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What's up with Android native sound quality and dithering/resampling? Any issues with latest OS or certain hardware platforms?

~cw

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I recently picked up a new Sony Xperia 1 III running Android 11 (amongst other things, sold on the merits of its audio playback quality). Yet, when playing back audio from various apps or sources, either using headphones through its 3.5 mm output, or streaming LDAC over Bluetooth to a BTR3, it's not working well. At low volume levels, quiet audio is being noticeably and aggressively degraded. It sounds like a combination of bit crushed, badly dithered and badly noise shaped.

The hardware forces you (in Developer options) to run at 44.1 kHz for onboard audio or Bluetooth audio codecs (SBC, AAC, Apt-X and Apt-X HD) unless you choose LDAC at which point you can go all the way to 32-bit 96 kHz.

If I use Poweramp as comparison to play some audio, match levels and adjust the system media volume to the right level, I can reproduce this awful quality reduction every time. If I switch Poweramp to use its own internal FFmpeg and dithering algorithms, and pick one of the suitable algorithms, I can improve the quality at low volumes though the issue is not entirely eliminated.

I'm very surprised that the issue is prevalent over both Bluetooth and analogue output from the device. Particularly with LDAC set to 32-bit, 96 kHz. Using Poweramp Equalizer to let me inspect the signal path, I can see an inevitable SRC step during playback from YouTube music, YouTube or other system audio or third party applications. However on its own that's not usually the cause of audio degradation this severe.

To me the behaviour and nature of this issue indicates either a bad regression or bug in the OS' handling of audio streams, something Sony specific, or something at a driver level perhaps to do with the Qualcomm 888 chipset? I know years back Qualcomm took heat for badly mangling audio through unnecessary sample rate conversion steps by not properly natively supporting 44.1 kHz in hardware, but I hope that's been resolved.

Interested to hear from any other Android device users, whether they've noticed audio degradation during playback at quiet levels or with the system volume between around 40% - 90%, and whether this is actually a known issue. My previous device was a Samsung S9 with an Exynos SoC and while it has its bugs, flawless audio playback was never a problem.

I'll take some clips (audio & video) demonstrating the problem for those who are interested.
 

half_dog

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I have a S9 (Snapdragon) and a Poco F3. On both devices it possible to hear some cracking noise and hiss with the first to second step volume bar. One way I'm able to almost mitigate it is using a dongle/DAC with volume control - like E30 or Sonata HD Pro. Using them I put the volume at maximum on Android and them reduce at the DAC/dongle. Doing this way I can't hear any strange noise. But if the external device doesn't have a volume control the noise stills listenable when using Android's volume control.
 
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~cw

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I have a S9 (Snapdragon) and a Poco F3. On both devices it possible to hear some cracking noise and hiss with the first to second step volume bar. One way I'm able to almost mitigate it is using a dongle/DAC with volume control - like E30 or Sonata HD Pro. Using them I put the volume at maximum on Android and them reduce at the DAC/dongle. Doing this way I can't hear any strange noise. But if the external device doesn't have a volume control the noise stills listenable when using Android's volume control.
That's interesting, my previous device was an S9 but the European Exynos version, and I never noticed any obvious bit crushing, excessive noise or poor scaling at low volumes on IEMs, Bluetooth or analogue headphone amp... I still have it so I'll do some comparisons.

I've been busy with work but I've been putting together some good audio examples for a comparative analysis video which I'm putting together to send to Sony anyway. After Christmas is over and done, I'll make the video and also post it here
 
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~cw

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I have a S9 (Snapdragon) and a Poco F3. On both devices it possible to hear some cracking noise and hiss with the first to second step volume bar. One way I'm able to almost mitigate it is using a dongle/DAC with volume control - like E30 or Sonata HD Pro. Using them I put the volume at maximum on Android and them reduce at the DAC/dongle. Doing this way I can't hear any strange noise. But if the external device doesn't have a volume control the noise stills listenable when using Android's volume control.

I stand corrected, I finally found my S9 and brought it out of retirement for tests. It behaves identically to yours - but it's not quite as bad/obvious as on the X1 III, which is still interesting.

Both devices, when forced to use their respective HD Audio audio routing (instead of Android default OpenSL ES) sound excellent. No dither or aliasing, no harmful loss of dynamic range or total loss of audio below a threshold, a vastly superior low noise floor and a hugely improved overall audio quality.

Poweramp and its ability to force use of the SoC's high resolution direct output audio path reveals just how well the devices can perform - even at 44.1/48 kHz - so it's maddening that by default Android audio is so bad. It doesn't need to be.

Most annoyingly, this nasty bug seems to actually possibly be inherent to Android and has survived at least two major revisions of the OS. Crazy. It also affects audio played over Bluetooth when the default OpenSL, AAudio or AudioTrack output methods are used. This bug is apparently introducing irreparable audio signal degradation BEFORE it's turned into an LDAC stream and transmitted.

I'm putting together a video at the moment with various comparisons of audio from three devices, I'll link it here as soon as it's published.
 
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Katji

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It seems we still don't have a good solution for Android.....although I never noticed any problem like that^^^ with my S5 - at least not any crackling/whatever. (Also Exynos [afaik] and I only ever used the standard Samsung music player.)
 
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~cw

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I also have an LG G4 which I found while looking for my S9, I'll test that and add it to the video I'm making...
 

DrGogu

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I’ve been trying to figure this out as well on my Sony Xperia 10 II. It’s a mid range phone, but Sony says it supports high resolution audio. It’s not like the sound is bad, I’m just not able to confirm that I can get lossless high resolution audio through the built-in Sony Music app. Nobody knows the answer. The common answer is just use USB audio player pro to “bypass Android limitations”, even though Android 10 introduced high resolution audio support up to 192/24.
 
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