How to enable aptX Bluetooth audio on your Macbook, iMac

Not all Bluetooth audio connections are born equal. The A2DP profile specifies that lossy codecs such as SBC, MP3, AAC and aptX can carry compressed audio data over Bluetooth from transmitter (smartphone, PC) to Bluetooth receiver (DAC, headphones, in-car headset, loudspeakers) with the former automatically selecting the best quality codec according to the receiving device’s technical specifications. That’s the theory.

In practice, it means sound quality heard over a Bluetooth connection is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. The challenge for end users? To ascertain which codec has been auto-selected by the transmitting device, especially in the absence of an aptX-notifying LED.

Bluetooth audio receivers often indicate nothing more than the existence of a connection. And yet knowledge of the type of connection is especially useful to those buying Bluetooth devices on the basis of the (supposedly) superior-sounding aptX code whose developer CSR describes as being ‘CD-like quality’. It isn’t – but with aptX functionality sitting at both ends of the chain, it’s the highest quality Bluetooth audio experience currently available.

aptX

With zero mention of any Apple product in CSR’s database of supported hardware, I’d previously deduced that no device running iOS or OS X was aptX-capable. I was only half wrong. Whilst the iPhone and iPad continue to eschew aptX in favour of Apple’s own Bluetooth-compatible codec (AAC), an iMac or Macbook running OS X can in fact transmit aptX-encoded audio to a similarly specified Bluetooth receiver.

Many Apple computers make use of aptX automatically. There’s nothing to do except verify its presence. Here’s how*: I paired a 2014 Macbook Air to a set of Audioengine’s aptX-capable Bluetooth speakers, hit play on a song in VLC and got a Hot Chip remix of New Order bouncing off the walls. I then held down the ‘option’ key, clicked the Bluetooth logo in OS X’s menu bar and moused over the connected device “Audioengine HD”. Et voila! Confirmation of aptX transmission:

bluetooth_aptx

Users not seeing aptX, even when playing to an aptX-capable device, can crack OS X into line with Apple’s Bluetooth Explorer tool. Navigate to Tools –> Audio Options and check the box that forces aptX:

BTE

Bluetooth Explorer is a free download and ordinarily only available via Apple’s developer channels. Luckily, a little birdy (not Brady) told me that’s it’s also available for download here. (UPDATE May 2016 – old link expired | UPDATE September 2016: new downlink link here).

PC users are advised that Windows 10 is also fully aptX compatible.

*Thanks to Audioengine USA for the heads up on this.


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Written by John H. Darko

John lives in Berlin, Germany. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also a very occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
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7 Comments

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  1. I am not an engineer but why are OEMs for smart devices so hell bent on Bluetooth?
    Is it because they have invested so much in the tech that they want their money back by whatever means necessary?
    I ain’t an audio connoisseur but bluetooth is exceptionally bad, not to mention expensive when quality is the criteria.

    • I agree that it doesn’t sound as good as a lossless wifi stream or, better still, direct wired connectivity. Bluetooth’s advantage is one of uber convenience – pair n go.

  2. Nice article John. I had no idea how to do this myself honestly. I wish my Onk has aptX (it has bluetooth audio connectivity including full Spotify Connect, but I don’t think aptX).

    Have you compared aptX vs the regular codec in terms of sound quality?

    • Once, a while back. (I forget when/where) but I do to recall aptX making an improvement akin to moving from a 128kbps MP3 to a 320kbps MP3.

  3. John, I tried to follow this. My iMac to AudioEngine B2 indicated SBC codec. Then I could not find Tools to Audio Options in my menus, so I assume those are menu items in the downloadable development tool? (Sorry, new to Apple environment!) Then I clicked on the download HERE link for the Bluetooth Explorer, but that site looked sketchy…

    • The site isn’t sketchy. But if you want 100% faith in the file host then I recommend you sign up for an Apple Dev account instead.

  4. Thanks. Following up, used my apple id sign in for Apple Dev, followed the instructions to download the Bluetooth Explorer (careful to choose the correct OS version) then Bluetooth showed up as a menu item and by selecting the audio settings command, I was able to select the “force aptX” checkbox. Started a song via the B2, confirmed running via aptX. Thank you!