As technology advances, new features and performance innovations are added to Bluetooth speakers. Audio companies often adopt these new technologies in their flagship devices, setting new industry standards and leaving competitors to catch up. In this article, we’ll look at the next generation of Bluetooth speakers, predicting the changes we may see in 2024.
The Adoption of Bluetooth 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4
Adopting new Bluetooth versions varies greatly between each company, and there is a delay between introducing new Bluetooth technology and when you start seeing it appear in commercial products. In 2023, we saw the most popular manufacturers sticking with Bluetooth 5.0 or 5.1, which are both over three years old. So why the wait?
The development cycle of speakers takes time, and companies may engineer and test their speakers for months or even years prior to release. This means that while JBL, for instance, may be working with Bluetooth 5.3 in their prototypes, these speakers and the technology associated with them may only arrive on the market further down the line.
Smaller manufacturers are already releasing speakers that support Bluetooth 5.3, often due to more limited R&D times and a rush to get new tech on the market early.
In 2024, I expect we’ll see wider adoption of Bluetooth 5.2 and 5.3, not just from smaller manufacturers but from Sony, JBL, Ultimate Ears, and more.
Bluetooth 5.2 introduced support for LE Audio, a low-energy protocol that uses LC3 (Low Complexity Communication Codec) to provide high-quality audio while retaining a high-efficiency rate. An improvement on the previous SBC codec, LE Audio supports up to 96 kHz/24-bit, improving detail and depth. This version allows for better battery performance and better support for multi-stream audio.
There are multiple speakers from both small and renowned manufacturers currently incorporating Bluetooth 5.2, and I predict we’ll see a lot more household manufacturers releasing speakers with Bluetooth 5.2 support in 2024.
Bluetooth 5.3 further improves on the technologies of 5.2, refining the LE audio protocol and focusing on efficiency and connection sharing. It also supports the ability to broadcast to multiple devices simultaneously, allowing for multiroom setups similar to Wi-Fi networks, though this feature hasn’t been incorporated into many Bluetooth speakers yet. Smaller manufacturers have already begun releasing speakers with 5.3 support, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the end of 2024, we’ve seen some flagship releases with support for this version.
At the time of writing this, Bluetooth 5.4 is the latest version available. It primarily enhances existing features brought forward by 5.2 and 5.3. I don’t foresee Bluetooth 5.4 making it to household brands in 2024, but I do believe we’ll see 5.4 introduced by smaller manufacturers by the fourth quarter of the year. With the somewhat limited introduction of groundbreaking features to 5.4, it seems unlikely that it will be a technology that is rushed into adoption.
The Introduction of IPX8 Water-Resistance
Most Bluetooth speakers nowadays come with some form of weather resistance. Companies usually adopt the IPX rating standard, and as of 2023, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything higher than an IPX7 (can withstand submergence for 30 minutes at up to 1 meter) or IP67 (the same as IPX7 but includes IP6 dust protection).
Recently, we’ve seen IPX8 protection being brought to smartphones, meaning it’s only a matter of time before we see IPX8 and IP68 making their way into flagship speakers, particularly those intended for the outdoors.
IPX8 has better resistance to water pressure, allowing it to be submerged longer than IPX7-rated speakers. There is no set maximum depth with an IPX8 rating, and it is up to the manufacturer to specify the depth at which the product can remain protected. This does allow companies to exploit the rating, essentially offering a speaker that can withstand marginally deeper water.
Still, even today, we’ve started seeing IPX8 available on some Chinese products, and it is surely only a matter of time before we see this being brought across to rugged flagship speakers.
More Smart Feature Adoption
Smart technology has grown exponentially in the last few years, and its adoption into the speaker market has become widespread. It’s likely that throughout 2024, we’ll see more speakers adopting smart features, bringing together elements of home smart speakers and making them available to smaller, more portable speakers. We’ve already seen some of these features added to portable Bluetooth speakers, and I think this technology will become a standard feature for many models.
Improved Battery Life
Like waterproofing, battery life is something that continues to improve. A combination of advances in battery technology, particularly the move towards Lithium-ion and more efficient data transfer protocols in newer Bluetooth versions has seen expected battery life levels continue to improve over the years. In 2024, improvements in battery life are likely to come from Bluetooth and a focus on more efficient component design. It’s unlikely that Lithium-sulfur (Li-S) will be introduced before the end of 2024, which, when introduced, will offer a big boost to battery life.
Until recently, Wi-Fi support was something limited primarily to home audio. However, we’re already starting to see more portable Bluetooth speakers incorporating Wi-Fi connectivity as an alternative wireless protocol. Recently, we saw JBL introduce the Ultimate into their PartyBox range, which also comes with Wi-Fi support.
The addition of Wi-Fi to portable Bluetooth speakers will likely continue into 2024, supporting lossless audio and extremely low latency, features where Bluetooth still lags behind.
Wi-Fi support improves audio quality and allows you to incorporate portable speakers into your home network, creating a comprehensive audio experience throughout your house.
AI Sound Adjustments
AI goes much deeper than language models, and we’ve already begun seeing AI technology brought to the speaker market. It works by having the speaker analyze its audio output and then make automatic adjustments to match the audio it produces with your listening space. For example, if you’re listening in a furnished room, the speaker would adjust the sound differently than if you were listening in a large, empty hall.
Currently, AI sound adjustment is included primarily in soundbars and home speakers, but this is more technology that will likely be added to portable speakers in 2024. The costs involved in AI sound adjustment will likely limit its overall adoption, but expect to see more high-end Bluetooth speakers with this feature in 2024.
Expect more eco-friendly speaker designs in 2024. We’ve already begun to see traditional plastics being replaced by recycled plastics. This is likely to pick up momentum in 2024. The price of eco-friendly speakers is still relatively high. By late 2024, we may see these prices drop as more recycled plastic processing pipelines are implemented. We may also see more hemp being used as a plastic replacement, an approach that remains somewhat limited.
The Move Away From Aux-In
Auxiliary input has already become less commonplace in the portable Bluetooth speaker market over the last few years. Traditionally a staple feature, Bluetooth latency has improved over the years to a point where a cabled connection holds less value than it once did. You can expect to see it stay around for certain types of speakers, and it will likely be retained by speakers where party chaining is a key feature. Still, by the end of 2024, we will likely see new iterations of existing models where aux will no longer be included.
Better Sound / Improved Frequency Response
As speaker technology improves, so do the designs. Together, these facets can influence the overall frequency of the speaker’s response. Sometimes, a speaker’s sound signature is intentional, while in other cases, it results from limitations between the design and drivers.
Historically, large manufacturers often settled for subpar performance in exchange for new features or more volume. But we’ve begun to see more focus on sound characteristics, which becomes more viable as the technologies improve.
For 2024, manufacturers will likely focus more on audio quality, particularly toward balanced midrange and improved dynamics. These improvements will primarily come from advances in wireless protocols and enhancements to the driver design.
More App Support
Our mobile phones have become a core part of our lives, from shopping to banking – we’re always on our phones. Speaker manufacturers know this and have already focused more on mobile app support. This will continue through 2024, and we will likely see smaller manufacturers starting to offer their app support.
Mobile apps have the potential to provide robust control over your speaker, changing the EQ, pairing it with other speakers using TWS, or even making it easier to manage your home audio network when using Wi-Fi-enabled speakers.
Overall, 2024 is unlikely to introduce groundbreaking features for Bluetooth speakers. Still, it is likely to see features currently offered by a small subset of products being brought across to a larger portion of the market. AI sound optimization and Wi-Fi support are two features that excite me the most when looking ahead over the next 12 months.