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Review and Audio Measurement of LG G7 ThinQ Smartphone

amirm

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#1
This is the review and measurements of the audio performance of LG G7 ThinQ smartphone. It was purchased by my son a couple of weeks ago. It retails for USD $750. Its claim to fame is inclusion of an ESS quad (four paralleled) DACs ES9218P with integrated headphone amplifier.

LG G7 ThinQ Audio Review and Measurement.png.jpg

There are actually two DACs in there with Quad DAC by default not selected.

LG G7 ThinQ Audio DAC Selection.png

I suspect they don't leave it as default because it uses more power and would hurt benchmarks and battery life.

It even has fancy audiophile reconstruction filter choices:

LG G7 ThinQ Audio DAC filter Selection.png

Default was "short" (apodizing) filter. As seen above, we did our testing using Sharp filter.

Is this all fluff or does it perform? Let's find out.

Measurements
Let's start with our usual dashboard view of a 24-bit, 1 kHz tone at 44.1 kHz sampling:

LG G7 ThinQ Quad DAC Dashboard Audio Measurement.png


Wow, that is impressive. SINAD (signal above power of noise+distortion) is in desktop DAC category:

SINAD Measurements.png


As shown above, the standard DAC is no slouch either, clocking at 105 dB in SINAD.

Both leave my Samsung S8+ deep in the dust at just 89 dB...

Dynamic Range (SNR) is pretty good with both DACs:
LG G7 ThinQ Quad DAC SNR Audio Measurement.png


LG G7 ThinQ Standard DAC SNR Audio Measurement.png


The Standard DAC has lower output though:
LG G7 ThinQ Dashboard Audio Standard DAC Measurement.png


Just 0.8 volts output? That is darn anemic but more on that later.

In preparing for these measurements, I assumed that LG was not thoughtful enough to have its media player bypassing the Android audio stack. So we downloaded the USB Audio Pro player for $8 and gave that a try. Performance was initially disappointing:
LG G7 ThinQ USB Audio Player Pro Android Pipeline Dashboard Audio Measurement.png


No matter what we tried, we could not get better numbers. Indeed none of the settings in the player made any difference! Hearing that the LG G7 supports MQA, on a whim, we tried that option in the player:

USB Audio Pro Player LG MQA Setting.png


That did the trick:

LG G7 ThinQ USB Audio Player Pro Dashboard Audio Measurement.png


This shows that the Android audio pipeline is limited to 16 bits so best to avoid it if you can. Fortunately the LG player does that and therefore, there is no need to buy USB Audio Pro (unless you like its interface better).

All was not perfect here. LG has some screwy logic where it examines the impedance of the headphone and messes with the output level and hence power. This was not always consistent. We managed to get outputs as high as 2 volts RMS but other times, it would step down to 1.5 or even 1 volt. After a while, we managed to get consistent outputs resulting in these power numbers relative to load (just a volume step below clipping):

LG G7 ThinQ headphone power vs load Measurement.png


As we see, the headphone amp does not like low impedances. It sharply drops output voltage resulting in very low power outputs. This is the opposite of external headphone amplifiers where lowering the load impedance increases their output power.

Output impedance was a low 1.6 ohm:

1536473491063.png


Channel balance was of course perfect due to digital volume control:

LG G7 ThinQ Channel Matching Measurement.png



Listening Test
I did some brief testing with two of my headphones. Using the HifiMan HE-400i, the output was very anemic. Its 35 ohm impedance forces the headphone amp to clamp down resulting in too little power. Switching to Sennheiser HD-650 results in a far more satisfying experience given its 300 ohm output. Mind you, it is not super loud but good. My Etymotic ER4 SR produced decent levels too but still not loud enough. :)

Conclusions
The LG G7 ThinQ DAC produces exemplary performance. It destroys the Samsung S8+. I was impressed that they paired good playback software with the hardware to make sure the Android limitations of 16 bit audio don't get in the way. Even its non-quad DAC produces class leading results.

The weak point is the headphone amplifier which has a mind of its own and severely limits output power into small load impedances. As such an external portable headphone amp would be necessary for proper performance for most headphones. No need to augment it with a DAC though as the LG G7 DAC outperforms just about all the portable DACs.

