iPhone 5 speaker review

The iPhone 5 is thinner, lighter, longer, brighter, and faster than ever before. But is it louder? iPhones have always sounded good through headsets, and they can even pump out decent sound through Bluetooth these days. Yet year after year, iPhone after iPhone, little or no attention seems to get paid to the on-board speakers. While others experiment with everything from the solid Dolby to the silly Beats by Dre, the company that created the iPod + iTunes, has traditionally not devoted the Keynote-time to killer audio that they have killer camera optics. This year, however, my hopes were raised. Apple's iPhone 5 event did indeed feature an entire segment on speakers --- but only for the new EarPods. What about the on-board speakers?

As it turns out, and as you can hear -- and see -- there have been some minor improvement to sound levels on the iPhone 5's on-board speakers as well. That said, and while there's only so much you can do with a device as small as the iPhone, there's no reason Apple shouldn't be the absolute best-in-class device when it comes to all forms of audio. There's no reason they shouldn't be as innovative and industry-leading with sound as they are with optics, with speakers as they are headsets. Speaker quality matters, for everything from taking a hands-free or conference call, to using accessibility features like VoiceOver.

Next year I'd like to see Apple blow me away with not only how great the iPhone 5s camera is, or EarPods are, but how great the speakers are.

Until then, I'll have to stick to my headsets and Bluetooth, and suffer the tiny, tinny speakers for another year...

Georgia

Senior Editor at iMore and a practicing therapist specializing in stress and anxiety. She speaks everywhere from conferences to corporations, hosts the ZEN & TECH podcast, and should be followed on Twitter @Georgia_Prime.

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iPhone 5 speaker review

19 Comments

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It's louder all right, but did you find that the iPhone 5 speaker sounds thinner or tinnier? That's what I've noticed coming from the 4S.

I wouldn't call it a minor improvement - I've just gone from an iPhone 4 to an iPhone 5 and the output power is up by 5dB on your unscientific test - that's three times as much sound power. That's significant, I'd say. TalkingDeer says it sounds thinner or tinnier and I am not sure about that, but I will say that in another extremely unscientific test I played a YouTube recording and, at full volume, the sound was distorted. That was probably because of the original quality of the recording, since a commercial recording played through the Music app was much less affected at full volume. However there was definite distortion of bass at high levels (low register of a cello). That's not unexpected with a speaker as small as the one in the iPhone - Apple could have got over that by reducing the response at the lower end of the spectrum. Anyway, my main interest in sound level is in letting people hear voice or music snippets, not in serious listening to music. The iPhone 5 lets me do that in a place with three times the background noise level compared with the iPhone 4.

Agree downieabz. Audio quality and volume are, for me anyway, much better on the iPhone 5 than on the 2-year-old iPhone 4.

@ the-artist: even if Apple put stereo speakers (somewhere) in a device as small as an iPhone, there would be very little stereo separation. The stereo effect wouldn't be very good.

One thing I've noticed about the speaker port: it's much harder to totally block the sound on the iPhone 5 than on the 4/4S. The older iPhones had a single small port, which you could easily cover even with a pinky finger and almost totally block all sound. The iPhone 5 has a much wider speaker grille area so one finger won't block it all in normal use.

(And, as usual, great nail polish, Georgia!)

To really compare the phone's speakers, you can't just look at the power of the sound output. You should also run the 3 phones through a spectrum analyzer to compare the different phones' audio output. This would settle scientifically whether Downieabz or TalkingDeer is correct about the sound profile of the new speaker. Really all apple needs to do is make a speaker that will make for a good speakerphone. Music is irrelevant because anyone who listens to music through the external speaker is not interested in audio fidelity. A speaker sized to fit that phone cannot possibly do a good job with bass. There's a reason why most discussions of audio focus on the headphone output.

In those terms, what I was hearing was lesser bass and lower midtones, greater highs. I thought it made sense that the iPhone 5 speaker was thinner-sounding because the size of the speaker was smaller since the phone is so thin.

Wrong. I listen to music through the speaker and I do care about audio quality.

That said, I also realize that no speakers are going to overcome poor recording practices - a huge problem in the industry.

Don't forget, during the keynote Apple specifically mentioned the on board speakers. Phil said they increased it from 3 to 5 drivers (or something), all within, you guessed it.. a smaller package!

I hope my use of industry lingo didn't fly over anybody's head. /s

i dont have sound on my computer, so i dont know if it was covered in the video, but..

which phones have the loudest speakers? or best quality speakers.

Nice article! Agree, I'll also prefer my headsets than the tiny speaker.
Btw it is not a fair test for the phone speaker, because the speaker on the iPhone 5 is fresh unit vs the 4/4S which has been used and worn down for more than 1 yrs. Just my 2 cents : p

Love my job, since I've been bringing in $82h… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online… Red97.com

True, stereo speakers on something that small might be a waste considering the maximum separation you can get. Then again it might be worthwhile to have them top and bottom for when the iPhone is held on its side to watch a video. But since Apple doesnt seem inclined to give the iPad stereo speakers (or even face it toward the front where the listener might be while watching a video), I don't think stereo speakers are a priority. Nice to see the speaker improvements though.

That sound test doesn't reflect the results I've experienced. I loaded up a few television episodes in the native Videos App. I could watch them with audio easily heard from a distance -- and that's with sound at about 80%. Something about the speakers has been tweaked so that spoken dialog stands out more. I couldn't do that with the same 3 test episodes on my 4S or earlier models.

Consistently hearing a track with spoken audio on earlier iPhones required some sort of external speakers or headphones -- now I can use my iPhone as a 'bathroom television' when getting ready for work, etc... No, not stereo, but great nonetheless :-)

How can you gaurantee this measurement is reliable?
Eventhough result is resonable, I think it looks a bit tricky because distance between speaker outlet and measurement microphone is different in each case.

I tend to use the speaker to play music when I am pottering around doing housework / cooking & what not (mostly playing filmscores and occasional songs) and there is a definite difference which while on the whole is better on the 5 it is weaker for a few instruments compared to the 4S. It definitely tinier at certain frequencies.

Any word on whether the 5s has a better speaker? Or even just a louder speaker? Or even just a louder headphone output? This has been my biggest complaint about my beloved iPhone 4, and I've been waiting for a sound improvement before paying for an upgrade. The iPhone 5 wasn't much better, and in some ways was worse than the 4, like it comes to headphone output.