment by scaling back the bit rate in order to continue to deliver a good audio experience, with no drop outs or glitches, rather than compress the track and lose detail like Lossy audio does.
Snapdragon Sound is said to be optimised to work across your devices and deliver a robust connection with minimal drop-outs or audio glitching, no matter where you are, even in busy environments when there is lots of interference from other devices around you.
Which devices have Snapdragon Sound and how do you get it?
Qualcomm has a number of partners in the audio world, with many key players using Qualcomm chipsets within their headphones. These partners include Bose, Sennheiser, Anker, Jabra and Nura. Bose announced all its 2023 headphones would support Snapdragon Sound, which means 48Hz lossless audio too.
There are currently over 100 products available that support Snapdragon Sound, which you can get a full list of here. Not all of these offer the latest Snapdragon Sound features though as for those, like we mentioned, you will need a smartphone running the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 platform and a pair of headphones or speakers running the S3 or S5 chips.
The devices supporting Snapdragon Sound feature a badge to indicate they have been tested and certified by Qualcomm to deliver the expected experience.
What about the Snapdragon Sound dongle?
Currently, there is currently no dongle available to buy as a physical product. Qualcomm hasn’t announced when we might see the first dongle or adapter available that features the improved S3 Gen 2 chip inside either, though the company has detailed the technology to a couple of partners and Pocket-lint was told in a briefing that a physical dongle with the technology would likely arrive “soon”. We experienced a reference dongle in action and there was very little difference between the Bluetooth headpones we used with the dongle and the wired SteelSeries headset that was used for an AB test.
Along with supporting <20ms latency, the S3 Gen 2 chipset also supports the latest LE Audio Auracast broadcast capabilities for dongles and adapters, which can transform devices such as TVs, phones, laptops, PCs, consoles into premium broadcast platforms. For music listening, 24-bit 96kHz high-resolution Bluetooth streaming is supported using Snapdragon Sound and Qualcomm aptX Adaptive audio technology.