Dynamic Range

The dynamic range of the phone indicates the difference between the loudest possible sound and the background noise. The more residual noise in the background, the lower the dynamic range. Phones with more powerful amplifier sections will typically produce a greater dynamic range. The residual noise level is often constant, so as the overall volume level increases the difference between the music and the noise increases as well.

The best performer here is the iPhone 5 again, with 92.214 dB of range. The worst is the Nexus 5 with only 89.332 dB. A difference of 3 dB is not something I would concern myself over. If we see a phone or tablet that drops down below 80 dB then I will start to show more concern.

Crosstalk

Crosstalk, like dynamic range, is just a number here. This is the measurement how much signal leaks from one channel into another. If an instrument should only be in the right ear, some of that signal will leak into the left ear, but we want that as low as possible. The results are expressed in -dB, or how much quieter one ear is than the intended ear.

On the Note 3 we see a wonderful crosstalk measurement of -117.2 dB so the sounds in one ear are -117 dB quieter in the other ear. This makes them impossible to hear. The worst is the iPhone 5, with only -75.624 dB of isolation.

Stepped Response

The stepped response uses a 1 kHz 0 dBFS tone but measures output level from maximum volume to minimum volume. We can see how large the volume steps are and how many there are. It doesn’t produce a number we can use, but it ties back into our other results. For a good example, we can look at the Note 3.

We see steps that are around -5 dBu each. The final level is muted and just the background noise of the device. Each step is clean and even but as we get lower and lower we see noise start to intrude. This is the background noise starting to become audible in the signal. The flatter the levels are, the quieter it will be. Now, let us look at the Nexus 5.

Notice at the very top how the right and left channels do not overlap. That is the clipping we talked about at the very beginning. It isn’t until the 4th volume setting that the level difference is down to nothing. Because of this, I would consider the top 3 volume settings of the Nexus 5 as ones that should be avoided. They each have enough THD+N introduced into them that it will sound poor, and one ear will be louder than the other.

Maximum Level and Frequency Response Nexus 5 and LG G2 Issues
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  • Impulses - Wednesday, August 13, 2014 - link

    It wouldn't really be a factor, the Bluetooth device's amp would be what's driving your headphones, not the phone's circuitry. Reply
  • blade 7 - Monday, February 17, 2014 - link

    while quality of music playback is certainly a major issue, one primary quality question hardly gets any mention, not to speak of objective examination: the quality of the phone call audio itself !
    it you conduct crucial negotations over the phone - or even if you just flirt with someone on you portable, the quality of voice call transmission can make a huge difference in how you - your message, business proposition, etc - are perceived on the other end of the call, and what impression yout gain from someone calling you. so where in the respective media is a systematic phone-call audio quality assessment ? ( and no, phone call audio quality is not equal to music file playback audio on a smartphone. we are talking much more elements of the phone involved and influencing phone call audio qu. compared to file playback quality.) a lot of modern smartphones sound very poor on voice calls ....
    Reply
  • Excerpt - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Represent RIP city main! You did an amazing and scientific report I have high hopes for future articles and I'm really behind your trailblazing (another reference) the audio quality topic on our electronics!

    I did a wedding gig with a decent firewire audio interface, ran out of music (as the crowd wanted more current hip-hop) Hooked up my friends iphone and I was a little awestruck. My speaker amp was at about 80% and the iphone 5 was at about 90% volume and the distortion and quality did not seem to dip down at any noticeable amount, through the head phones or the floor speakers. WOW.

    I personally just bought the nexus 5 and yes, even at low levels being hooked up to my home stereo (which i do often) the quality and total max dBs are defiencent compared to the iphone. Crap-tastic infact, the left and right speakers even seem noticably out of phase or somehting to that effect. (I'll start using the S.O.'s ipad air if i need an emergency audio source in the future)

    Just verifiying this man's findings with real world examples. Thanks!
    Reply
  • Excerpt - Wednesday, February 26, 2014 - link

    Good point and I think there's some information to be discovered on that topic. However, I wanted to add, carriers are really responsible for increasing the quality of voice. The local recording of a mobile device is much better than the transmitted voice (not withstanding software enhancements eg. noise canceling). Check out, 3GPP and the ITU (International Telecommunications Union). There's some benchmarks that are measuring voice quality calls, but assisted with network simulators, as the network is also an important factor. Reply
  • @paulkind3d - Thursday, March 6, 2014 - link

    Call and sound quality are a huge part of mobile phone tech. I'm currently looking into the HTC One as it appears to have set a precedent on sound quality. Personally I am absolutely sick and tired of having to ask "huh, what?" over phone calls due to the crappy little garbage speakers in most cellphones. They are either a) loud enough to hear but are not clear or b) too quiet to hear and are not clear either. Either way hearing calls on cellphones is painful and difficult on every cell phone ive owned to date. I can live with a bulky cell phone if it means better sound personally. Sadly no one else thinks this way. Apparently till a phone is the size of a thumbnail and useless for calling people cellphones makers will not be satisfied.

    I know that this test does not compare that and is more of a DAC question as the test is geared to headphone sound quality (bonus that one of the test subjects is a grado headphone... grados are amazing... i love my sr325's). None the less, the fact that someone is out there testing audio quality of cell phones means that eventually we may be able to actually hear phone calls when we make/answer.

    BTW head-fi.org has many user posts on this same subject. If line level quality is important to you definitely search headfi too. This and many other compares can be found there... http://www.head-fi.org/t/685103/best-phone-for-mus...
    Reply
  • H0rtOn - Thursday, May 8, 2014 - link

    I read Anandtech alot and have never posted a comment before, but I signed up just to make this post. Please make this a standard part of your phone reviews. I specially missed this part in the review of the HTC One (M8). Reply
  • notsure123 - Friday, April 29, 2016 - link

    Old article. I would just like to point out the difference between driving apple headphones (or any headphones for that matter) vs a line input. Not to say this data is inaccurate, it is just not particularly useful in comparing smartphones audio quality. Firstly because I hope no one actually uses their smartphone with headphones at volumes even up to 80% where it might also start distorting. This is too loud and is damaging your hearing. I would like to see the distortion figures when connecting the headphone jack to an auxiliary input rather than a headphone and see how these phones compare (willing to bet its much more similar) Reply

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