If you’ve ever used both platforms—especially listening to audio through headphones—you probably noticed that iPhones generally have better sound and more volume than Android. But why is that?

In short, it’s all about the DAC—Digital to Analog Converter. This little converter single-handedly decides how good your music sounds. Sure, headphones also come into play here, but you can have the best headphones on the planet and still get subpar sound if the DAC is crummy.

And that’s precisely where iOS differs from most Android phones. The majority of Android phones out there use whatever DAC is included as part of the processor—normally some sort of Snapdragon—which, to put simply, just isn’t great.

Apple, however, designs its own DACs and has them purpose-built for the iPhone. It makes sense when you think about it, because the iPhone only came to life after the iPod—a device built specifically for audio playback. That’s another reason Apple’s DACs are so much better than the (basically) generic ones included on most Android phones. They’ve been doing this for a long time.

We keep saying “most” here because there are Android phones out there that have DACs designed specifically for them—like the LG V series phones. The LG V30, for example, has a 32-bit Quad DAC that is a massive improvement over the DAC that’s built into the Snapdragon processor. As a result, the LG V30 has some of the best audio you can get in a phone today—even better than the iPhone.

But what about phones without dedicated headphone jacks, like the iPhone 7 and above? While they have DACs included on the phone’s mainboard, the primary DAC for audio conversion is in fact part of the Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. There are even replacement adapters with improved DACs and amplifiers available if you’re looking to improve audio quality even more.

That’s also a solution to poor audio performance for Android phones: an external DAC. While you can get a Lightning DAC for relatively low cost, most full DACs cost a good bit more—upwards of $200 in many cases, which is pretty steep. It may ultimately be worth it if getting the best audio quality possible from your phone is that important to you.

That’s precisely why most audiophiles ultimately end up going the distance and using a third-party DAC as part of a very specific setup. But if you’re not into spending the extra money, there’s unfortunately nothing you can do to “fix” the audio performance. That might be something to consider when shopping for your next smartphone.

Profile Photo for Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is ex-Editor-in-Chief of Review Geek and served as an Editorial Advisor for How-To Geek and LifeSavvy. He covered technology for a decade and wrote over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times.
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