Fixing stuttering audio with Bluetooth headphones on Windows 10


This post isn't related to web development but I thought it might help someone out there. I recently upgraded my headphone to the fantastic Bose QC35II. When trying to connect them to my PC using Bluetooth, the quality wasn't the greatest. Here's how I fixed the problem.

The problem

The actual sound quality was pretty good, and they worked great with my phone as well as when plugged into my PC directly, however, when using Bluetooth through Windows 10, there was some latency/lag issues when watching YouTube videos, as well as general choppy audio, like the signal was cutting in and out, and it was struggling to keep its signal. 

This shouldn't be the case. Although I'm only using a cheap $10 Bluetooth 4 USB dongle on my PC, it has an advertised range of 20 metres. I get a similar range when listening to music on my Galaxy S8, so I know Bluetooth is better than that.

I heard somewhere that the signal strength of Bluetooth has less to do with any antenna or aerial and more to do with the amount of power going to the transmitter. I had the USB dongle plugged into an extension cord, plugged into a USB 2.0 port, so I thought that it might not be getting enough power. I tried plugging it directly into a USB 3.0 port at the back of my PC, and while that helped a little, it didn't completely solve the problem. 

Anyway, for the real reason you probably came to this page...

The solution

If this is happening to you, try the following:

  1. Press the Windows key and start typing "control panel" to find the icon to open the Control Panel. (As of the time of writing, Windows 10 does not have a way to change this setting via the new 'Settings' interface.)
  2. Find 'Devices and Printers' and double-click it. 
  3. Find your paired headphones. The icon may not look like your headphones, but hopefully you should be able to find it. 
  4. Right-click the icon and select 'Properties'.
  5. Select the 'Services' tab at the top. 
  6. Under 'Bluetooth Services', if 'Hands-free Telephony' is checked, uncheck it. 
  7. Click OK.

The audio may cut out as it saves the new settings (you may need to adjust your volumes in the Volume Mixer), but with any luck, audio though your Bluetooth headphones should now be buttery smooth!

I'm not 100% sure what this fix actually does, but my theory is that Windows, by default, sets up Bluetooth headphones as if they were telephony headsets, allocating bandwidth to the microphone and prioritising two-way communications and hands-free features. Under-powered Bluetooth hardware has trouble keeping things together, so this fix tells Windows not to worry about all that and just focus on pumping out the tunes. At least that's my take. :-)

I hope this knowledge has helped you as much as it has helped me. If so, why not show your appreciation by shouting me a coffee via my Ko-fi page? (Ah, who am I kidding? You know I'll probably get a beer instead. :-))

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