iPhone3G / iPod 1 : audio quality

Posted: September 3, 2008 in Apple, Audio, Troubleshooting
Tags: ,

We remember the lower audio quality problem with 6G classic iPods (use a Cirrus Logic DAC instead of the Wolfson from previous iPods – there is to note however that no other audio players or phones company provides better audio quality than Apple’s devices). Good news, the l’iPhone3G still uses a Wolfson DAC, a newer model in fact, the WM6180C (replaces the Wolfson WM8758 from the first iPhone, whose quality was said to be average to bad, so even such a famous company can produce low cost chips that aren’t of audiophile quality).

At iLounge forums we can read mixed reviews about the iPhone3G audio quality :

– The sound quality at reasonable volume levels, particularly in the bottom end is really poor. I started noticing soon after I purchased it that the bass was distorting noticeably, and when there was a lot of degradation of sound quality over a wide range of frequencies. I tested it with 3 pairs of headphones (cheap $10 Sony, decent $100 Sennheisers, and some high end Denon reference headphones). In all three tests the bottom end was muddy, indistinct and worst of all was noticeably distorting… the better the headphones you use with an iPhone, the more noticeable the problems are due to the more accurate.
– My iPhone 3G doesn’t have any of the distortion you are talking about. Bass is crisp and clear on my AKG K27i headphones. In fact, I have to say that my iPhone actually sounds noticeably better than my old 30Gb 5G iPod. 
– I’m really happy with the iPhone sound quality. My previous iPod, a monochrome 4g finally gave up the ghost a few months ago, but going by my ears’ memory of it, the iPhone 3g sounds better
– The sound quality and volume of my new 3G beats the pants off any mobile phone I have ever used.

It is clear that Apple had to make cuts somewhere to reduce the iPhone3G price as they did. However, after some listening, despite the low output level provided with the AKG 240M headphone (very high impedance, 600 Ohms) that prevents a fair comparison, the iphone3G sound seems well balanced (homogenous, with detailed high end, percussive sound and very good – too much precise ? – spatialisation and wide audio field).
Using the same headphone with a first generation iPod (used a Wolfson WM8721 as we can see on that tab) with unlimited audio level, the low end seems much punchy (stronger kicks) but a bit muddy/less precise. However the spectral basis seems larger, with far more less holes, what leads to a warmer and stronger sound (the high end seems reduced, not as high than with the iPhone3G).
Globally the iPhone3G sound is more precise, lacking nothing technically (the iPod 1 seemed to enhance too much the bass frequencies, and sounded muddier), but the later provided a warmer and stronger sound. Such remarks about the iPhone audio quality remind what was said about the Cirrus Logic converters from 6G classic iPods, compared with the Wolfson DAC from previous iPods. So it is possible to produce a low cost audio DAC with great specifications, but without an audiophile sound (requires rounded and full frequencies, where low cost components lead to a thin sound).

The ipod 1 from 2001 was priced 500$ initially, that is the same as now iPhone3G. The later is 3 times thinner whereas it includes ten times more components (cellphone chips, GPS, Wifi, etc.). The ipod 1 featured a minimalistic user interface (but very efficient), and only included a hard disk and the DAC (besides the main processor). So it was more obvious (and wise in an economic manner) to put a great audio converter in such an audio player. This is however something to moderate, considering the high integration level reached these days for electronic chips, and the iPhone3G production scale, nothing to compare with the first iPod production numbers (was the first audio player of that generation, and only worked with mac).

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