As BlackBerry 10 soldiers on in its second year of existence, more and more robust features are being added to the OS with every revision that surfaces. Some features never see the light of day and are forever lost with the unreleased OS builds that bore them, while others are silently released to little or no fanfare. One such understated feature is aptX. I went to great lengths to rally many of my friends around this crucial technology, but without really being able to understand what it means to have this amenity, it can be difficult for them or anyone else to appreciate or even become excited over its inclusion in the BlackBerry 10 OS. I’m going to give my best description of what aptX does for BlackBerry 10 and how it has improved my life greatly.
I love music. I have been infatuated with the radio since as far back as I can remember (which is around roughly 5 years old), but it’s possible that the love affair began even before then. The era that was instrumental in my addiction to music was the early 1980s, a time when video games, computers, cell phones, and texting were not as popular as they are today and/or did not even exist yet. For fun, most people went outdoors and did things such as skateboarding, BMX, camping, etc.; regardless of the activity, music was everywhere. A common technology known as “Boom Boxes” were the most portable high-end sound systems available that you could bring with you to any event.
They were big, heavy, unwieldy, and most often carried upon the shoulder of the listener. Boom Boxes had excessive equalizer settings, lights, speakers, and anything else to make the entertainment experience as engaging as possible. The downside to this paradise was the limited capacity (and added weight) of D cell batteries (as well as the cost to replace them). To own something that wonderful came with a heavy price to pay (in more ways than one); to have your favorite station or tracks on-the-go, you needed lots of electricity. The Sony Walkman would eventually follow suit, bringing better battery life and a lighter, smaller compact unit, but the song roster was limited to radio and cassettes (much like Boom Boxes), and cassettes still used up too much energy to be used for an all-day outing. After the Walkman, portable CD players became viable alternatives with improved sound quality but still lacked stamina, followed by portable digital audio/media players and the music download revolution.
Each iteration brought significant improvement, but none could solve one of the biggest hurdles in the audio universe: how can someone eliminate the need to physically carry a device around with them at all times in order to hear their favorite songs (and potentially render a secondary device dedicated solely to music playback obsolete in the process) but still get that wonderful sound into their ears? Will it every be possible to remove the tether between the audio source and the headphones? The answer, at last, is YES.
Bluetooth audio streaming of music is not the latest technology, nor is it specific to BlackBerry. aptX is also not a BlackBerry exclusive, which is a codec developed by the company CSR, a group whose sole purpose was to find a way to make Bluetooth audio streaming produce CD quality sound that could satisfy those who needed something more than just listening. The path to achieving such a lofty goal depended on refining two aspects of Bluetooth: range, and battery consumption. For those unfamiliar with Bluetooth technology specifics, here’s a condensed rundown:
– Bluetooth range comes in various “Power Classes” that determine how far two Bluetooth devices can separate from each other and still maintain a connection (with a strong emphasis on a clear line of sight): Class 1 is capable of up 328 ft (100m) provided that both devices are Class 1; Class 2 devices are only good for 33ft (10m) of streaming (there is/was a Class 3, but it is rarely used and has the most limited range of all at 3ft or 1m). A Class 1 device paired to a Class 2 device will greatly reduce the Class 1 distance potential, and as more devices go for the cheaper (and lower power consuming) Class 2 devices, range is always a problem for those who need to be free to move about their homes or places of employment. –
So how does this affect streaming music over Bluetooth? Basically, a Class 1 device would be ideal for Bluetooth audio music streaming, but the power requirements to achieve such a distance (more complex audio needs more juice) are typically a wall outlet or comparable source. The crux presented time and time again is this: how can a device provide advanced Bluetooth audio music streaming range with good battery life and minimal resource requirements while also delivering a sound escape similar to a wired setup? BlackBerry and CSR is the winning combination.
BlackBerry has not formally announced their inclusion of the CSR aptX codec to the masses, but as an audiophile, I know its value and am extremely grateful that they did. The problem of using it as a selling point was mostly in the slow adoption of aptX across the entire technology ecosystem: in order for it to work, BOTH products must support the aptX codec ( the device for playing AND the device for listening), and some companies saw that as too much of a hassle for the average consumer, but not BlackBerry. There are many more receiving options becoming available in the market, but there are only TWO that I currently own and recommend : Sony BM10 (for the home and car if you need it), and for headphones (as well as being able to make and receive calls), the BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds.
I won’t elaborate too much on either device’s feature set outside of the good stuff : Sony BM10 – aptX compatible, Bluetooth Class 1 at up to 328ft distance, requires wall outlet; BlueAnt Pump HD Sportbuds – aptX compatible, Bluetooth Class 1.5 at up to 50ft distance (an unofficial class commonly used to achieve greater distances than Class 2 but not nearly as far as Class one and with lower power requirements), and a built-in rechargeable battery life of nearly 8 hours! I would also recommend purchasing the app Neutron to get more EQ control and cleaner sound to go with it (at least until the OS 10.3.1 update arrives with EQ settings in the native music player) if you would like to take your private concert to the next level.
In conclusion, has technology finally become advanced enough to make Bluetooth audio streaming of music as enjoyable as what you would experience on the average stereo system? Well, with BlackBerry leading the way by including aptX in all of their latest BlackBerry 10 devices, having most of those devices support Bluetooth Class 1.5 (or greater with the BlackBerry Q10), and an OS that can eliminate the need for an additional portable music player, I can say for a fact that I cannot go back to using a wired set of headphones anymore. It is the wireless audio with good battery life and acceptable sound quality concept that has always eluded the music crowd, and you won’t find a better answer than what BlackBerry 10 is providing by including CSR’s aptX codec and the latest in Bluetooth technology. It’s BlackBerry doing what they do best: