The best phones with Hi-Res audio, feat ZTE Axon 7 mini, LG V10, HTC 10 and Sony Xperia Z5 Premium

We think of hi-res audio quality and thoughts usually turn to expensive earphones, portable music players and other accessories. Consumers expect a 'live' experience when listening to music and one that sounds as it would, coming from a stand-alone HiFi audio player. 

However, while smartphone makers have taken long strides in perfecting camera technology, look and feel of devices and processing power, very few have invested the same amount of know-how into offering hi-res audio quality, so they won't have to rely on expensive accessories to do the job.

We take a look at how ZTE Axon 7 mini, HTC 10, LG V10 and Sony Xperia Z5 Premium have made serious strides in how beautiful music can sound, even when relayed through a phone's in-built speakers- without the need for expensive portable amplifiers. 

ZTE Axon 7 mini

At launch, ZTE talked in great length about how with the Axon 7 mini they had put an immense amount of work into the audio capabilities. For starters, they put the AKM 4962 chip on there which works well to unite the two separate audio processors (AKM 4961 DAC and AKM 4490 ADC) work as one.

Very  good deep rich tones are what the consumer hears from this very pocket-friendly device. While we were reviewing the phone, our colleagues were amazed how good the sound quality was on a phone that cost less than £230.

We are not saying that the audio quality is better than that of headphones that cost more than twice that of the Axon 7 mini, but saying that if you are on the market for a phone with imeccable sound quality, you should definitely look at the Axon 7 mini as a probable option.

The dual front-facing stereo speakers come with Dolby Atmos® sound and gives the ZTE Axon 7 mini the kind of audio heft very few phones with this price tag can boast of.

ZTE Axon 7 mini in-depth review

HTC 10 evo

While launching the 10 evo, HTC waxed lyrical about the phone's audio prowess. We don't fault them though, for HTC has suffered much in the smartphone genre in the past couple of years and by flaunting something they're still investing on points to the fact that they aren't willing to call it quits yet.

If you love recording audio while on the go, HTC 10 evo may probably be your best bet. The phone ican record audio in stereo 24-bit. Beat this, the technology captures audio 256 times more detailed than standard recordings and covers twice the frequency range. This probably means that if you play a recording of a phonecall with your friend on the HTC 10, you'll feel as if he is sitting by your side and talking to you. 

It's not only about the audio that HTC 10 evo captures but also the one it generates. The phone is Hi-Res audio certified and comes with a unique headphone amp that's probably way better than the ones in all other smartphones. The amp produces twice the power of a conventional headphone amp and can upscale 16-bit audio to 24-bit!

So, the phone comes with a specialised type of headphones that analyse the inner shape of your ears so that every note, nuance and tone can be tuned to the consumer's hearing. Afterall, we dont all hear sound the same way!

On the flip-side, a three minute song in .mp3 format takes up just about 3MB of your phone's storage. In comparison, a 16-bit one will take up 30MB and a 24-bit one an unbelievable 100MB! Hence the 2TB microSD slot in the HTC 10.

Apart from running with the exceptional technology, HTC also adds a bit of personalization to it. HTC 10 evo packs a Personal Audio Profile system which adjusts specific sound frequencies to each ear, letting you hear music exactly the way the artist intended. Just like premium acoustic systems, the BoomSound™ Hi-Fi edition speakers within the HTC 10 evo also feature separated tweeter and woofer design with dedicated amplifiers for increased audio clarity.

LG V10

The best part about the V10 is its amazing audio quality which has the ability to give HTC 10 evo a run for its money. The phone sports a 32 bit Hi-Fi Digital to Analog Converter by ESS Technology which offers high-end audio in dynamic range with low levels of total harmonic distortion and noise.

Hi-Fi DAC can be enabled on the V10 by plugging in headphones and activating it through the drop-down menu on the main display. The technology converts digital signals into analogue whose quality can then be enhanced by amplifiers and Hi-Fi stereo speakers.

While every smartphone carries a DAC, the Hi-Fi DAC is a totally different world. The one in V10 comes with 75 step volume adjustments and produces much higher volumes than a standalone DAC. It also produces studio-quality 192kHz sampling frequency which is way beyond 44.1kHz and 48kHz frequencies that we are presently used to.

