I'm trying to understand bluetooth audio

Yesterday I got a set of Altec Lansing bluetooth earbuds and have them roughly set up. After an hour for them to warm up in the hellish cold of the almost-great-white-north they sound amazing! And for 40 bucks at that! Nice flat tone over all, but good hi and low response when a song gets heavy on them.

So needless to say I’m impressed that AL has stayed this good over the years (My HP NW8000 has speakers by AL and they are the best speakers in a laptop that I have ever owned). I am a bit of a fanboy because they have never really let me down and their stuff is about medium range to me. But when I connect them to my laptop it sounds like a 1940’s radio station on everything. Youtube, Rythmbox Net Radio, MP3’s, FLAC, whatever. It sounds like its being projected down a tunnel made of soupcans and wool.

So what gives? Why does it do that? Could the BT in my laptop not be up to snuff? These are only BT 3 HS or something like that (says it on the box, no idea what that even means) and I planned to use these on a trip I am taking to florida soon with laptop and all that.

Any ideas?

Do the earbuds have a microphone? It’s possible the buds are connecting to the laptop as a communication device instead of a stereo device. Typically bluetooth audio works through 2 channels and not more than 2 channels.

Typical bluetooth modes:

  • 1 channel mic + 1 channel low quality audio (communication device)
  • 2 channels for stereo audio

I haven’t come across a device yet where you could enable mic and still have stereo audio.

I think it might have to do with the Bluetooth implementation. The current version of Bluetooth is 5.0, while most older devices will run on 4.2 or earlier. In fact I have an MSI gaming laptop with version 4.1. Each version I believe has a higher data bandwidth capacity, which should reflect on audio streaming quality.

Here is a story of my own to add more perspective:
I love BT audio streaming in my car and always use it. Several years ago I had a Galaxy S6 with BT 4.0 and then I purchased an Android Wear smartwatch. As soon as I paired that, my audio quality was terrible. I had to manually disconnect my watch everytime I wanted to get on my car.

Fast-forward a few years later and I get a newer phone with BT 4.2, and voila, the problem was gone! Fast-forward even more to now, I again traded my phone to the newest iPhone which supports BT 5.0 and hooolyyy crap does the audio quality sound amazing.

So your laptop is an older device yes? I also take it the first time you tested your earbuds you paired them to your smartphone. Well, this should point to the difference in BT implementation on each device. It is also possible that a BT driver update for your laptop is in order. Hope this helps!



The Headset Head Unit setting gives it that old timey low quality sound along with other garbage that makes it intolerable. The High Fidelity Playback mode gives me clean sound.

When I am trying to connect my headphones (in LXLE) it is as if something is being done in the wrong order, because I have to disconnect and reconnect in order for it to get it to work properly or at all. Every time I power the headphones off and back on I have to repeat this. If I have it set to ‘garbage sound mode’ it connects automatically without issues besides the garbage sound. You may have to fiddle with it a bit to get it to work for you.


Trying this now

Aight that worked, 'cept theres like 4 solid seconds of lag… But it works!!!

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bluetooth has always had horrible lag.

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I woulda thought they’d have fixed it thats a shame. I almost half want to return these earbuds and get a wired pair that was cheaper but I’ve made my money back already… Hmmm.

Nah I like them too much. I guess just for music only lol.

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part of the lag is the bluetooth device going to sleep. You could disable that and shave off a few seconds

How do ams do dat. This is the first pair I’ve ever had.

no idea. would need to lookup instructions for your specific distro/OS

TBH I’m just on ubuntu 17.10. I’ve kinda standardized everything.

My guess is that bluez doesn’t support the higher bitrate (and proprietary) codecs that your phone does. I remember that was a huge issue with early “hi-fi” bluetooth headsets on any device, and it probably still is on PCs (at least my 2014 Lenovo laptop sounds like crap with bluez). Windows has support for AptX since 8 (or maybe even later), but I doubt Linux does.

I found this article, which should shed some light on your question: https://www.soundguys.com/understanding-bluetooth-codecs-15352/

I currently have no lag with maybe $18 invested in my Bluetooth setup ($6 USB dongle + $12 connector stuck on old headphones). If I go out of range it gets choppy and seems to pause the audio and then stays out of sync even when switching to a different video or source. I have been leaving the blueman-manager open so I can just disconnect/reconnect as needed. I also modified my dongle to increase my range, thus decreasing my need to reset, but that is for another thread.

If you are still having consistent lag issues even after fiddling with the connection, then you can adjust the sound latency offset:


You have to click on ‘Advanced’ and you can adjust the latency to get the sound to match up with video. Mine is at 0 because I normally don’t have problems with it. If your lag is consistent because of some inherent aspects of your setup then you may be able to just dial it in once and not need to mess with it further.

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About 4.0 was when I decided bluetooth audio was okay with some minor sound tweaking on the device to help a bit. Look forward to hearing the 5.0 standard coming out.