iPhone 5 Audio Features

Audio Improvements on iPhone 5

The new ‘thinner, lighter’ iPhone 5 serves up an array of software and hardware improvements. Let’s take a look at some of these improvements related to the audio system. Phil Schiller, senior vice-president of worldwide marketing at Apple, ran us through the new audio system at the Apple media event on September 12th 2012. Read on and find why the new iPhone is not only ‘thinner and lighter’ but also ‘better sounding’.


Enhanced Audio

You can view the iPhone 5 Apple media event here (“Apple Special Event”). You can see all the audio related features covered from around the 32 minute mark onwards (after the camera features are addressed). http://www.apple.com/apple-events/september-2012/

Audio Hardware and Software Improvements Summary

  • 3 microphones; front, bottom, back (increased from 2) for improved noise cancellation – beam forming for applications such as voice recognition, facetime, HD video, Siri.
  • 5 magnet speaker system in 20% smaller space (increased from 2)
  • Better playback system frequency response.
  • Wideband capability for audio for voice calls. 20 carriers around the world are rumored to be supporting this in the future.
  • Earpiece, noise cancellation for incoming audio (in addition to the outgoing signal)

A Closer Look at ‘Wideband Audio’

Apple are at it again with ambitious plans to increase the audio quality of voice calls. For decades phone signals have been quite severely band limited, with a bare minimum frequency range from 300Hz to 3.4kHz, referred to as narrowband. Wideband audio has been implemented in various technologies such as VoIP (for example Skype), however cellular networks  have been hesitant to give up their network data bandwidth for the benefit of better audio quality. Kind of reminds me of the similar lethargy with which digital music providers (read iTunes, grrr) have increased bit bit rates as data bandwidth and download speeds have increased.  44.1k WAV for download anyone? I guess 255-320kbps for your bought iPhone ringtones will have to do for now.

Take a look at the graphic below and you’ll see where the improved frequency comes into play.

Apple iPhone 5 improved frequency response

See the blue bits in the red circle - they're frequencies within the presence region, which give sibilance and hence intelligibility to spoken sounds

Yep, it’s all the ‘presence region’ (well there is some improvement in the bass range too but it’s not worth discussing). The upper portion of the presence region (5-7kHz), is where the sibilance in speech resides.

If your’e not a fan of reciting the phonetic alphabet in order to get your message across when you’re on a phone call (‘was that and ‘s’ or an ‘f’) you’ll be happy that this seemingly basic improvement is possibly on the way.

You see the catch here is that this technology is not so much a result of Apple’s high standards or some breakthrough in technology (wideband audio in communications applications has been around for a while), but more so reliant on carrier support.  Apple claim that 20 networks in the US will support wideband audio, let’s wait and see.

To Sum Up

iPhone should sound better ;-) Enjoy!

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