To add to it, V10 can also support lesser knows audio formats like flac and wav, making itself capable of playing almost every kind of music available and it can also recover corrupt MP3 files which ensure that you won't have to keep searching for new tracks to cover for your destroyed ones.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium

Even though the Xperia Z5 Premium is better known for its 4K display and the majestic 24MP camera, it also figures among those rare phones that are Hi-Res audio certified.

Xperia Z5 Premium comes with DSEE HX technology which can easily upscale low-res and compressed audio files to high resolutions. It does this by predicting missing data from each audio file. Yet another new tech named ClearAudio+ then balances the frequencies and optimises them to provide a perfected stereo output.

 

As per Sony, the phablet can also reducing up to 98% of exterior noise thanks to an Active noise control technique which can filter out high-frequency noise from reaching your ear. If you love using wireless Bluetooth speakers, Sony’s LDAC™ codec transmits data three times more efficiently than legacy codec over Bluetooth, enabling better clarity and lesser noise in the transmission.

Sony has also introduced a new High-Resolution Audio Headset MDR-NC750 which can be a handy accessory if you travel often. The headset features Beat Response Control which emphasizes on low-frequency ranges and brings more clarity to deep bass rhythms.

Verdict

With a number of brand new smartphones sporting Hi-Res audio among their best features, it seems that smartphones in general will undergo the transition from MP3 to 16-bit and 24-bit frequencies sooner than expected. To be fair, the ZTE Axon 7 mini, HTC 10 evo, V10 and Z5 Premium have made strong starts, specializing in hi-res audio recording, 24-bit and 32-bit frequencies and superior noise cancellation respectively to save us the cost of purchasing headphones, speakers and MP3 players to do the job.

Even though some work needs to be done before we can expect smartphones to turn into standalone stereo systems, the progress so far gives us a lot of hope for the near future.

It ultimately depends on the consumer what they need their phone for, apart from playing crystal clear sound. If you want 4K display with it, then opt for the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium. If it is an all-rounder, then go for the HTC 10 evo for its solid build quality and customisable Adroind layer. If you are on a tight budget, you cannot get better than the ZTE Axon 7 mini and of course, for twin displays, the LG V10.

The answer may seem like a cop out, but each of these phones are so unique that we couldn't point to the most expensive one and say this is the best. 

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12Comments

  1. Guest
    Guest8th Jan 2017

    I have the v10 . I can hear a huge difference. I bought some decent 60$ jbl headphones and honestly I don't get the value of them until I plug them in...

  2. Guest
    Guest16th Dec 2016

    You forgot about FLAC format. Files are larger than MP3, but they are waaaay smaller than 24 bit files, which are overkill and waste of space. There'r...

  3. Guest
    Guest5th Dec 2016

    This really misrepresents sampling rate (KHz) and bit depth. These aren't the same thing, as the earlier poster mentioned; it's like X and Y on a grap...

  4. Guest
    Guest25th Nov 2016

    Hate to be pedantic, but your explanation of 24-bit audio is inaccurate and likely confusing to many. Bit depth and sample rate are independent, orth...

  5. Guest
    Guest14th Oct 2016

    Is the internal microphone on the v10 better than the HTC 10?

  6. Guest
    Guest18th Sep 2016

    This is a great, in depth review. You covered all the aspects an audiophile expects. Even more, it is rare to find a blog where smartphones are talked...

  7. Guest
    Guest6th Sep 2016

    I have an lg v10 the sound is awesome good. Music 40 years old (spotniks) sounds as new very transparant.8ymZmV

  8. Guest
    Guest8th Aug 2016

    Competing with Apple "lossless" . . . try .wav files . . . full resolution. You can of course go up from their, depending on what the specific phone ...

  9. Guest
    Guest2nd Aug 2016

    I think its important to mention the real world sound improvements beyond the geeky numbers. The reality is that DACs and amps designed specifically f...

  10. Guest
    Guest26th Jul 2016

    Most people won't hear the difference between 24-bits and 16-bits. And even those who can, they will need extremely good quality headphones/audio syst...

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