Get better-quality sound quality from your iPhone with these simple tips.
Want to get better sound quality from your iPhone? Are the speakers producing sub-standard audio, making your music or the soundtrack of films and games sound thin, tinny or crackly? Are you getting poor-quality audio through even good-quality headphones or external speakers?
In this article we troubleshoot some of the major causes of poor iPhone audio quality, and help you to get the best iPhone sound possible.
(See also: Apple needs to ditch audio skeuomorphism - it's time for new sounds)
How to get better iPhone sound quality: Which iPhone has the best audio?
First up, let’s think about the iPhone hardware itself. Amazingly enough, the iPhones 5s appears to have slightly weaker audio output than the iPhone 4s and and iPhone 5, due to the inclusion of a less effective audio processing chip.
The iPhone 5s: a beautiful and high-powered smartphone, but an audio disappointment
According to Engadget’s smartphone audio test, the 4s is actually the better of the two in terms of audio, making it our choice for audiophiles.
But in most circumstances your iPhone choice will either have been made some time ago, or be dependent on factors other than audio quality - the 4s has a smaller screen than all later iPhones, for one thing, and is slower and less feature-rich. How can we make the best of the iPhones we’ve got?
How to get better iPhone sound quality: Choose the right audio file type for best audio quality
(See also: How to get lossless and high-res audio on iOS devices)
One thing you can control when buying, saving, compressing and transferring digital music files - or other audio files, such as audio books - is their file type. We spoke to Macworld’s audiophile technical editor Andrew Harrison, and he told us the pecking order, from best to worst:
AIFF: Buy and store your music files in this uncompressed format if at all possible. The only downside is that they’re big - so those with small storage capacities may wish to go for the smaller ALAC below. If you’ve got plenty of space, get these.
WAV: Also uncompressed, Microsoft’s WAV files differ from Apple’s AIFF in mostly unimportant ways - the arrangement of the data, for example. But they don’t let you save cover art and other useful information, so for that reason they’re second best.
ALAC: If you want to save space, use a lossless compression formula such as ALAC, also known as Apple Lossless, which will make your files about half as big as the equivalent AIFF with only minor loss of audio quality.
FLAC: The main strike against FLAC is a big one: out of the box, iOS devices can’t play them! However, there are some apps that let you use FLAC. We can’t comments as to their quality, but FLAC audio is generally good - it’s lossless too.
AAC: This compression scheme is lossy, and therefore the audio quality will be tangibly weaker than with ALAC. But it’s still better than…
MP3: The mp3 format helped to usher in the era of portable music libraries, but its audio quality won’t pass muster with audiophiles. Try to avoid if you can.
How to get better iPhone sound quality: Rip CDs at a higher bitrate (and as AIFF)
Another element you can control is the settings you use when ripping CDs. In iTunes, go to the iTunes dropdown menu and select Preferences (alternatively, press Apple + ,). Under the General tab, click Import Settings.
First of all, if you can spare the storage space you’ll want to rip the tracks as AIFF files. Click the Import Using dropdown menu and pick AIFF Encoder.
But if you’d rather have AAC compressed files, at least use a high bitrate. With AAC Encoder selected, click the Setting dropdown and pick Custom. Now click the Stereo Bit Rate menu and select the highest possible option, 320 kbps. (You won’t get these options with AIFF or ALAC.)
How to get better iPhone sound quality: Buy the right earphones
And to finish, a couple of larger questions that we deal with in greater detail elsewhere.
iPhone speakers aren’t up to much, sonically, so to get good audio you’ll really need to add some audio accessories: either headphones or external speakers.
As far as headphones go, you tend to get what you pay for, but if you’re buying earbuds, try and get good-quality ear-canal models for superior insulation and sound. Large over-ear models may provide good audio but aren’t as portable, so they’re better for home use.
Check out our headphone reviews, and our headphone buyer’s guide.
How to get better iPhone sound quality: Buy the right speakers
Last of all, why not invest in a serious bit of audio hardware? Wireless speakers are increasingly what customers want - less wires, less fuss - but bear in mind that Bluetooth audio will see a certain amount of quality lost in translation.
Take a look at our speaker reviews, and for general advice, our speaker buyer’s guide from last year.
This article would not have been possible without the patient audiophile advice and coaching provided by Macworld technical editor Andrew Harrison.
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