After 2 years of bouncing between my HTC Droid Incredible 2, A Sansa Clip zip and iPhone 4, I decided it was time to go for broke and get a new device. What caught my attention on the G2 was the native Hi-Resolution Support, upto 24bit/192Khz - seasoned Android users will know that the Kernel does NOT natively support media higher than 16bit/44.1khz and popular third-party players available on the Play Store downsample the files in order to enable playback of Hi-Res files. Not a very nice compromise for Head-fiers.
To get around this limitation, LG went and ripped the guts out from Android's ALSA derived audio stack and re-wrote it to natively support Hi-Res filetypes. Then they tamed an absolute beast of a SoC, a 2.26ghz quad-core affair called the Snapdragon 800 integrating a Qualcomm WCD9320 DAC that is supposed to offer very high sound quality, and to handle the added load of decoding High-resolution media. Still unsatisfied, they also has made the effort to write their own music player app, which is smart enough to know you're playing a High-quality file, and actually disables any DSP or Equalization you may have enabled in order not to distort the music. The G2 does however downsample music when played from the integrated louspeaker, but not when headphones are used.
The Brass Tacks-
the Device is a rather unimpressive slab of plastic topped with a flat pane of glass up top, and doesn't really scream quality, especially when placed next to the very beautiful looking iPhone 5s. Your hands feel oily against the glossy plastic, and then you find the odd-yet-smartly placed power button and you turn on the screen. You collect your jaw from the floor, and rub your eyes - this display can't be that good, you tell yourself, but the proof is right there. The phone is not much beside an absolutely spectacular screen with the thinnest bezel I have seen. Interfacing with the device is snappy, and there is no lag, stutter or delay in any function whatsoever.
The device has no provision for external MicroSD cards, and many users are up in arms over the omission of this feature, but I firmly believe this is for the better. MicroSD Cards do not have the bandwidth of integrated NAND Flash, nor are they effective as a means of media storage, as they are not fast enough to store large files without using more battery power - speaking of which, the G2 comes with a sealed 3000mAh SiO polymer battery, and is one of the largest capacities available this side of the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD. The headphone jack is located on the bottom next to the USB port, and unlike many phones, it is a firm fit, requiring you to really push in the last bit of your Stereo plug.
The device is sold in the US in two distinct variants. The versions sold by AT&T/T-Mobile are close to the international version, while the Verizon model adds the welcome feature of integrated Wireless Charging using the Qi standard, at the cost of a slight increase in thickness and an unfortunate redesign of the rear-facing buttons. I have tested the Verizon model here.
The feature we really want to read about-
The Audio quality on this device has changed my perceptions about using smartphones as high-quality sources. While the iPhone models are supported by a huge market of after-market accessories that greatly impact the audio qualities of the device, it is accompanied by the cardinal sin of not being able to play FLAC files natively, and forcing the user to go through iTunes for syncing. A vast majority of users find the Apple ecosystem works for them, and more power to them, but I've never been a fan. I tend to keep my files in Directories, and usually shun playlists. I find it easier to drag-and drop a file into the memory of my devices from my computer, rather than have some software manage it for me. Android is very good in this regard, as it lets a user do exactly what he or she wants. Unfortunately this is offset by the general lack of support from the makers of audio accessories.
The emergence of OTG USB has tended to level the playing field a bit, but in all honesty, it is the convenience of the iPhone system is what wins people over. This leaves the android user with little in terms of choice. HTC's One was probably the first android device to pay special attention to audio, but not everyone was a fan of the Beats experience, despite the reputed sound quality. LG has gone to great depths to address some fundamental issues with Android Audio, and the effort has really paid off. I believe this is really the first time an Android user can have a single device that does away with the need to carry an external DAC/Amp or a separate Media player and effortlessly play High-resolution music without the compromise of downsampling, or the battery life overhead cost that process entails.
The bundled music app is a simple affair,and comes with a widget on the homescreen for easy access. The player lets you access your music from the integrated 32 gigabytes of memory (standard on the Verizon model AFAIK) by a set of tabs labeled as artist/album/song/folder/genre, and also has built-in DLNA streaming access. You can customize the interface to hide some of the tabs you may not want to use. Apart From the usual playback controls, the app includes a 7-band +12/-12db equalizer, and a few presets. The DSP is automatically disabled whenever the app plays a High-Resolution File, preventing you from messing with the sound, and the app helpfully also displays a small 'HiFi' icon whenever such media is played.
I had no trouble playing any of the FLAC Media I had at hand, from 24/88.2 to 24/96, apart from Ogg Vorbis, and MP3. The player seems to refuse playing some files though, and I suspect it cannot play WMA files, but It was impossible to ascertain what files it was having trouble with, as it will simply display a popup warning telling you it cannot play the file, and will quickly move on to the next file.
Diana Krall - Live in Paris - 24/96 files, on Sennheiser HD25-ii
The track has this delicate background, the drummer moving his brush very, very gently across his kit, and you can literally taste the circular motion he's making. This phone is a Detail monster for sure. Great instrument separation, but a but a touch spitty in the vocals.
Pink Floyd - Dark side of the Moon - from the P.U.L.S.E disc set, 24/48 files played on AKG K601 plugged directly into the headphone jack
The K601 is notoriously hard to drive to high volumes, and it will distort very badly if underpowered, especially across the bass. so I wasn't expecting the phone do drive the cans to high volumes anyway. Pink Floyd are also notorious for having especially quiet tracks, so this is a bad combination to begin with. My objective was to test the soundstage, and the ability of the phone to cleanly drive the cans to an acceptable level. On both counts, the device did fairly well, considering its limits. The Soundstage was very spacious, and even at the highest volume setting, the cans did not distort. Excellent for low level listening.
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories - 24/88.2 files on Grado SR225 plugged directly into the headphone jack
This album has really set the gold standard in terms of mastering and sound engineering, and it takes an especially bad setup to make this album sound unacceptable. PRAT is excellent, and volumes levels are very good. There is no distortion at all even at the maximum volume. Bass guitar notes are soft and rounded, but a little lacking in texture. Clean, clean treble, but the vocals are a bit hard-edged.
The album on the Sennheiser HD25-ii has better textured bass, and loses the hard edge on the vocals. I guess the Grado needs more power.
Overall, I would say the device has a fairly analytic signature, a bit cold, has great detail retrieval, but a little ragged in the vocals. A lot depends on your personal taste in Headphones/Earphones, but I think a pairing with Warm sounding Earphones is the way to go with the G2. you could plug in your ER-4's and go nuts with the details, but for casual listening I'd recommend otherwise. Listeners of Dubstep/House/Electronica will love pairings with bass heavy earphones that will get them really nicely layered bass notes. Vocal Purists may find the vocals a bit off. Treble lovers will rejoice.
all in all, I'd say LG has made an excellent effort here, and i'm glad I chose this over the HTC One, or the S4 Galaxy.
EDIT - for some reason, my soundstage seems to have been compressed. Either that or my other sources have been very liberal with decoding my media. Some music sounds downright bad through this phone- and sure enough, poorly mastered tracks will show their weaknesses.
Edited by dxps26 - 10/4/13 at 3:09am