Audio Quality

The iPhone 6 is the first non-Android phone to be put onto the Audio Precision APx582 for audio testing. The exact same test tones are used as with Android devices, but they are played back through iTunes at maximum volume. We use the same four static loads as we did with the HTC M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5 for the results you see in the table below.

  15 Ohm 33 Ohm 150 Ohm 330 Ohm
Dynamic Range 84.155 dB 92.281 dB 92.223 dB 92.160 dB
THD+N 5.873% 0.0054% 0.0032% 0.0032%
Crosstalk (L) -49.608 dB -56.239 dB -71.721 dB -77.966 dB
Crosstalk (R) -49.831 dB -56.459 dB -72.191 dB -77.983 dB
Output Power 44.04 mW 26.39 mW 6.614 mW 3.072 mW
Output Voltage 812.7 mVrms 933 mVrms 997 mVrms 1,007 mVrms
Relative Level (20Hz - 20kHz) ±0.088 dB ±0.088 dB ±0.089 dB ±0.088 dB
The first thing to notice is the 15 Ohm load test. At maximum volume, with a -0dBFS signal the amplifier section in the iPhone 6 enters clipping. You can reduce the volume to avoid this, but it does not do as well with really hard loads as the M8 does. You can see the 1kHz sine wave for that below, with the amp clearly clipping at the bottom.
iPhone 6 997 Hz Sine Wave 0dBFS, 15 Ohm Load
For most testing I focus on the 33 Ohm load, as most in-ear headphones have a rated impedance around 32 Ohms. A data comparison to the HTC M8 and the Galaxy S5 is in the chart with the S5 as the clear loser.
  HTC M8 iPhone 6 Galaxy S5
Dynamic Range 92.074 dB 92.281 dB 91.921 dB
THD+N 0.0152% 0.0054% 0.0505%
Crosstalk (L) -64.780 dB -56.239 dB -44.767 dB
Crosstalk (R) -64.329 dB -56.459 dB -44.804 dB
Output Power 47.63 mW 26.39 mW 10.63 mW
Output Voltage 1.254 Vrms 933 mVrms 592.4 mVrms
Relative Level (20Hz - 20kHz) ±0.664 dB ±0.088 dB ±0.081 dB
Compared to the M8 the iPhone 6 isn’t quite as powerful, but it has lower THD+N and a much better relative level. The relative level isn’t a big deal, as a variation of 0.5dB is unlikely to be heard by most. That the THD+N is 1/3rd the value of that on the HTC M8 is more important, as the FFT below shows a very low noise floor on the iPhone 6 when compared to the one in for the M8.
iPhone 6 997Hz 0dBFS Sine Wave FFT
HTC M8 997Hz 0dBFS Sine Wave FFT
The crosstalk is also lower on the HTC, which is an area the iPhone 6 could certainly improve in. Digging into more depth on the THD+N results provides a bit more context. The HTC M8 has THD+N levels that start at 0.03% but after 2kHz it begins a steady rise up to 0.1% at 10kHz and past 0.2% at 20kHz. In contrast, the iPhone 6 THD+N is 0.03% until 500Hz, rises up to 0.06% at 5kHz, then back down to 0.03% at 9kHz, and peaks at 0.1% by 20kHz. The iPhone 6 will have slightly more midrange distortion but less treble distortion.
 
iPhone 6 THD+N Ratio Frequency Sweep
HTC M8 THD+N Ratio Frequency Sweep
If we leave noise out of it and look only at distortion then the iPhone 6 does even better. It has a distortion level of -95dB out to 10kHz and then it rises up to -82dB at 20kHz. The HTC M8 begins at -77dB for 20Hz, falls to -95dB until 2kHz, and then rises up to -56dB by 20kHz. The bass and midrange distortion is about equal, but the HTC M8 has far more distortion in the treble.
 
iPhone 6 Distortion (Noise) Frequency Sweep
HTC M8 Distortion (Noise) Frequency Sweep
Is one phone superior to the other? With the iPhone 6 and M8, I don’t believe so. The M8 is more powerful with lower crosstalk while the iPhone 6 has less distortion and better frequency response. Most notably the iPhone 6 has no results that indicate odd behavior, which we have seen with the Galaxy S5 and other phones. It is a well engineered headphone amplifier provided you do not need to listen to something at maximum volume with a 15 Ohm load.
 
