Speakerphone Volume

In my N900/Motorola Droid piece, I alluded to an interesting note I made about the iPhone 3GS's speaker volume. For a long while, people have complained that the iPhone's speakerphone volume was too quiet, complaining that even at the maximum volume it was nowhere near loud enough. The same applied to noise level over the handset through the earphone speaker.

I've noticed a similar issue, but picked out another detail while testing the AT&T MicroCell - calls on 2G are louder than calls on 3G. After I got my soundmeter, I set out about measuring, and found that my suspicions were confirmed. Calls on 2G GSM are indeed significantly louder than calls on 3G UMTS on the iPhone, and curiously not so on the Nexus One. The reason? Dynamic range compression.

If you're familiar with the FM loudness war, than you'll instantly understand what's at play with 2G versus 3G call loudness. Calls placed over GSM have a smaller dynamic range, while 3G calls over UMTS have greater dynamic range (and fidelity). The dynamic range of GSM is roughly equivalent to CDMA 1xRTT (which is what all calls on Sprint and Verizon are placed over - not over 3G Ev-Do), though that's a whole other can of worms to discuss. Regardless, when users unfamiliar with the inherent difference in fidelity hear a 3G call after getting accustomed to 2G loudness from 1xRTT or GSM, it sounds notably quiet on the iPhone.

This is a problem that's existed since the iPhone 3G, and has gone unchecked in the 3GS, and 4. For whatever reason, Apple isn't increasing the gain on 3G to match the same loudness, possibly to preserve fidelity, and the result is that the speakerphone and earpiece are never as loud as they really could be compared to a 2G call. As I mentioned before, Android on the Nexus One appears to use an automatic gain algorithm to normalize loudness. If you place a 3G call and listen carefully, you can actually hear the gain ramp up to meet the same loudness as the 2G GSM call.

The difference between these phones might not look like much, but keep in mind the logarithmic nature of dB: -3 dB is half the loudness. 

On the iPhone 3GS, the difference is 7.36 dBA, while the iPhone 4 somewhat lowers it down to a still-audibly-different 3.31 dBA. The Nexus One shows no difference in loudness between 2G and 3G, correcting both to a (likely purposefully exact) 80 dBA. The iPhone 4 is indeed louder than the 3GS, by 4 dBA. It's a difference, but not an overwhelming one. I'd say the iPhone 4's speakerphone is still loud enough, though calls over 3G are still a bit too quiet. Until Apple increases the gain on 3G calls, iPhone 4 customers who are hard of hearing should invest in a bluetooth headset.

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  • philosofa - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    This kind of in-depth and insightful review is exactly why I read pretty much every Anandtech article (that and a liberal workplace when it comes to browsing lol). Cheers very much Brian & Anand. Don't feel a huge urge to upgrade from my 3GS, but it does look like a pretty damn fine smartphone! Reply
  • quiksilvr - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Yeah, but he's holding it wrong :( Reply
  • medi01 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    But guys, who do you pay a fortune for these phones? If you'd buy iphone or whatever phone with 2 year contract in most of Europe you'd pay just the price of the phone over 2 years (a bit more, in case of iphones it's about 700 Euro)

    I mean, aren't there cheaper contracts? I could imagine, that you can't buy some models other than from mobile providers, but hey, there are other countries with online shops.
    Reply
  • Snotling - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    In north America and even more in Canada, there is a lot of territory to cover and lower population density. Cellular networks need to plant antennas where there is theoretically too few users to pay for it. Reply
  • JimmiG - Thursday, July 01, 2010 - link

    Sweden is kind of like a smaller version of Canada. Apart from the three major metro regions (Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg), the country is very sparsely populated. An average city is maybe 50,000 people. Yet we have extremely affordable plans by comparison.. I mean like less than $10 for a perfectly usable plan (1GB of data or so) and no more than $20 for 5GB or even Unlimited. Paying $100 a moth..geez. I barely pay that in a year. Reply
  • Ratinator - Friday, July 02, 2010 - link

    Sorry, I think that is a bad comparison.

    Sweden is 2/3rd the size of the province of Saskatchewan and 9 times the population of Saskatchewan as well. You can't even compare Sweden to the province of Saskatchewan let alone Canada. You have roughly 13.5 times the population density of that province. Mind you this is probably least densely populated of the provinces (not territories) Maybe not the best example, but lets look at a better one.

    You could maybe compare to Ontario (our most populated province) however, you are less than half their size with 80% of their population. When calculated out you still have almost twice the population density of our most populated province.
    Reply
  • ABR - Monday, July 05, 2010 - link

    It's pretty hard to find countries with similar population density to Canada, ranked 228 out of 239 in the world according to wikipedia. On the other hand, most of the country is inaccessible by road and I seriously doubt you are putting up cell towers in Nunavut. On the other hand Finland has half the population density of the United States and yet has similar cellular and broadband rates to Sweden. We don't know what it is with North America, whether a lack of competition, cartel agreements, or all the companies being weighed down by historical investments, but you guys do lead the world in what you pay for communications. Reply
  • Guspaz - Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - link

    According to the CIA world factbook (yes, I use a foreign agency's site for info on my own country), 90% of Canada's population lives within 160km of the US border.

    If we make an estimated measurement and take the southern border's length at 6416 km, multiply that by 160 and you get an area of about a million square kilometres with a population of, adjusting for the 90%, about 31 million. That would be an actual density in that region of about 31 people per square kilometre.

    That puts us in 180th place, right behind the US in 179, which has a density of 32. This is close enough to say that, within our populated region, we've got about the same population density as the US.
    Reply
  • ripwell - Saturday, July 03, 2010 - link

    Are you comparing data plans to voice and data plans? Telia was blasted when the iPhone first came out with some of the most expensive plans in the world. It's pretty amazing if you're suggesting that you can now get voice and data for just $10 a month. Reply
  • JimmiG - Sunday, July 04, 2010 - link

    "It's pretty amazing if you're suggesting that you can now get voice and data for just $10 a month. "

    You rarely get pre-paid minutes here unless you really want to. You just pay about $6 a month and get billed for your minutes afterwards. In my case, it's about 10¢ per minute, but to phones on the same network, you get unlimited texts, mms's and minutes. Yes, for $6 a month. That includes most of my friends and relatives that's pretty much what I pay for voice and texts.

    Then on top of that, you can add your data plan, for example 1GB a month at 6Mb is $9 (add $7.8 for 5GB at 10Mb/s).

    -Or, if you really must go crazy, you can get 3,000 minutes for $65. Combined with 5GB/month at 10Mb/s, you're paying roughly $82. That's the absolute maximum. No subsidized phone, but you get over 3x more minutes than the iPhone deal and 2.5x the amount of data. The phones aren't really subsidized at all when you look at the total cost.

    "You could maybe compare to Ontario (our most populated province) however, you are less than half their size with 80% of their population. When calculated out you still have almost twice the population density of our most populated province. "

    But what about the US? Its population density is 32/km2 vs 20.6/km2 for Sweden. There are definitely states that are comparable in size and population density.
    Reply

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