We’ve all been there: it’s a Friday and the minutes are ticking away slowly, so to pass time faster, we surreptitiously turn on Netflix. Well, with Bluetooth multipoint, you can use your work laptop to listen to your show while remaining aware of any work notifications that come through your phone, all with a single headset.
Using your favorite headset to connect to multiple devices simultaneously is a small delight that headphone manufacturers tend to overlook, and just a select few devices support the technology. Let’s breakdown what multipoint is and why just some headphones support this beloved feature.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on September 23, 2020, to clarify Bluetooth multipoint functionality and limitations.
What is Bluetooth multipoint?
Bluetooth multipoint was introduced in 2010, with the release of Bluetooth 4.0. In the case of wireless audio, multipoint allows a single headset to maintain simultaneous connections to at least two source devices (e.g., a laptop and smartphone). In order for it to function, a device must support both A2DP and HFP/HSP connections for audio streaming and talking, respectively.
Some devices may support a phone and computer connection only, while others can support two simultaneous phone connections. It all depends on what Bluetooth profiles are supported. Originally it was intended for professional use, say you have multiple work phones and use them all to field phone calls—Bluetooth multipoint would come in handy because you can be on one call without missing notifications for another.
Bluetooth multipoint doesn’t mean that you can always stream media from two devices at a time. Few headsets support this properly, and most are limited to designating one device as a media player and the other strictly for pushing notifications through. Other devices, like the Sony WH-1000XM4, only support multipoint connectivity over the AAC Bluetooth codec. It’s a mixed bag, and something that’s rarely stated in marketing copy.
When supported, multipoint performance varies across consumer audio products.
Now that I’ve tried it, multipoint is difficult to do without: it lets me stream music and receive notifications from my laptop while keeping an ear on my phone, which is almost always in another room, for incoming calls. It automatically prioritizes a connection to the device receiving an incoming call over the one streaming YouTube videos.
Who is multipoint for?
Anyone will benefit from the convenience afforded by multipoint technology. If your company provides you with a work phone, you can connect your compatible headset to both your personal and professional devices. It’s a great way to remain aware of everything that could be happening and increase productivity.
The difference between simple multipoint and advanced multipoint
Simple and advanced Bluetooth multipoint operate on the same principle: one headset connects to two devices at a time. However, simple multipoint is less, well, advanced because it drops the current call from the primary source device once you answer an incoming call from the secondary source device.
Related: Why do conference calls sound bad?
Fortunately, most handsets support advanced multipoint. This puts a primary call on hold when a second incoming call is answered. It’s great for anyone who likes to chat with their friends or family during lunch breaks, but needs to remain available for professional happenings. Advanced multipoint is available in professional Bluetooth headsets, but isn’t quite as ubiquitous within the consumer audio market. Some headsets even allow you to connect to three devices at the same time.
Why is multipoint support hard to find in wireless headphones?
As with all features, there is a cost-to-benefit ratio that manufacturers must consider. For most of us general consumers, we don’t require multipoint; rather, it’s an appreciated convenience. However, for professionals, Bluetooth multipoint support is a necessity for juggling multiple tasks from multiple source devices. Not only does multipoint help notify listeners of incoming calls, but it also forwards notification pings, dings, and rings, so if you have a sound for Slack, email, and Skype, you can auditorily process it all without having to actually remove yourself from the task at hand.
Since it’s something of a frivolity for consumer headsets, companies don’t feel the need to include the proper hardware and software as it equates to more capital and ultimately drives up the retail price. What’s more, this technology isn’t without its shortcomings, at least in the consumer audio space. Many multipoint-supported headphones and earbuds I’ve tested struggle to switch between devices.
Even more annoying, in the case of the Plantronics BackBeat Fit 6100, a white noise, static-like crackle is often emitted when notifications from the secondary device interrupt the primary device’s playback (e.g., when I watched movies on my laptop, and an incoming text came through on my phone, I heard a ping interrupted by a crackling sound).
In a space where multipoint isn’t a must-have feature, it seems difficult to justify introducing a technology that may be fraught with issues, at least on devices that primarily serve as headphones for audio playback, rather than as communication headsets.
Consumer headsets with Bluetooth multipoint
Nearly all professional headsets on the market support multipoint connectivity, if not advanced multipoint, but what about headphones you’ll find at your favorite brick and mortar stores or online retailers? Here are some of my favorite headphones and earbuds with multipoint support listed alphabetically.
- Bose SoundLink On-Ear Wireless: These are some of the most comfortable on-ear headphones you can buy. While they don’t effectively isolate you from your surroundings, they’re easy to travel with and produce excellent audio quality for the price, so long as your music isn’t masked by external noise.
- Jabra Elite 85h: Many of Jabra’s professional Bluetooth headsets offer multipoint support, but the Elite 85h is an excellent all-purpose pair of noise cancelling headphones that supports simultaneous connections. Another unique feature of the Elite 85h is its water-resistant coating, so you don’t have to worry about getting a little sweaty on hot days.
- LG Tone Flex XL7: This headset is a big step up from the Tone Style SL5 as it features Google Assistant integration and Meridian Audio technology which facilitates a neutral-leaning sound signature.
- LG Tone Style SL5: If you’re looking for a great pair of budget neckband earbuds, look no further than these ‘buds. The retractable earbud mechanism is a nice touch and sound quality is great for a sub-$100 headset.
- Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC: This is a work-oriented headset but features a sleek enough design that you can pull of wearing it around the city. It includes a magnetic charging dock, a nice zippered carrying case, and is supremely comfortable. For anyone interested, here’s a more extensive list of multipoint Plantronics headsets.
- Sennheiser HD1 In-Ear Wireless: These stylish in-ear headphones boast fantastic sound quality, and much like their true wireless sibling, they’re shy on features because you’re paying for audio performance above all else.
- Sennheiser PXC 550-II: These headphones support Bluetooth multipoint but the functionality is limited. Notifications from the secondary source device weren’t always pushed through to the headset if I was streaming a video on a primary source device.
Multipoint’s presence may become more salient with the rise of Bluetooth LE Audio and the LC3 codec, but until then, we’ll be sure to mention in our reviews when a device supports this handy connectivity mechanism.