The Challenge Less Media Smartphone: the Sound

There are many ways to sell a smartphone. Some manufacturers associate it to a particular status or lifestyle. Others reinforce the appeal of your product, highlighting its ability to increase our productivity. And almost all are committed to emphasizing certain components. The screen for sale. The processor sells. Even storage capacity is an important argument for many users. But sound sells little.

Most users do not pay attention to sound paragraph when you buy a new smartphone. SoC, screen, main memory, and the operating system are some of the components that are most important to us. However, if we want to use our phone to listen to music, play or watch movies, it is very important that We offer quality sound. Let’s see what can we currently expect a Smartphone in the audio section from Internetsailors.com.

What should we look for us?

Unfortunately, most of the manufacturers of smart mobile phones usually does not provide much information about the sonic performance of their proposals. Usually they try to attract our attention by using any trademark or technology with a bombastic name, but hardly provide really relevant technical data beyond the audio formats that are supported. Find out important parameters such as the frequency response (the range of frequencies that is capable of reproducing) or the signal/noise ratio (that reflects its ability to separate the music information from the noise) is often impossible to achieve in many cases challenging.

Unfortunately, most of the manufacturers does not offer us specifications about the sound of their smartphones

If we care much the sound quality of our next smartphone and we want to investigate in detail «fine», such as the make and model of used DAC (is the circuit board that is responsible for passing the music information from the digital domain analogue), the characteristics of the digital filter or if it has been used negative feedback to stabilize the frequency response, it is preferable that we give up if we don’t want to end up frustrating us unable to find this information.

In any case, while there are these barriers, it is important to keep in mind what we can look for, at least, guess the sonic performance of a particular phone. The first component involved in the manipulation of sound information is the DAC, as we have seen before, it is the circuit which must transfer the domain digital audio to analogue. Ideally, the manufacturer of your phone to tell us the resolution bit and the sampling frequency in kilohertz (kHz) because these data reveal the maximum quality that may have the sound files that we will be able to play in our smartphone (though, as we will see more ahead, there are other limitations that may undermine the performance of the DAC). If, moreover, we can find other relevant information, such as signal-to-noise or total harmonic distortion (THD), much better, but I assure you that it is difficult to get this information.

The characteristics of the integrated circuit that is responsible for the analogue music signal amplification are also important because they let us know their creditworthiness when it comes to excite or «attack» smartphone speakers or headphones solvents. In the best of cases manufacturers tend to provide us with the power amplifier, but tend to ignore other important specifications that may influence the choice of headphones that can be used, such as the impedance and the frequency response. Delve a little deeper into these features in the next section.

On the other hand, if we think to use our smartphone without headphones on occasion it is important to know the benefits of your speakers, Although, once more, the manufacturers just reveal nothing. That Yes, as we will see later, there are very obvious differences between speakers using some brands of phones and others, so at least we can cling to them as an argument that they help us to opt for a model or other.

Finally, we must also rating software that incorporates a certain phone not only to manage and play our audio files, but also to equalize it. Fortunately, as you know, the software, unlike hardware, can evolve. And, in addition, in the app stores we can find many interesting apps to contour the sound of our smartphone at whim, such as Music volume EQ for Android or Equalizer for iOS, among many other options.

The challenge of sound in smartphones

The miniaturization of electronics makes it possible to develop amplifiers of a negligible size that can be inserted on a smartphone without too many complications (dissipate less heat than the SoC, so this requirement should not pose any problem). The same thing happens with the DAC. There are chips of a very small size and high quality that can be integrated into phones without any problems, as, for example, the Sabres of ESS Technology, which will incorporate the Pono Player of Neil Young. The problem is that the internal volume the chassis of a smartphone is extremely small, which imposes serious restrictions on the tuning of the speakers.

The reduced volume of the chassis of a smartphone limited benefits from the integrated speakers

A speaker has three essential elements: the speaker, the crossover (undertakes that each speaker receives the signal collecting those frequencies which is able to reproduce) and the enclosure, which acts as a resonance box. On a smartphone the enclosure is, in fact, the chassis of the phone itself, so its minimum volume inevitably restricts the benefits of its sound when we decided to use the integrated speakers and not headphones, especially when playing the lower frequencies. Even so, as we shall see in the next section, some manufacturers have managed to offer a fairly high quality sound by changing the size and location of the speakers on the chassis of the smartphone.

