Getting Great Sound From A Cheaper Phone

You don’t need a flagship phone to hear great sound.

Here in North America there’s been a lot of talk about the sky-high prices of smartphones. Among the talk, have been reports of people who have downgraded their phones. But none of those people said they wanted to downgrade the audio quality. And that’s a problem because the cheaper phones generally have worse sound. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get great sound without spending a ton of money on a phone that exceeds your needs and your budget ? Well, you can. Here’s how: get good headphones that plug into the phone’s charging port.

The reason this will provide better sound is that those kind of headphones have built-in DACs (Digital-to-Analog Converters). The DAC is the circuitry that converts the digital data of the music file or stream into an analog signal that your amplifiers can amplify and send to the speakers to turn into sound. Think of it as a soundcard. All phones have DACs built into them, but they’re not all of the same quality. The cheaper the phone, the worse the DAC. So, to get great sound, users have had to buy flagship phones. That has become a problem in the last couple of years because of the skyrocketing prices of flagship phones, especially the iPhone.

When you use headphones with a built-in DAC, the phone sends the digital data straight to the headphones instead of to the phone’s built-in DAC. In other words, the phone will simply copy the music’s digital data from the network or storage to the headphone, bypassing the phone’s built-in DAC altogether. That means your phone can have a really bad DAC and it won’t stop you from getting great sound.

Of course, such headphones are more expensive than similar ones without the built-in DAC. But the price difference can be much less than the difference between a cheap or mid-range phone and a flagship, thereby saving you some hard-earned money.

There are several brands and models of headphones with built-in DACs, including Beats, Sony and PSB. As a long-time PSB fan, I recommend you try out the M4U8 by PSB. For the past several years, I’ve been using the predecessor, the award-winning M4U2, and I love them. The M4U8 has the added advantage that it can be plugged into the 3.5mm headphone jack or the charging port, and also work wirelessly over Bluetooth with Apt-X (to switch to wireless, you just have to unplug the cable from the headphones.) Shop around and try a few different models and brands until you find the one that’s right for you.

In addition to getting good headphones, you also should get your music in a quality format (AAC is better than MP3, and FLAC is better than AAC), and use a great music player like Neutron.

Thanks to the latest headphones, you don’t need to spend a fortune on the latest overpriced phone in order to get great sound. And that’s music to my ears.

Getting great sound from a cheaper phone
Getting great sound from a cheaper phone


I'm programmer with 13 years experience, and a former electronics technician. My first BlackBerry was a Z10, and I'm now rocking a Passport.