Super-loud $150 boombox phone gives my $1,500 Galaxy S24 Ultra a valuable (music) lesson

Super-loud $150 boombox phone gives my $1,500 Galaxy S24 Ultra a valuable (music) lesson

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The 2024 Mobile World Congress has now wrapped up, and like every year, we’ve seen some interesting new announcements.

One that came across my feed is called the “Nubia Music”, and even if it doesn’t sound like the name of a smartphone, it is indeed a €150 budget phone Europeans will be able to buy starting this April.

The Nubia Music comes with two important features, which might be the only two reasons it exists – the first one is actually not one but two headphone jacks for listening to music through wired headphones, and sharing your experience with a friend.

The $150 Nubia Music has a “loud” design and a speaker “6x louder” than that of your iPhone/Galaxy

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Despite the lack of “Pro”, “Max”, or “Ultra” in the name, the Nubia Music’s second notable feature is a literal “party trick” I wish my Galaxy S24 UltraPixel 8 Pro, and iPhone 15 Pro Max knew how to perform – a “6x louder (compared to your average smartphone) speaker”.

In case you’re wondering, those who’ve had a chance to hear how the speaker sounds in a loud environment (at MWC), say it does indeed sound much louder than a conventional set of smartphone speakers.

Now, let’s be honest… The Nubia Music will most certainly be forgotten soon after you’re done reading this article, but it’s a great conversation starter for a story I’ve been wanting to write for a while now – one about how mediocre smartphone speakers are…

When they don’t need to be!

Listening to music on my Galaxy S24 Ultra, iPhone 15 Pro Max, and Pixel 8 Pro: Apple wins but the progress in smartphone sound quality should be far greater

I’ve been generally “happy but unimpressed” with how my flagship phones sound for a while now but for the purposes of this story, I had to put my impressions to the test.

And after playing a bunch of music on my Galaxy S24 Ultra, Pixel 8 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max back to back (you can do that by switching the output device in your Spotify player), including some original tracks I produced, my initial impressions were as follows:

  • The new Galaxy S24 Ultra is loud (which is great), and sounds decent for a phone, but it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to soundstage, bass, and overall “richness” and instrument separation

  • Surprisingly, the Pixel 8 Pro sounds worse than I remember it sounding a few months back, and my unit hasn’t suffered any physical damage; Google’s flagship is quieter, mushier, and overall the least impressive “speaker phone” amongst the three

  • On the other hand, the Phone 15 Pro Max sounds the best to my ear, which isn’t exactly surprising given that its predecessors already had the lead in sound quality; the 15 Pro Max sounds fuller, richer, warmer, and easily puts out the most bass amongst the three, which is actually impressive (for a mainstream flagship phone)

$1,000 flagship phones don’t need to have mediocre speakers, but phone-makers keep ignoring sound

In the end, while pivotal parts and aspects of the smartphone have seen a gradual and indisputable progress over time (design, display, camera, processing power, endurance), most phone makers seem to ignore putting effort into making their phones sound good. And this doesn’t sit right with me.

As someone who likes listening to music directly from my phone (I don’t own an external Bluetooth speaker, unless you count my Google Nest Mini), I can’t help but find this to be a little bit insulting – especially when it also applies to the multiple $1,000+ flagship phones sitting on my desk.

Listening to music aside, today, people consume tons of content on their phones, which could benefit from a great set of speakers just as much – you have YouTube videos, movies, podcasts, and suree… Even TikTok.

What would it take for Apple, Samsung, and Google to give us flagship phones with great sounding speakers? I think I have the ideal solution!

So… What would it take for speakers on mainstream phones to (finally) get to the next level, and is it a realistic upgrade to expect?

For starters, yes, good speakers on expensive phones is 100% a realistic expectation to have! That being said, there are some obvious limitations to how “amazing” speakers on phones might be able to sound with the current design and tech phones are working with.

Still, I can think of a few practical ideas that don’t require your iPhone or Android to become a tablet to sound better:

  • Mainstream phone-makers must take an example from gaming phone like the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate, which has a set of spectacular sounding dual speakers with large drivers and full bass thanks to large bass chambers

  • Four speakers instead of two? The two extra speakers can be on the top and bottom, or even on the sides of the phone for a spatial, surround sound effect

  • Make more folding phones, which have more space to work with to create a fuller sound; improve current folding phone speakers?

  • Last but not least, let’s not forget the Nubia Music (which is the inspiration behind this article); of course, having a single rear speaker wouldn’t be a perfect solution, but what if we have a large rear speaker in addition to two “regular” stereo speakers? That way you can utilize all of them depending on what kind of media you’re consuming, and whether your phone is sitting flat on the table or not!

Anyway… I have a hunch Apple will continue to be the “leader” in making the most consistent progress in how the speakers on non-gaming flagship phones sound. And that’s not only because the iPhone has historically had relatively better sounding speakers than Android flagships.

Apple has another, unique incentive to improve the multimedia experience on the iPhone, and that’s the Vision Pro headset, which (just like the iPhone) is able to capture Spatial videos. Of course, part of every stellar video is (or least should be) stellar sound, and this could be the motivation for Apple to further improve the speakers on the iPhone 16 series (and beyond).

Tying up nicely with the release of the Vision Pro headset, we’ve heard rumors about new, significantly upgraded microphones coming to iPhone 16 Pro, which is another aspect of audio and multimedia experience Apple and Android shouldn’t ignore.

Either way, if phone makers can find the space to fit 3-5 cameras on the back of a phone, with humongous camera bumps, I’m sure they can make space for far better speakers!

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