Monday, 28 July 2014

Improving the sound from a mobile phone

Before I took the plunge and bought Demelza last April (that's my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone), I read all the online reviews. I gleaned from them that the S5 wouldn't be vastly different from the S4, just a slight all-round improvement that was termed 'incremental' (written with a sneer by some reviewers). It was so when comparing the S4 with the S3. It was clear enough however that each version of Samsung's flagship phone was better than the last, and that they all sold well. I felt confident that the S2 I was going to trade in would be eclipsed by the S5. Well, you'd expect a 2011 phone to be eclipsed by a 2014 phone, wouldn't you?

So far as I was concerned, the S5 had to be better in only two key areas. First and foremost, I wanted a significantly bigger screen. I got it. And I love it.

Second, I wanted the music it played from the loudspeaker to be better. This was of course one of the things you couldn't decide from an online review. The subjective judgement of the reviewer wouldn't be the same as my own. We would have different ears, and we'd like different types of sound.

I did gather that the S5's sound quality when playing music from its single rear-facing speaker was 'decent'. Hmm. Faint praise? Nobody said 'outstanding'.

Its rival, the HTC One M8, had two front-facing speakers, and its reviewers were ecstatic over what they heard. Apparently the HTC was the phone to get if you wanted the very best sound quality. One reviewer sourly commented that the S5 sounded 'miserable' by comparison.

Miserable? Really? I was immediately suspicious about their using such an emotive word. I detected prejudice. And a desire to be arresting. It was - and continues to be - fashionable to criticise big manufacturers like Samsung (and indeed Apple) for any feature that falls short of perfection. In any case, a reviewer must strive to keep ahead of the pack: so departing from a cool appraisal, and using provocative language, is the sign of a reviewer on the make, someone who wants the public to think they are worth reading - and trusting. I wasn't going to fall for it. I decided that Demelza's speaker didn't have to be the last word in audio performance. It just had to do the job reasonably well.

For one thing, my hearing is not the best. I can't really appreciate the difference between the good and the superb. My hearing just isn't acute enough. I am also most comfortable with treble sounds - I don't want an intrusive, overwhelming bass.

Secondly, I have discovered that in actual home use, the sound quality from the S5's speaker can be greatly improved. It all depends on which room, and the exact placement of the phone.

At home, I nearly always listen in my bathroom. The speaker is situated low down on the back of the phone, and so, if I place the phone so that its bottom quarter overhangs a shelf, the sound is sent downwards, bounces, and then scatters all around the small space. In the process it gets modified for the better. Much as one's own voice sounds richer when singing Rule Britannia, or Vissi d'arte from Tosca, in the average bath or shower.

This overhanging technique works nearly as well in the kitchen (which is still a fairly small room). It also works beautifully in the caravan, another confined space. So much for fancy speakers! You don't necessarily need 'em.

But elsewhere in the house, or when driving Fiona, it has to be the earphones - and the sound quality is then truly excellent, at least to my less-than-perfect ears.

Do I hear murmurings that surely I bought my S5 for other things? Such as the camera? Or the health apps? Or the waterproofing? No, I didn't. Only the screen and the loudspeaker sound quality ever mattered. (So concentrate on those, please, Samsung)


  1. I can't believe you sing Rule Britania whilst washing your nether regions Lucy! Although technology has come a long way since the invention of the telephone and especially with sound reproduction there will never be Hi-Fi quality with small speakers no matter how many or where they are positioned. If it is only a reasonably good quality that is desired then small modern devices will certainly provide. I'll wager that if your S5 output could be put through a quality Hi-Fi system you might be surprised. I know, I know, the hanging-over-the-shelf system might be good enough for the bathroom.....LOL
    Shirley Anne x

  2. I have another song entirely for my nether regions.



This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford