While many on Tom's Guide agree that the biggest news to come out of the Samsung Unpacked event earlier this week was the announcement of the next-gen ANC earbuds with the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, it is the "24-bit Hi-Fi Sound" headline feature that has me most excited, as well as a little intrigued.
Although I've yet to get my hands on a pair of Samsung's flagship earbuds for a full review, the consumer tech giant hasn't provided clarification on what it means by the 24-bit Hi-Fi Sound claim, stating: "[24-bit audio] offers high-dynamic range helping you feel connected to the content you’re listening to with crystal-clear resolution."
On the face of it, this sounds like a significant audio advancement, but as I understand it, whether audio is handled at 16- or 24-bit is only part of the story.
State of confusion
In recent years, tech has made major advances in the way digital audio is delivered and the high quality content we can access. For example, you can now stream genuine studio masters (Hi-Res) of your favorite artist(s) over a home broadband network via music streaming services such as Qobuz and Tidal. To truly experience hi-res streams without any compromises being made to the signal along the audio chain, though, you're going to need something more than a Bluetooth wireless connection, even if it's a brand new pair of Galaxy Buds 2 Pro earbuds teasing high quality audio capabilities.
There's plenty of confusion about what qualifies as hi-res audio. A lack of consumer understanding over what is "CD-quality sound" or "hi-res audio" actually means it's easy for tech marketeers to include bold claims on the audio capabilities to add perceived value to a product's specifications, but it doesn't tell the full story.
By saying the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro have "24-bit Hi-Fi Sound" really only adds to consumer confusion. Terms like “Hi-Res” and "24-bit Studio Quality” are often banded around to demonstrate the audio capabilities of a particular product, and are often applied incorrectly. What we really need to know is the codecs being supported to understand the data rates before we can determine whether a product's audio quality capabilities will deliver CD-quality, or better-than-CD-quality audio when discussing claims like "24-bit Hi-Fi Sound".
While codecs — the format in which audio file data is encoded, transmitted and decoded — sound awfully boring, they play a vitally important role in how digital audio files are handled and the quality it is delivered at.
Samsung has mentioned higher bit rates before with its Scalable Codec offering data transmissions from 88kbps to 512kbps — which is similar to aptX Adaptive (279kbps to 420kbps) — but only compatible with Samsung devices. For a bit of perspective, Sony's LDAC codec achieves 990kbps, which is currently the closest to CD-quality audio delivered at 1,411kbps from a dedicated player or streamed over Wi-Fi. Bluetooth cannot handle the full CD data rate, but a new aptX Lossless Audio codec claims it will be able to deliver 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality when it arrives on devices and earbuds later this year.
Samsung hasn't mentioned supporting aptX Lossless Audio codec, and I'm genuinely doubtful of the benefits its 24-bit audio claims will bring. Without being able to experience the earbuds in the flesh for myself, it seems that any audio benefits gained by 24-bit audio will likely be overshadowed by the type of audio compression used to shrink the size of a music file so that it can be wirelessly transmitted to the earbuds from a playback device over Bluetooth. This will have a far greater impact on sound quality than the digital-to-analog convertor (DAC) in Samsung's earbuds handling audio signal at either 16-bit or 24-bit.
I'm not saying that the audio quality from Samsung's flagship earbuds won’t be good, just that there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when highlighting audio quality over Bluetooth connectivity. I'm yet to hear them for myself, and in the meantime there are a plenty of details to pick over while I wait to get my hands on.
Either way though, with a new aptX Lossless Audio codec on the horizon looking like the holy grail for high-quality audio over Bluetooth, Samsung is already looking late to the party, no matter how it dresses up its audio credentials.
Next: read the full Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro review.