Explained: What is Apt-X, How does it work, and Is it important?

2 min read

The first Android O developer preview came out a little while ago and along with it a few user facing additions arrived. But as an audio guy, one of the biggest new features was native support for Apt-X, Apt-X HD, and more audio codec support. A lot of audiophiles are probably jumping with joy, but I’m here to explain what Apt-X is and who should really be excited about it.

First, let me preface this by saying the inclusion of Apt-X only (or rather mainly) affects wireless audio — Bluetooth audio at that. So, if you have wired headphones you’re more at the mercy of the wire/cable connecting your headphones to your device. A lot of devices are still affected though: headphones, speakers, car audio, bluetooth receivers, and more!

What is Apt-X?

Apt-X is an audio codec that compresses the data sent between devices. Basically, when you’re playing music wirelessly, you’re pushing audio data files from the source (i.e. your phone) to your receiver (i.e. your headphones). During that process, it’s common for some files to drop off which result in data loss, which you’ll notice by lower quality sounding music or even skipping if enough is dropped. With Apt-X enabled the files are compressed (made smaller) which makes the data easier to send and receive which usually results in higher quality music playback.

Before Android O was revealed, Apt-X was only on certain handsets — especially those devices claiming better audio quality — but now it’s a part of the Android O’s source code. Eventually, all Android devices will support the codec — whenever, or even if, your phone gets the update.

Does it affect music playback?

The biggest question is, does this really affect the music listening experience? My is answer that it can. As with many audio tests, the equipment you use will always make the difference. Using my Sennheiser PXC 550 with the LG G6, I can definitely tell the difference than with using my Pixel before Android O (which for some unknown reason didn’t have it).

There are some other levels to Apt-X as well. Besides the standard codec, we also have a HD and a Low Latency version. The HD version is able to provide even higher quality music (24-bit audio) while the Low Latency is pushed mainly for gaming and video to improve audio/visual synchronization.

Now you can actually argue with those friends that say wired connection is always better than wireless for audio, and have some proof to back it up — at least without bringing in any extra equipment. This is one of my favorite changes in the new Android O release, but what do you think about the inclusion of the Apt-X codec? Comment below!