While I have only tested two modern smartphones so far, the LG G7 ThinQ easily gets my recommendation for its audio performance. Well done LG!


-------------

As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

If you like this review, please consider donating funds to support these reviews using Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/audiosciencereview), or upgrading your membership here though Paypal (https://audiosciencereview.com/foru...eview-and-measurements.2164/page-3#post-59054).
 

JJB70

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#3
This is the elephant in the room for the audio industry and the whole associated magazine and website media chain - smart phones nowadays tend to have very good DA audio conversion. Magazines and audio equipment manufacturers still peddle the idea that smart phones have 2 cent audio set ups and only a deaf person could possibly enjoy the output. I think many have been clinging to the idea so long that they probably believe it. My own phone is a Sony XZ premium and I say in complete honesty that I really struggle to discern any difference if using an outboard DAC, even a high end one. The on-board amplifiers are a different story, not because of poor sound but they do tend to be a bit anaemic. So a separate amplifier can be an excellent investment. I keep talking to people who believed magazines and certain websites and complain because the sound is just the same. The response from audiophiles is that these people are deaf, but I think that the reality is that there is much less reason to buy a separate DAC than some parties want us to believe.
 

έχω δίκιο

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#4
Thank you Amir! That was quite interesting. It's a shame that Apple has taken such a step backwards with their current iPhones, with all omitting the line output that used to be available on the 30 pin dock connector and most omitting a headphone jack. Apple is so proud of being able to route various signals through the lightning connector, but not making analog L+R audio part of their standard was a huge mistake.
 

Timbo2

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#5
I learned a great deal about how Android handles audio when I bought an Essential PH-1 phone. I’m not especially happy with the elimination of the 3.5mm headphone jack.

If anyone is interested I went into the details over at XDA.

Android Audio and Player Options
 

Sythrix

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#6
there is much less reason to buy a separate DAC than some parties want us to believe.
Perhaps when you have a competent smartphone manufacturer who has good audio like this. However, sometimes you get an anemic, noise ridden audio output like the Nexus 6P, which can barely drive a pair of earbuds, let alone IEMs or anything serious. It was all but necessary for me to buy an external amplifier when I had that phone. Even so, we see that they are still hesitant to give the end user any real power output (probably to save battery, because most people would care more about that).

Apple is so proud of being able to route various signals through the lightning connector, but not making analog L+R audio part of their standard was a huge mistake.
I am incredibly curious to see one of these lightning adapters measured. There's a lot of micro circuitry inside.

EDIT: There was an ifixit article that went over it a while ago.
 

maxxevv

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#7
I have the LG G6, there is a way to induce it into "External Device" mode which is more or less "line-out". It will somehow enable a higher amping in the circuitry and my HE4XX in that mode will play as loud as my HD6XX does in "High Impedance" mode though the volume settings are a little different in these 2 different modes. It essentially disregards the headphone input impedance values.

To do to that, I assume you are plugging a 3.5mm jack to RCA splitter into the phone ?

i) Plug that connector into the handphone jack first, leaving the other end open.
ii) Start the LG music player. You should see the "External Device" mode.
iii)From there, then plug the other end of connector to the output device.

I suspect you will get a different reading from the results you have gotten so far.

Edit:

To add, UAPP and other "bit perfect" Android music players such as Onkyo and Hiby are more for connecting to external DAC's via USB from the phone and circumvent the 16-bit limitation.
 

amirm

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#8
Thank you Amir! That was quite interesting. It's a shame that Apple has taken such a step backwards with their current iPhones, with all omitting the line output that used to be available on the 30 pin dock connector and most omitting a headphone jack. Apple is so proud of being able to route various signals through the lightning connector, but not making analog L+R audio part of their standard was a huge mistake.
I am glad you post this. My other son has an iPhone and I was planning to test his! Fortunately someone gave me one of those dongles (I think it is from Google for pixel) so I plan to test that.

But yes, it is a bummer which Apple chose to disadvantage one of the most common scenarios on a phone: listening to music.

I suspect the superficial excuse is to make the units thinner. But then they make them so fragile that you have to put a case around them! So much for them being thin. I never used a case with my phones until I got the Samsung S8+ with its glass back. Now it is twice as thick with the case than without... Grrr....
 