Can Apple improve this? They could improve crosstalk, though some headphone companies like more crosstalk to help create an image more like a pair of stereo speakers than headphones. They could also support 24-bit audio which can improve on the SNR values here. The test tones are only 16-bit in nature, so the SNR maximum value is around -98dB. The HTC M8 may perform better given 24-bit test tones but would need a retest to verify this. Apple seems to have decided on using Lightning with an external DAC to push beyond 16-bit audio so we will have to wait for devices using that to see.
 
Audio hardware on phones can still improve a lot to get closer to where the best stand-alone products are. Those are capable of Signal-to-Noise ratios of -120dB or greater, and crosstalk of -110dB or more. How much those would be audible with headphones is uncertain, but when used as a source device with a stereo it may be audible. However, unless high-resolution audio downloads, like Pono or HD Tracks, really start to catch on I don’t see this being a main focus for most of the companies out there. The iPhone 6 is more likely what we will see going forward: good audio quality, but most importantly free of any major issues.
Video Quality Software
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  • techconc - Monday, October 06, 2014 - link

    @shm224 - I now know several people with iPhone 6 and 6+ devices that keep them in their pockets. They all seem to agree that there is no merit to this "bend gate" nonsense. While nobody doubts that these phones can bend under a certain amount of pressure (90 lbs. according to Consumer Reports), from a practical matter, it's a non-issue. Further, I find it rather interesting that phones such as the HTC One which bend under significantly less pressure (70 lbs.) don't receive the same sort of media attention.
    As for the 8.0.1 update, yup, Apple screwed that up. Fortunately, for Apple, the update was pulled after about an hour. It's also fortunate that in only affected some phones and only for the over the air update as opposed to the iTunes update. To your point, no, this typically isn't an issue for other phones... then again, neither are regular updates.
    Reply
  • elajt_1 - Friday, October 03, 2014 - link

    (@melgross) And to call you one would be an insult to an idiot.
    Apart from the rage, I think it was he made some valid points.
    Reply
  • Jimrod - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    You mad bro? Reply
  • rational_wannabe - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    You have serious issues. So it's OK for Samsung to sell their plastic crap for the same amount of money? Nice way of rationalizing things... Reply
  • danbob999 - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    Yeah it's OK since there is nothing wrong with plastic. It absorbs shock, is light and do not block wireless signal. Perfect material for a phone. It is also durable enough. How many people replace their phone because the plastic is cracked? Not much. People replace their phone either because the screen is broken, it was damaged by liquid or simply because it is too slow/old.

    Apple has been selling phones which are cheaper to produce for years at the same price (or higher) than the competition. Smaller phones tend to be cheaper, because the display is cheaper, the battery is cheaper, and the rest cost the same. So even by using plastic, Samsung phones cost more to produce so I fail to see how they can be labeled as "cheap".
    Reply
  • blackcrayon - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    Apple is spending far more in developing the phone in other areas though. Writing the OS, designing custom SoCs, etc. Reply
  • danbob999 - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    Designing custom SoCs is an investment. It isn't supposed to raise the cost of the phone.
    Samsung also design some of its own SoCs and even manufacture them.

    The OS is debatable. But from a hardware perspective Samsung phones (at least the high end ones) are definitely not cheap, even if they use plastic.
    Reply
  • Parhel - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    R&D should affect the cost of the product? That's not how it works . . . Reply
  • Parhel - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    Ugh.. meant to say R&D "shouldn't". To state it plainly, R&D may be an investment, but it's still an expense. The cost needs to be recouped, and they make money by selling phones, so . . . you do the math. Reply
  • danbob999 - Tuesday, September 30, 2014 - link

    Of course they have to make money. But spending more in software development, R&D or marketing doesn't make their phone any less "cheap". I was replying to someone saying that Samsung phones were "cheap" because they were in plastic. The fact is that Samsung phones tend to be more expensive than iPhones to make, because the cost of the components is higher, despite any savings made by using a plastic shell. Reply

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