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Lossless audio listening isn’t exclusive to wired headphones anymore.
The HED Unity headphones received the CES 2024 Innovation award for being the first to offer true lossless audio quality using Wi-Fi. These headphones are capable of streaming audio reaching up to 24-bit/96kHz from networked devices.
This pioneering technology places the Unity headphones at the forefront of audio innovation, targeting audiophiles who prioritize superior sound quality without the constraints of wired connections.
The Significance of Wi-Fi in Wireless Audio
Bluetooth can’t handle lossless audio primarily due to its bandwidth limitations.
Lossless audio files contain a significantly higher amount of data compared to standard compressed audio files.
For instance, a typical compressed audio file typically have a bitrate of 256kbps, while lossless audio files start at a bitrate of 16 bits/44.1Khz, equivalent to “CD quality,” which is around 1,411 kbps. This bitrate can be even higher for high-resolution lossless files.
Bluetooth, on the other hand, reaches speeds of up to 2,000kbps under ideal conditions. However, in real-world scenarios where factors like interference and distance come into play, the effective bandwidth is lower.
This reduced bandwidth is not sufficient to transmit a large amount of data in lossless audio files without significant compression, which would defeat the purpose of lossless audio.
As a result, to experience lossless audio, users relied solely on wired headphones.
That’s why Unity headphones turned to Wi-Fi to deliver true lossless audio. Unlike Bluetooth, the audio signal remains intact when it travels through Wi-Fi’s 2.4GHz bandwidth. This feature, which HED calls “Full Fidelity”, enables the headphones to stream up to 24-bit/96kHz.
Additional Features Beyond Wireless Lossless Audio
Aside from the wireless lossless playback, these headphones are designed for versatility.
These have an onboard 16GB storage for a hi-res music library, Bluetooth 5.2 support for traditional wireless use, and an adapter for wired listening. This means you can listen to your music in virtually any way.
They also come equipped with 12 microphones. Four of those are dedicated for their active noise cancellation feature. The rest are beamforming microphones designed to pick up and isolate your voice during calls.
The HED Unity App, also adds a lot of customization features for the headphones. Using this, you can change the functions of the headphones’ buttons, customize the EQ, and fully control your headphones’ playback. This app is also used to enable the Full Fidelity streaming feature and sync with partner services like Qobuz.
Finally, the headphones are equipped with a 9-axis IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit), composed of a 3-axis gyroscope, accelerometer, and a 3-axis compass. These are promised to deliver a 9-axis head-tracking motion detection on top of spatial audio for an immersive listening experience.
Challenges and Considerations
Despite their groundbreaking nature, the Unity headphones face certain challenges. One notable issue is the higher power consumption associated with Wi-Fi compared to Bluetooth, which impacts battery longevity.
As a result, these headphones can only last for 6-8 hours on a single charge whether you use the Full Fidelity feature or just listen through Bluetooth.
Due to the advanced technology along with the additional features, these headphones are also priced at a whopping $2,199.