The audio is that eternal forgotten, the ugly duckling of technological comparisons and we think it’s an ideal time to listen to what some of the most advanced and mobile manufacturers of mobile phones have to tell us. And discern if it is siren songs or realities that go beyond the strictly technological part, the acronyms and the laboratory patents.
First of all it should be noted that mobile phones, despite their impressive performance in high ranges, have not been designed to play audio specifically. Let us not communicate with mill wheels: neither its speakers nor its headphones are designed to offer the highest quality. They are multitasking tools, functional and very versatile, but where an audiophile would stumble looking for the champion of perfection.
By the way, let’s define perfection: the quality does not translate to listening to loud bombastic ones that you rebtruenen the ears, nor in a volume that makes to rumble the table where is placed the terminal, but in offering a version as reliable as possible of the song as it is was conceived by composers, producers and mixers.
A music player should indeed reproduce, do a translation of the music studio to our ears. It’s nice when some devices color old songs, yes, but it’s not true. In this comparative we look for that middle point of equity, where the possible “traps” in the sound are avoided.
How we did the comparative
For music playback we have turned to Poweramp – as we might have used Neutron -, our white hand, an Android application that allows, among other functions, to play files without compression.
Each manufacturer optimizes their player based on their strengths
Why? Because each manufacturer optimizes their player based on their strengths and we needed software as flat as possible.
It also offers a 10-band graphic equalizer, independent frequency settings, crossfade, stereo signal analysis, compatible with HiFi headphones and, most importantly, digital resampling of the native frequency: 16 to 24 bits and 44.1 KHz to 192 kHz.
With the choice of headphones we follow the same premise: we have opted for AKG k271 MkII, closed circumaural with drivers of 30 millimeters, one of the most flat models on the market: they offer wide range of nuances without coloring, instruments are heard separately Clearly thanks to its enormous bandwidth (from 16 to 28,000 Hz), regardless of the genre.
They are not a model designed to listen to music, but to meet our need: an audio test without distorted frequencies, with no extras of power that “deceive” our ears. Not for nothing are a classic in home studios and mixing rooms.
From classical music to dream pop, from southern rock to progressive whims, our comparative has a bit of everything
From classical music to dream pop, from southern rock to progressive whims. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, for acoustic bass, and Muse’s Citizen Erased, for those serious screw-ups in the mix, especially towards the end of the track.
The Mother We Share (Chvrches) and Desert Rose (Sting) to test the behavior of the panorama, the stereo scene. Testing in monkey with Beach Boys Caroline No, WAV ripping of the original 7-inch single manufactured by Capitol Records in February 1966 in the UK.
Animal (Def Leppard) and So Far Away (Dire Straits) to test the brightness in intermediate frequencies, and an extra: the instrumental version of Transience, by the great producer Steven Wilson, to contemplate all those nuances that can be buried under a false reverb.
Finally, in questions of tolerance we tried with No Time for Caution, the cut of Hans Zimmer for Interstellar. And a little bit of Vivaldi’s Fall of the Four Seasons. And, well, our piece of trust: the “Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-flat minor, op. 23 III “, by Rachmaninoff, SACD copy of the recording belonging to DG The Originals, to analyze the general response and check where we are sticking in the resulting output.
First we listen to the software, audio tracks and headphones mentioned for 20-25 minutes with each model. Then listen with the manufacturer’s headphones, with the brand’s serial player and all enhancement settings deactivated.
And to this we would have to add a third listener for their respective speakers in conditioned room, as well as punctual tests with the different configurations that offer the manufacturers in their menus – improvements in the panorama, Stereo + mode, etc -.
To close, a maximum volume test by both earpiece and speaker, to determine if it distorts and the speakers are able to “leak” correctly the excess vibration.
Smartphones that have taken the test
ZTE Axon 7: The Outstanding Student
The surprise of the day. Its four audio chips-AK4961 DSP, AK4961, AK4490EN and AK4490EQ-, with Advanced Audio DSP codec for headphones, give this equipment another sound, another independent category. Inside is a DAC with Hi-FI HD 32-bit technology and first-level noise filtering. It also has its own Dolby Atmos player, 24-bit / 192 kHz audio processing and HiFi headphone recognition.
The ZTE Axon 7 stands out in both tone recognition and amplification, both in the headset and through its loudspeakers
After a couple of initial problems – serious interference, slight distortion, the headset output did not recognize the connection / disconnection – we started with the tests inside our player, demonstrating good competition with Poweramp resampling.
The result stands out above the average in all the tests: definition, contrast of tones, mono signal, amplification. Even its stereo speaker, although the superior one offers better behavior in serious, perhaps by the repositioning that demands the frontal camera. It does not deliver, as much volume as HTC 10 but its stereo image is wider, the tracks are more polarized. A little wonder, no doubt.
HUAWEI Mate 9: Second scorer
First we detect that it is not compatible with the resampling of Poweramp, so the test goes ahead if it. It draws attention to your stereo speaker, although we miss an extra power; Low in serious. As for software, it offers DTS Mode, Stereo Mode + (horizontal orientation automatically switches euphonia to stereo audio).
