having sadly refreshed myself on the state of Bluetooth audio, it appears that the old laptop is sending audio to the speaker using the ancient SBC codec at around 350Kbps.

there are hacks that can be used to drastically improve the quality with this codec on many devices (starting by using true dual channel stereo instead of mid-side "stereo") but so far the verdict appears to be "not on Debian 11, and no plans to make it so"

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at any rate, the quality is still the minimum I'll tolerate and not like the worst/bad old days of Bluetooth on Linux. if I decide I'm worried about it, I'll use a wire.

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