Snapdragon Sound: “Qualcomm High-Res technology platform the missing link in the audio chain”

Mobile chip giant Qualcomm believes High-Res Audio is on the verge of mainstream consumer acceptance and has launched a new technology platform, dubbed Snapdragon Sound, to drive the adoption of high resolution 24-bit 96kHz audio in consumer devices.

Announced with support from Amazon Music HD and endorsement from recording artist St. Panther, consumers will be able to look for the first Snapdragon Sound optimized devices later this year. 

The popularisation of high-res audio has wide implications for record studios, artists and wider ecosystem.

Snapdragon Sound is an aggregation of multiple technologies and products across the Qualcomm product portfolio. Key components include the Snapdragon 8-series mobile platform, QCC514x, QCC515x and QCC3056 series Bluetooth Audio SoCs, Noise Cancelling technologies, and Qualcomm’s Aqstic audio codec, which supports formats of up to 384kHz 32-bit PCM and DSD with ultra-low THD+N.

Devices certified for Snapdragon sound guarantee high-resolution compatibility between smartphones and headphones. Hardware launch partners include Xiaomi and Audio-Technica. 

Audio Media International was invited to an exclusive industry roundtable to introduce the development.

Andre Stapleton, Global Head of Artist and Label Relations at Amazon Music, said the time is right to revisit the quality and convenience debate that has shaped music streaming since its inception.  

“This is a very exciting project, one that we think is a common strategic sense. The technical limitations of the past are no longer an issue.” 

In 2020, Amazon Music announced that it had over 55 million users – “we’ve grown significantly since then,”  said Stapleton. Amazon Music HD is its high definition tier. “What it does is get you much much closer to the quality of the sound as it was actually recorded in the studio – and we do that by maximising the bit rate.”

Currently Amazon Music offers around 17 million tracks in HD quality, which in this context is 16 bit 44.1kHz. There’s an additional 5 million tracks in Ultra HD available to stream, which covers 24-bit to 44.1kHz to 24-bit/192kHz, delivered using FLAC. 

“That’s something we’re really proud of, taking these very rich and high quality files and delivering them to the listener’s ear without losing anything at all in the transmission. The listener is hearing exactly what was laid down in the studio. This is an area that we’re absolutely committed to, and are investing in.”

Stapleton went on to praise Universal Music and the Warner Music Group, for the quality of their remastered assets. 

James Chapman describes Qualcomm’s entry into the high-resolution audio space as the missing link in the consumer chain. “Most consumers are getting their music through their mobile now. They’ve got 5G coming, they’ve got Wi-Fi 6, they can get these fantastic streams that Amazon Music is providing, and now we’re finally fixing that link through to that high-quality Bluetooth headset, it’s 24/96kHz all the way to the eardrum.” 

“The human ear is highly sensitive to glitches, latencies and other challenges which commonly occur when streaming music, video conferencing, or gaming over wireless connections. By focusing end-to-end, we are looking to deliver innovations to solve common consumer pain-points across virtually all audio interaction points.”  

Recording artist St. Panther said the development brings her closer to her creative ideal: “From a creative perspective, I think the goal is to reach the same fidelity for the listener that we have in the studio.  Working off my studio equipment, I try to imagine the environments and devices that they’re going to be listened to. A very typical musician thing that lots of us do is the car test –  we get in a car and see how everything’s sounding and take that to mix. Then we evolve it into a master and we start doing different versions of these demos and just across all devices. The goal is to have the listener immersed in the same mix.”

A Snapdragon Sound playlist, curated by Qualcomm to showcase the best in Hi-Res Audio, is available on Amazon Music HD.