In the audio test we emphasize its means, its ability to interpret each line in a reliable way.
It negatively surprised the behavior with other headphones, giving a rather limited stereo response, not doing the same tests with its own model. On the numbers, highlight the signal cleanliness, with a noise level -98 against the Samsung S7 -92, thanks to the hardware of its DAC (HiSilicon Hi6402 DSP, the Chinese fabless that collaborates directly with Dolby).
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LG G5: The third in discord
The South Korean flagship does not have extra addictions in the audio configuration, but a very competent hardware. Its SnapDragon 820 SoC incorporates the Qualcomm Aqstic codec, and a V10 HiFi DAC plus a PA (preamplifier) for headphones.
Even so, the top of the volume is low, with deep basses although somewhat heavy and sharp well tinted. Turning to PowerAmp, you feel great resampling from 48 to 192 kHz. Overall, it offers a clean scene. Its interior speaker is simple, emphasizing in bass.
HTC 10: White and pure sound, like its casing
The smartphone of the Chinese manufacturer has enchanted us in each and every one of the tests. We tested with the HTC BoomSound upgrade with Dolby Audio and without it: we were left with the original version. It offers a little panorama, the bass dirty the media, appreciating a cut below 100-150Hz.
As for the external audio, it consists of a full range loudspeaker at the top and a subwoofer at the base of the casing (like any 2.1): it is quite aggressive but at no time does it mess the mix; Large and defined volume. Of course, the subwoofer colors more than we would like.
On the other hand, it assembles an independent DAC, and it shows: the depth and signal-to-noise ratio is superior to the LG G5, without harmonic distortion. A delight that will cost to improve.
iPhone 7 Plus: Too many to-dos
Come on now with one of the heavyweights. Among the audio settings, it has a 10-band EQ and a limiter, nothing more. It does not support PowerAmp, and in return, we spend extra time with its classic USB-C, semi-open buttoned earpods that boast a good response.
We do not agree: your headset distorts in high volumes, offers very poor performance in bass, worse still in treble and its two loudspeakers, with pre-amplification, make the mixture shine excessively.
We like the overall performance, quick response within your own software, but it does not live up to the previous systems. We are even deaf, but the integrated DAC in the Lightning adapter does not seem to offer any kind of advantage over our reference headphones. That is to say: they only guarantee improvements in the sound in case of using the new AirPods. It seems that those of Cupertino have turned so much to surprise with technology that they have abandoned the basics: to sound good.
Moto Z: More power than exterior
First we encountered problems in resampling with PowerAmp, so we listened to our songs digitally compressed by the terminal itself. It does not incorporate configuration options beyond a normalizer.
The USB-C adapter promises an analog converter but in our test does not translate into a real improvement: it sounds, in fact, below expectations. The tracks are clear, oxygenated, but too “digital”.
We like its modularity mentality and offers many possibilities facing an external CAD. Its front speaker is brave, very open , with a behavior above the average, giving an extra decibels.
Sony Xperia X: Correct, too correct
The Sony terminal reminds LG G5 of its behavior, although it offers extra options: DSEE HX digital “recomposition” technology, ClearAudio + mode and full compatibility with Poweramp. Additions that will delight any user with an extra time setting to taste.
Generally speaking it responds positively, the Hi-Res feels pretty good, but it stays at the doors of excellence: little power, response without any remarkable element, delivering an SD version of our files, despite support for HD audio And have proprietary LDAC technology. As for its double stereo speaker, identical driver, also offer a meager volume and magnificent stereo scene.
Samsung S7: Uncontrolled power
The Samsung classic was the only model that corrected the volume after the health warnings, according to WHO legislation. Extend the number of options: resamples both with your software and via PowerAmp.
We come back to the Snapdragon 820 DAC and a lot of exclusive software: dynamic equalizer, UHQu (Ultra High Quality Upscaler) optimizer, surround sound (false 3D), simulation of a tube amplifier – ideal to open the scene – simulation Through reverbs (auditorium), and Adapt Sound, suitable to correct problems of frequencies, where to analyze of which foot limps our handset, band by band, and to strengthen its weak points.
On the other hand, the System-on-Chip Exynos 8890, which we consider more capable, mounts a Lucky CS47L91 in-house DAC. In any case, they do not launch to the independent DAC like HTC 10 and thus translates: it is not so generous. The speaker stays at the doors of perfection, with good reproduction and bright stereo, a step below the Axon 7.
Who wins and who loses?
Not only are there no clear losers but, what is worse, there are no clear winners either. For a combination of good performance, speaker, quality and response in loudspeakers, we were with HTC 10, ZTE Axon 7 and Huawei Mate 9, with special mention for the Samsung S7.
Gold, for a few decibels, might go for the HTC 10, which, after a careful and cautious design, hides an electronics that will delight audiophiles.
In any case, these conclusions are subjective and attend to the comparative one against others. No system is perfect and there is nothing engraved in stone. We hope that, at least, has served to dispel some doubts.