Wireless Audio Explained: Bluetooth vs 2.4GHz Audio

04-07-2019 | By Moe Long

With wireless connectivity, there are tons of different options. The most common is arguably Wi-Fi, which includes bands such as A, B, G, and N. Smart home devices feature a set of wireless communication protocols such as Z-WaveZigbee, and Insteon. Wired connections may deliver top-tier audio quality for audio transmission via a 3.5 mm jack, HDMI cable, or optical audio cable. However, wireless technology offers a convenient means of sending audio data sans cables. Compare Bluetooth vs 2.4GHz and discover which is better for wireless audio!

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless technology which allows for cable-free communication between different devices. Gadgets running Bluetooth feature multiple profiles, ranging from hands-free for mobile devices to input devices like keyboards and mice, which appear as human interface devices (HIDs). This data exchange method uses short-wavelength UFH radio waves ranging from 2.400 to 2.485GHz.

Integration of Bluetooth into different devices remains widespread. The first phone I ever owned, a flip phone, featured Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and my latest Android handset, laptop, and desktop each include Bluetooth. Further, I’ve got Bluetooth dongles in my car and connected to my stereo receiver, and I’ve got a few pairs of Bluetooth headphones as well.

Bluetooth 5, 4, and Different Bluetooth Versions

Like many communication protocols, Bluetooth features versioning. There are multiple iterations of Bluetooth, with Bluetooth 5.0 as a modern spec. While Bluetooth boasts interoperability, iterative improvements are limited to devices carrying the same version. For instance, a Bluetooth 5.0 device is backwards compatible with Bluetooth 4.1 gadgets, but you won’t benefit from enhancements found in Bluetooth 5.0.

With the introduction of Bluetooth 4.0 came Bluetooth Low Energy or BLE. As its name suggests, Bluetooth Low Energy uses less energy than a standard Bluetooth radio. Thus, it’s suitable for Internet of Things (IoT) applications such as wearables and affords longer battery life and makes for less power-hungry devices.

Bluetooth Music Handling

For audio transfer, Bluetooth 5.0 debuted dual audio. Now, it’s possible to stream audio on two different devices using Bluetooth. You might connect two pairs of headphones or Bluetooth speakers and enjoy music on both devices to simultaneously listen with a friend or benefit from multi-room music. Additionally, Bluetooth 5.0 provides a more extended range and additional throughput.

Bluetooth 5 delivers up to four times the maximum range of Bluetooth 4.2 LE. Granted, its 800-foot range is a theoretical maximum, so real-world performance will vary. Still, Bluetooth 5 audio quality makes massive strides. Likewise, Bluetooth 5 may double the bandwidth of its predecessors. You can enjoy as high as 2 megabits per second, with +20dB of power. Still, Bluetooth audio quality suffers a bit since it’s compressed. Advancements in Bluetooth technology such as aptX compress audio files less, but you’re not jamming out to lossless tunes.

2.4GHz Audio

Aside from Bluetooth, there’s also wireless audio transmission with Wi-Fi. Most often, you’ll find this on the 2.4GHz radio frequency. While Bluetooth devices may have Bluetooth baked in, sometimes a dongle is required. However, with 2.4Ghz wireless, a dongle is almost always necessary. For example, my Logitech G933 Artemis headset streams audio from my PC wirelessly with a USB dongle. Where 2.4GHz vs Bluetooth audio differs is sound quality. 2.4GHz audio is noticeably better when compared with Bluetooth wireless audio. Often, there’s no pairing involved, and it’s simply a plug-and-play experience. However, the real advantage is better sound quality. 2.4GHz wireless chipsets boast a long-range and lag-free experience.

There’s a reason that many gaming headphones opt for 2.4GHz wireless connectivity. It’s a technology similar to Bluetooth but with a proprietary radio frequency. Low-latency, high-quality audio comes from these chips, along with better battery life.

2.4GHz vs Bluetooth Audio: Sounding Off

Bluetooth boasts a ton of advantages, and with further iterations such as Bluetooth 5, the wireless communication protocol continues to improve Bluetooth sound quality. With higher throughput, a longer range, and low energy capabilities, there’s the potential for less compression to audio. The likes of aptX and aptX HD don’t remove compression but offer a higher bitrate and lower latency. Overall, 2.4GHz wireless for audio provides higher quality. Similarly, there’s little to no lag and a reasonably long range. But it’s not quite as prevalent in chipsets, so you’ll need a separate dongle, unlike a simple pairing method for Bluetooth devices.

Your turn: What wireless audio transmission format do you prefer?


By Moe Long

Moe Long is an editor, writer, and tech buff with a particular appreciation for Linux, Raspberry Pis, and retro gaming. When he's not hammering away at his keyboard, he enjoys running, reading, watching cinema, and listening to vinyl. You can read his writings on at Tech Up Your Life and check out his thoughts on all things tech.