If music quality is important to you, then there are few different factors to consider when choosing your next phone. How good are the speakers? Does it have a good DAC (the gizmo that converts digital files into something you can hear)? Does it have a headphone socket – and if not, does this matter?
We’ve taken a look at some of the top models with these questions in mind so you can choose the best phone for your music needs.
Samsung Galaxy S9
A great choice for music fans, whether you listen through the impressively loud stereo speakers, or the AKG earbuds that come in the box. For the best listening experience, you can select the UHQ (Ultra High Quality) upscaler in ‘settings’, which takes advantage of the 32bit DAC to deliver a really true-to-life sound.
With its powerful stereo speakers, iPhone X sounds impressive even when used as a standalone player. Apple’s W1 wireless technology gives a smoother experience than Bluetooth when used with AirPods, and if you want to use wired headphones, you can buy high-end models that plug straight into the Lightning port for a top-quality audio experience.
Sony were producing world-class audio equipment way before the first smartphones arrived, so as you’d expect they’re a strong contender here. The Xperia XZ2 supports hi-resolution audio, delivering a big improvement over MP3s, and while there’s no headphone jack, Sony’s LDAC technology lets you listen wirelessly at high quality, too.
Best-known for its ground-breaking triple lens camera, the Huawei P20 Pro is strong on audio quality, too. It’s equipped with Dolby Atmos Immersive Sound, giving a unique 3D listening experience that makes you feel part of the music. It even uses AI to detect what music you’re listening to, and adjusts its settings to match.
Hi-resolution audio (also known as hi-res, high definition or HD audio) doesn’t have an official definition – but it’s generally accepted to mean any audio file stored at higher quality than CD.
Some experts argue that CD quality is plenty high enough for human hearing – but hi-res files certainly represent a big step up from standard MP3s or Spotify streaming at 320kbps. To put it into perspective, a CD has a data rate of 1411kbps (over four times that of an MP3 at 320kbps) while a hi-res music file has a data rate of 9216kbps – over 28 times faster (or more detailed) than the highest quality MP3.
This does however mean that hi-res files (including WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC and more) will take up much more space in your phone’s memory. So if you’re thinking of going down the hi-res audio route, you’ll want to choose a phone with plenty of memory. Plus of course, you’ll want to pair it with a decent set of headphones
Currently most music streaming services don’t offer hi-res or high-definition audio – so the best way to listen to top-quality music on your phone is to download and save hi-res music files and listen to them through your phone’s music player. (Note that TIDAL does offer high-res streaming, but only for the desktop application). The most popular hi-res formats are WAV and FLAC for Android, and ALAC and AIFF for iPhone.