Looks like someone is troubling the waters, and Apple is not going to be thrilled about the splash. Nevertheless, DXOMark, the company that has made a name testing the visual capabilities of digital camera gear, has moved to smartphone audio. And yes, there is a preliminary stack-ranking. Say hello to DxOMark Audio.
The testing protocol is remarkably detailed — and dare I say, rigorous — especially given the market segment. The aim, perhaps obviously, is to raise not only awareness of the issue of sound quality on portable devices, but to help (call out?) manufacturers to improve their devices. Here’s some:
- Timbre (frequency response, treble/midrange/bass, total balance, volume dependency)
- Dynamics (attack, bass precision, punch, volume dependency)
- Spatial (wideness, balance, distance, localization)
- Volume (maximum, minimum, user volume consistency)
- Artefacts (noise, pumping, clipping, user artefacts, other artefacts)
- Background noise for recording (directivity, noise profile, artefacts)
Now, DxOMark Audio is is not directly applicable to headphone use — not yet. But I can imagine that focusing on the equipment speaker capabilities can translate into the care and feeding necessary to create a better headphone output. Ha ha ha ha! Okay, maybe not, but one can hope.
Details are available over at the DxOMark Audio (website) announcement, and the stack ranking is also online. Glad I haven’t upgraded my Apple iPhone XS Max, but then, I gotta be honest, using the speakers on my iPhone is a rare thing — and a thing I tend to hope stays that way.
Again, putting aside the entire world of headphones and personal audio, it should be obvious that a phone cannot replace or even compete with dedicated audio output components, like a well-designed DAC, amplifier, and stereo speakers. I mention that because even the lowest-performing device in the current DxOMark Audio ranking, the Sony Xperia 1, can make amazing sound with some well-chosen aftermarket components. Yes, yes, that means spending more money, but as Steve Guttenberg challenged us a few years back, an awesome experience doesn’t have to be expensive. Heck, even an Apple HomePod (reviewed here) is way better than using your phone — any phone — naked.
Something worth keeping in mind.
So, here’s to hoping that the big manufacturers start caring about high-quality output. With the recent announcements around “Apple Digital Masters” for the Apple Music service, improvements on their flagship devices shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
And in that spirit, I can only applaud these folks for introducing DxOMark Audio.