In any case, if we want to enjoy the best possible sound always we can bet on headphones competent as anyone of those who advise us Xataka Android partners in this post. That Yes, it is necessary that we pay close attention, in particular, to the impedance (roughly is the resistance imposed on the coils of the headphones to the amplifier of the smartphone), the sensitivity (indicates which SPL will get with a given power) and the frequency response, of which we have spoken at the beginning of the post. If we choose a few demanding headphones, with a high impedance, it is possible that we may need a dedicated external amplifier to make the most of them without forcing the amplifier of the smartphone, as, for example, some models of Avinity of which I spoke in another post.

If what we want is to squeeze the sound of our phone when we’re at home, a good choice happens to us with good external speakers or a base (docking station). We find in the market dozens of models many manufacturers of consumer electronics with a wide range of prices, such as Philips, Sony, Targus, Altec Lansing and a long etcetera. Connoisseurs and audiophiles, if they are willing to spend a small fortune, can be made with one of the great bases with loudspeakers from manufacturers such as Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, Krell or McIntosh, among other options.

Candidates for the best sound

Despite the limitations which, as we have seen earlier, imposed by the small size of the chassis of a smartphone, some manufacturers have managed to put together solutions that we offer a very good sound. Excellent in some cases. In the company of a good set of headphones work well many smartphones, but the problems appear when using the speakers in the phone itself. It is not the case, for example, of the HTC One (still have not been able to hear the new One (M8), but the previous model). Their sound is great and offers us a power, a resolution and a punch unusual frequencies on a smartphone.

The HTC One offers great quality sound thanks to the combination of a competent hardware and Beats Audio technology

To achieve this, the Taiwanese company engineers have opted to place the speakers in the lower part of the front of the terminal, and not in profile, which has allowed them to have more space to put together some quality speakers. In addition, this smartphone amplifier has enough power and the DAC is solvent, which together with Beats Audio technology, which defines a profile of software that equalizes the sound to make the most possible to this hardware, makes the HTC One one of the smartphones, in my opinion, with best sound.

Of course, it is not the only smartphone that sounds good. Other technologies that define alternative to the Beats Audio sound profiles are Xloud, used by Sony in the Xperia, and SoundAlive, used by Samsung in their Galaxy. Both offer a sound very worthy in some of these terminals, although, in my opinion, they do not reach the level of performance of the One from HTC. Other technologies that is worth that we stop are those of the Swedish firm Dirac, used by Xiaomi in its Mi3, the DSP’s Cirrus Logic using Apple in its iPhone, and also Dolby Mobile, used, for example, by LG and Oppo in some of its smartphones (Find 5 combines Dirac HD and Dolby Mobile).

Audio of high resolution? Not really

Before terminating this post I’d like to inquire into an idea that I said when we talk about the DAC incorporating smartphones. Usually manufacturers offer not only information on this component, and when they do, usually use it as a ‘weapon’ of marketing to extol the ability of your phone to play hi-res files. For this reason, often accompanied by a slogan or a striking brand, as HD Audio o High Resolution Sound.

However, what we want to know is that, although the DAC is able to work with files with 24 bit resolution and a sampling rate of 96 or 192 kHz, which is the quality that is often used in the master’s study, when we connect headphones we will get a dynamic range similar to that offered us a CD player, in large part because of the quality of the interface for headsets that incorporate most of the smartphones. We can understand what is the dynamic range of a simple way to looking into it as the full range of levels of sound intensity which is capable of reproducing device.

The dynamic range is not everything, of course, but it can seriously influence the sound quality. The CD uses 16-bit resolution and a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz. Fortunately, a CD really well engraving can provide us a superb quality sound, so I would give more importance if it is worth to the the recording quality the resolution and the frequency of the file we are going to play.

It is impossible to deal with all that we can count on our smartphones and the world of audio sound in general, which will soon publish other entries in a single post It will complement this post. We hope that you like.

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