In many of the examples you have seen so far, you notice that the Nexus 5 has a large issue with the left channel at peak volume levels. As Brian mentions in his Nexus 5 review, it is based on a similar platform to the LG G2 but it isn't identical. Because there are similarities I want to test it out and see if it has the same issue that I see on the Nexus 5.

The test that is causing the large issue on the Nexus 5 is a 1 kHz sine wave, at -0dBFS, at maximum volume. This is the loudest sound that any device will be asked to produce. If you're familiar with the trends in music mixing the past two decades you'll know that a peak of -0dBFS is not all that uncommon now. This chart at NPR shows the average and peak levels for the most popular songs over the past thirty years. Two decades ago testing for -0dBFS might not have been important but it is now. So lets look at this image from the Nexus 5 again.

Now for comparison, we will look at the LG G2.

This looks much better. However the LG G2 is still putting out 0.546528% THD+N into the left channel while only outputting 0.003338% into the right channel. So there is still some imbalance going on here. So why is the issue so much less on the G2 than on the Nexus 5?

The key to this is looking at the scale on the graphs here. While the Nexus 5 peaks are up close to 1.3-1.4V, the G2 has peaks that don't even reach 700mV. Looking at the actual numbers the G2 has a Vrms level of 475.3 mVrms while the Nexus 5 checks in at 843.6 mVrms for the left channel and 982 mVrms for the right channel. The G2 is placing far less stress on its headphone amplifier and keeping it from the output levels that cause this excessive clipping in the Nexus 5.

To look in more detail, we have THD+N Ratio charts for the stepped level sweep that we looked at earlier. First, lets look at the Nexus 5.

We see that the first three volume levels, 15-13, have THD+N distortion over 0.3% for the left ear, while they are below 0.01% for the right ear. From level 12 and below the THD+N levels are practically equal. Now to see how this data on the G2 looks.

We see the first volume step has 0.55% THD+N or so for the left ear, but the right ear is down at a similar level to level 14 on the Nexus 5. The next step drops it to 0.03% which is way, way below where it is on the Nexus 5 at that point. By step 13 they are equal.

The conclusion I pull from this is that both the G2 and the Nexus 5 have the exact same flaw right now. However, the G2 has attempted to hide it by reducing the maximum output level of their headphone amplifier. The Nexus 5 can play louder, but only with far more distortion. Given this I would expect there to be an update to the Nexus 5 at some point that lowers the maximum headphone level to something closer to the G2.

However this doesn't mean that the Nexus 5 is certainly worse to use with headphones. The top 3 settings are ones I would avoid due to the left channel issue, but I might avoid the top 1-2 settings on the G2 as well. If we consider 1% THD+N to be the maximum allowable level, that leaves 8 volume steps on the Nexus 5 that are usable. The G2 has 9 steps that are available to you, and 10 if you consider 0.03% THD+N in one ear to be OK (it probably is).

In the end, the G2 won't play as loud as the Nexus 5 will, but you don't want to play that loud anyway. It has more usable volume steps than the Nexus 5, and otherwise very similar numbers. I'll be interested to see if either of them make further changes to their maximum output levels to remove this issue.

Dynamic Range, Crosstalk, and Stepped Response Additional Data
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  • ph00ny - Thursday, December 12, 2013 - link

    i9100 had yamaha DAC and was dismissed by many as poor choice moving away from wolfson DAC which sounded especially great with voodoo sound. As for S3, US variants with Snapdragon did not come with Wolfson DAC Reply
  • The Von Matrices - Sunday, December 08, 2013 - link

    I own an S3 and I hate that it's output has a bass boost profile similar to the HTC One with its "Beats" profile. It's probably great for earbuds but for any other listening device the bass is overdriven. If it just produced a flat output I would be completely happy with it. Reply
  • Impulses - Monday, December 09, 2013 - link

    Can't it be turned off somewhere? HTC's Beats glorified EQ can be turned off and ignored entirely, well, except for the persistent notification that lets you know that it is indeed turned off (seriously). Reply
  • Samus - Monday, December 09, 2013 - link

    A lot of custom roms try to circumvent Samsung audio layer with a combination of audio filters. Its pretty depressing...S3 owner here. Reply
  • speculatrix - Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - link

    Xda devs is full of discussions about things like boeffla Kernel tweaks and hacks which expose more of the hardware controls of Wolfson DACs and thus allow customization of sound EQ.

    It does seem to be the case that you really do have to research a specific phone and all it's variants to be sure of getting the audio chain you want.
    Reply
  • barry spock - Monday, December 09, 2013 - link

    Excellent stuff. I hope you can do a showdown of the most popular phone models out there at the moment, including the iphone 5s. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Monday, December 09, 2013 - link

    I'd like to see iPod touch models added to the mix also, as whilst not actually a smartphone, it is in many ways very similar and music listening on it through the headphone jack is a major selling point of it. The thing is, as you don't need to hear it "ring" in a loud room, it has a much weaker internal speaker than any smartphone, so is the audio-amp driving the earphone socket as good as that of the iPhone, or have they saved money on it to hit the lower price point? Reply
  • Bansaku - Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - link

    I too would like to see this as well. Especially between the 4th and 5th Gen. I swear the audio quality of my 4th Gen is superior to my 5th Gen. I also wonder the difference between the various models of iPhones. Reply
  • JoannWDean - Saturday, December 14, 2013 - link

    my buddy's aunt earned 14958 dollar past week. she been working on the laptop and got a 510900 dollar home. All she did was get blessed and put into action the information leaked on this site... http://cpl.pw/OKeIJo Reply
  • tipoo - Sunday, December 08, 2013 - link

    This is perfect, I havn't read it all but I have an ancient Nexus S and it has horrendous headphone output. I've heard the next two Nexii weren't great in that either. Lots of hiss from all the radios, and even if there was no hiss there's just an odd EQ curve or something, it makes the bass muddy. I think the program Voodoo sound helped it but not completely. So audio output will be an important consideration in my next phone. Reply

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