Our smartphones are tasked with pumping out sound for a wide range of tasks, from music and movies to gaming. However, these ‘jack of all trades’ devices aren’t necessarily audio specialists.
Whatever the sound quality your phone is capable of, there are a few things you can do to improve it. Here, then, is how to ensure that your smartphone is packing the optimal audio punch.
Bump up your music app’s streaming quality
Your chosen music app might not be outputting sound as well as it could be. Many services will default to a lower quality setting to allow for limited data plans and spotty mobile coverage.
If neither of those things are a concern for you, though, you can crank up the quality in the app's settings menu for an easy audio boost.
In the Spotify app, head into Settings > Music Quality and crank things up to ‘Very high’, which will boost the quality to the equivalent of 320kbit/s.
iPhone users on Apple Music should head to Settings > Music > Mobile Data and ensure that the High-Quality Streaming toggle is flicked to the On position. Android users will need to head into the app itself and go to Settings > Cellular Data and flick the ‘High Quality on Cellular’ toggle to the On position.
Google Music users should head into the Settings menu within the app, then scroll down and select ‘Quality on mobile network’ or ‘Mobile network stream quality’ and set it to ‘Always High’.
If you know that reception is going to be an issue, download the tracks you want to listen to ahead of time to ensure top quality (as long as you have the storage on your phone).
Check your case
This is perhaps the simplest check of all, but potentially the most transformative for an awful lot of people. Is your phone case interfering with your handset’s sound output?
Many third-party protective cases don’t quite fit phones as snugly or efficiently as they should – and some partially cover the external speakers, deadening the sound profile.
Try it out. Start a song playing through your phone’s speakers, crank up the volume, and then remove the case. Does it sound significantly clearer? If so, you’ll be needing a new case – preferably one that doesn’t cover the speaker at all.
If you haven’t gone wireless, such cases can also disrupt your personal audio setup by partially blocking the area around the headphone jack.
- Check out our buying guides to find the best case for your phone
Buy a better pair of headphones
This may come as a surprise to you, but the earphones that came bundled with your £1,000/$1,000 smartphone suck.
Even the leading smartphone manufacturers will cut costs wherever they can, and one of the easiest ways of doing that is by packing in sub-standard audio gear (see also fast chargers).
One of the simplest ways to improve the sound quality of your smartphone, then, is to replace those poor-quality earphones. Whether that’s a straight replacement set of in-ear buds, or something a little heftier, you won’t need to spend too much to notice an improvement.
You can’t go wrong with the Sony WH–1000XM3 at around the £330 / $350 / AU$500 mark, while the Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT provide decent quality sound at around the £120 / $150 / AU$210 mark. Halve that price again and you can still get yourself the well-balanced Jabra Move.
Buy a portable DAC
Maybe you have a very good set of old-school wired headphones, but they sound disappointingly weedy through your phone. What you need is a portable DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter).
The chips that drive the sound in your phone are all exercises in compromise. Factors like portability and energy efficiency, as well as the need to output a variety of sound types, inevitably lead to a trade-off in sound strength and quality.
External DACs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they all serve to bolster your phone’s sound output to the levels more in keeping with what the music creators originally intended – and if you have a very good set of headphones, particularly those with high-impedance, the difference can be truly extraordinary.
So which portable DAC should you buy? We rate the iFi xDSD and the Chord Mojo very highly for sheer sound quality, the Audioquest Dragonfly for its portability, and the Creative Sound Blaster E5 for wireless convenience.
- Check our our pick of the best portable DACs
Download an EQ app
Buying a whole new phone-sized (and often phone-priced) device and lugging it around with you is quite an extreme solution, of course. But you can also tweak your phone’s existing output to suit your tastes.
Not all phones or music apps include an equalizer function, but it’s possible to download a dedicated EQ app to do the trick for you.
The likes of EQu and Equalizer+ on iPhone, and Music Volume EQ and Equalizer on Android, will let you tweak the sound output on your device for a warmer, bassier, or airier sound.
iPhone users on Apple Music should also note that there’s a built-in EQ function. Just go to Settings > Music > EQ and tweak away until you get a sound profile that’s music to your ears.