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So what is aptX and should you care?

aptX logo
When I posted the teaser for the new A-Series earlier this week, I mentioned support for aptX Bluetooth.  Before this, I never heard of aptX, so naturally I was curious what it was.  Doing some research revealed a pleasant surprise, both my MDR-10BTs and Xperia Z1 support aptX.  So naturally I had to test this out to see if there was any actual sound quality difference versus standard SBC, in short there was quite a difference, but more on this later.  So what is aptX and should you care?  All the information after the break.

What is aptX?

aptX® technology powers the pure, wireless sound behind many of the world’s finest smartphones, speakers, soundbars, headphones and tablets.

aptX® has been the best kept secret of the professional audio industry for many years. Now music lovers can enjoy the rich listening experience that only aptX® can deliver: pure wireless sound that doesn’t compromise on audio quality.

aptX® technology is at the heart of the best devices from leading brands such as Sony, Samsung, Vizio and Panasonic.

How does it work?

According CSR, aptX is able to reduce the size of the audio files which permits them to be squeezed through the wireless pipeline without affecting their quality.  This means using aptX, it is possible to achieve CD-like quality audio.  This is the theory and it is CD-like quality and not CD quality.

So is it worth it?  If you intend on using an iphone or ipod, do not bother since apple currently does not support aptX, only Apple OS X supports it at this moment.  But I have a feeling Apple will add it to the new iphone since Beats uses aptX on their wireless headphones.

There is a catch with aptX, both devices have to support the codec, be it phone/headphones, mp3 player/headphones, phone/wireless speaker, etc; otherwise if only one device uses the codec, the connection will automatically be set to the normal Bluetooth codec, SBC.

Sony A-Series aptX
The Sony A-Series is the first Walkman to support aptX but not the first Sony product.  Here are some devices that support aptX from Sony:
  • Sony MDR-10RBT Headphones
  • Sony SBH80 Headphones 
  • Sony SRS-X5 
  • Sony SRS-X7 
  • Sony SRS-X9 
  • Sony Xperia T2 Ultra
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra
  • Sony Xperia Z1
  • Sony Xperia Z2 
  • Sony Zxperia Z2 Tablet
  • Sony Xperia Z3
Not the full list but just an example.  Once I saw that both my Z1 and MDR-10BTs supported aptX, I had to test it out to see how much of a difference it made.  In my review of the MDR-10BTs I was not too happy with the sound quality over Bluetooth, it sounded a bit empty and lacking bass.  Unfortunately the Vaio Pro 13 does not have aptX, which is a shame and would have made a nice listening experience.  No doubt if Sony would have kept the Vaio brand, Hi-Res support would have made it to their laptops and along with aptX.

Testing the Z1 with the MDR-10BTs requires selecting the sound quality of music playback.  The MDR-10BT headphones have 3 different modes which can be selected using the power and volume buttons.

Selecting the sound quality mode
Turn on the headset by pressing the POWER button for more than 2 seconds while holding the VOLUME + or VOLUME – button down.
  • When you turn on the headset by pressing the POWER button only, the headset does not indicate the sound quality mode with flashes of the indicator (blue).
To select the “Priority on sound quality” mode
When the headset is in the “Standard” mode, turn it on while holding the VOLUME + button down. The “Priority on sound quality” mode is selected.
From the “Priority on stable connection” mode, turn on the headset while holding the VOLUME + button down. Turn off the headset once, then turn it on while holding the VOLUME + button down again.

To select the “Priority on stable connection” mode
When the headset is in the “Standard” mode, turn it on while holding the VOLUME – button down. The “Priority on stable connection” mode is selected.
From the “Priority on sound quality” mode, turn on the headset while holding the VOLUME – button down. Turn off the headset once, then turn it on while holding the VOLUME – button down again.

Of course there is a downside to using the aptX codec, and this is battery life, playback may become shorter and the connection may become unstable and cut out from time to time.

I tested out the supposed CD-like quality and was actually surprised how much better the headphones sounded with aptX versus regular Bluetooth.  The previous missing bass was quite audible and the overall sounded was much closer when using the headphones wired to the Z1.  Is it CD-like quality?   Difficult to say, I do not listen to CDs anymore but I will vouch CSR's claim of improved audio quality over Bluetooth.  Infact, I wish my MDR-NWBT20s headphones also used aptX but I feel this would hurt the already average battery life.  All my music on my Z1 is 320kbps and this is the quality I used for testing but I do have some FLAC which I will test to see if that makes anymore difference in overall sound quality.  If anyone has the chance to test out aptX on their device with aptX headphones, I would highly suggest it.

I am eager to test aptX using the NWZ-A10 and the MDR-10BTs this October so look forward to an update here later on.

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