Timbo2

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#9
I suspect the superficial excuse is to make the units thinner. But then they make them so fragile that you have to put a case around them! So much for them being thin. I never used a case with my phones until I got the Samsung S8+ with its glass back. Now it is twice as thick with the case than without... Grrr....
My son learned this the hard way. I suggested a case and didn't want one on his S8. He is out over $300 replacing a cracked screen and back on his phone. He now uses a case... I really liked the phone, but thought the glass made it really slippery. Same complaint with my Essential PH-1 - the ceramic back is really slippery and a fingerprint magnet. Hence the $10 rubber case that makes the cool ceramic back unseen.
 

Sal1950

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#11
It retails for USD $750.
I can only imagine the feeling in the pit of my stomach if I dropped one of these down a full flight of moving steel stairways. :eek:
I did this at Orlando Int with my free LG TracFone flip phone. It surived without issue thank goodness, and I was able to call my pickup to tell him I had arrived. :)
 

JJB70

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#12
I believe that the reason for anaemic volume level on portable devices sold in Europe at least is a legal limit intended to protect people's hearing. Whether that is the same outside of Europe I don't know but here at least it seems it isn't the manufacturers who are to blame for gutless headphone stages.
 

amirm

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#13
I have the LG V20 with the same chip (minus MQA support) so I'm glad to hear LG's delivering on performance that matches my subjective impressions.

@amirm did you have the UAPP Internal Audio Driver setting set to HiRes Direct Driver as well?
We tried every option. Nothing would work other than that MQA setting. The app needs to have better diagnostics as to whether the options selected do something. It gives you huge number of choices which you can select with no indication of them doing something or not.
 

amirm

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#14
I believe that the reason for anaemic volume level on portable devices sold in Europe at least is a legal limit intended to protect people's hearing. Whether that is the same outside of Europe I don't know but here at least it seems it isn't the manufacturers who are to blame for gutless headphone stages.
Ah, that would make sense.

One thing that was better on the LG was that you would get the warning on too high a volume but it was just advisory. On my Samsung S8+, the pop up comes up and you have to say OK before it lets you turn up the volume further.

It is a very stupid thing because it is in play when I am streaming using bluetooth to my car stereo. There, the default levels are way too anemic and I have to turn it up to max and while driving, the stupid pop up shows up. It would take so little code to ask/detect if you are streaming to a car stereo versus headphones.
 

amirm

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#15
I can only imagine the feeling in the pit of my stomach if I dropped one of these down a full flight of moving steel stairways. :eek:
I did this at Orlando Int with my free LG TracFone flip phone. It surived without issue thank goodness, and I was able to call my pickup to tell him I had arrived. :)
Yeh, with tax and activation it was up to $850. And it super slippery. I am almost afraid of holding his.
 

Jimster480

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#17
I've looked at all these new phones... but they just simply aren't appealing.
They are designed to fail in 2 years or less and most of them have horrible software and lack of updates (especially Samsung).

I'm still holding onto my HTC 10 which is one of the last great phones before everything went full retard...
 

JJB70

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#18
The Sony I have just reduces volume to 50% without warning and then flashes a warning about hearing loss if you listen to it with the volume cranked up (well, as cranked up as you can crank it, it's still not especially loud). To be honest, with efficient headphones I find it OK most of the time, I use my T5P headphones with it and the volume is actually pretty reasonable and with FLAC files or high quality lossy files the audio quality is excellent.
 

twgib

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#19
Thank you for the review, but may I ask for recommendations of a similar product but maybe one that's a bit more budget friendly to acquire? There's so many used smartphones available (some that can be had very cheaply with bad IMEI) that are begging for use as sources in transportable audio stacks! It's just picking from all of what's out there! Some insight on what have good DAC's would be terrific! Thanks,
 

έχω δίκιο

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#20
I am glad you post this. My other son has an iPhone and I was planning to test his!
I have an iPhone SE, which still has a jack. The other reason I have it is because I want a compact phone. I have more computers and tablets than I know what to do with, so I don't need to have a phone as big as a Kindle.

I suspect the superficial excuse is to make the units thinner.
You are not enough of a cynic. I think it's to sell $159 wireless "AirPods."
 
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