Smartphone Audio Quality

6 Oct

This post was originally written as a comment in a post of a tech-blog site by me. This is a ”bloggification”.

Admit it, if you are by any chance reading this totally unpopular blog written by a completely unknown writer with zero credibility, you probably are a technology minded person. And you either own a smartphone or want one. Now the question is what is it you do the most or plan to do the most on your phone? I personally use my phone to listen to music the most. And I am pretty confident I am not the only one.

Phone makers always try to focus on the camera capabilities of their phones, and that’s fine by me. I can completely understand why they do that. First, taking a picture is a sharing experience and people love to take photos. So even if people use their phone less as a camera and more as a music player, the camera functionality gets focused more. Also when you are in a group, if everyone one takes photo by their phones, it’s going to come out which phone takes better picture.

And here is the second reason for them focusing on camera, comparing photo capability is much easier than comparing music capability. They are fundamentally different thing, one is creating thing other is consuming. You can test what is created (photo) by your consumption media (display) and see which camera takes better picture, as they will all be seen in the same display. But you cannot test the same music in a variety of devices unless you already own them, that kind of beats the point. You understand better if I say like this, you can tell which artist’s song you like more, but cannot tell if you’d like him better in a different phone, not right away.

Again, even if you listen to the music in a different phone, it may not sound better despite that being a better sounding device. There are several reason to this. Many or I should rather say, most people don’t use quality headphones. They either can’t afford one, don’t know better, or simply never bothered to upgrade from the included earphones that came with their phones, resulting in not hearing any difference in music quality. Another reason can be the music file quality. I shall not go all audiophile on you because I am not. I do not think life sucks if you are not listening to FLAC. Life is not that bad. But life is not that good either that I shall stand woeful quality music file that even $10 earbuds can do better. I don’t know how it happened, somehow 128kbps became a very common mp3 bitrate! If I remember correctly iTunes was behind it. I would not blame them completely as storage was precious and limited back then. But now? Not anymore. So people please, encode your music in at least 320kbps. 128kbps is just plain torture.



Now I come to the part where I request smartphone manufacturers do something about the quality of music we listen to. Good audio requires a good DAC chip and powerful amp which can drive up device manufacturing cost while most user will not take advantage of them. See previous point. So I want to come to a deal. By my reckoning a smartphone should come with at least a good DAC and a bare minimum amp. That way it will be able to produce good sonic but only for low impedance headphones which are mostly the cheap ones and very rarely the good ones. Those phones probably still won’t be able to take advantage of the DAC, but now the user has an option. If he chooses he can just use an amp of his choice to drive his favorite headphone. The reason for going this route is an amp connects to source through 3.5mm port which all smartphones have, so it’s virtually no problem for anyone who cares. But adding a DAC to a phone requires more than just that. Actually DAC will require USB/micro USB port and USB audio out support on the OSs part, which is not all that common and a rarely requested feature.



Best smartphones for audiophiles are the ones that support USB audio out. No matter how good  a phone sounds, I would not expect it to produce signal with comparable quality to device like Fiio E17, which is a DAC-Amp combo and is known amongst audiophiles to be a very good entry device. It will definitely produce better texture, better frequency response and higher power than any phone. Also it would allow manipulation of the analog signal(to adjust to particular kind of music, listener’s mood, headphone’s characteristics) rather than the digital signal like a phone’s EQ does. Let a phone use it’s micro USB port to output audio data, you have the dream device. I believe Android has this capability, don’t know about iOS, WP8 will have NT kernel so it will “have” the ability but MS probably will block it(bummer).


One Response to “Smartphone Audio Quality”

  1. Android application development india October 6, 2012 at 2:31 PM #

    Many thanks for the exciting blog posting! I really enjoyed reading it

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