“Man, I wish I could rip off the bottom centimetre of my phone and replace it with a tiny gadget that gives me better sound,” said very few people ever. But now you can anyway.
The LG G5 is 2016’s most innovative smartphone, and the reason for that is because you can upgrade it with modular components. We’ve already tested the Cam Plus, which adds extra battery life and camera controls, and now it’s the turn of the LG Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play.
Yes, it’s a clunky name, so let’s break it down: LG has partnered with Danish audio experts Bang & Olufsen to make a DAC that promises to bring hi-fi quality sound to your phone.
That may not sound very important, but believe us it is.
To understand why it matters, you need to know what a DAC is. Well, it stands for digital-to-analogue converter and a DAC’s job is to take the digital ones and zeroes on your SD card and turn them into the analogue signal your headphones need to sing.
The LG G5 (and every other smartphone) already has a built-in DAC, but the Hi-Fi Plus module overrides it. There are a few reasons why you might want it to do that.
For starters, it’s packing the kind of innards you’d find on proper hi-fi equipment, in the form of a ES9028C2M processor + Sabre9602C headphone amplifier. It supports music up to 32-bit/384kHz, and is more capable than the phone’s built-in 24-bit DAC.
Then there’s optimisation. A circuit designed for one job is will do that job better than a multi-tasker. Smartphones have been compared to Swiss Army knives, which is fair, but you wouldn’t use one to cut pizzas. The Hi-Fi Plus module can’t take pictures or play games, but it sure knows how to handle music properly.
Finally, isolation. There’s a lot happening on a phone’s circuit board. Even without you cluttering it up with your food pictures, it’s constantly doing things with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the display and so on – and that can cause electrical interference. It’s better to have an entirely separate circuit: imagine doing your homework at the dinner table, versus having your own desk with nobody to point at the spinach in your teeth.
All about that base
So how does the module work? You remove the LG G5’s base and pull out the battery; next, attach the battery to the Hi-Fi Plus; finally, you slot it back in. And that’s it.
Your phone now has a new chin, about 1cm longer and covered in black rubbery plastic. Like Ben Affleck, but happier. It has the same extras as the standard chin – a speaker grille, a microphone and a USB-C port – and adds another headphone socket. You’ll need to plug into this before the module activates.
Do so and a little logo will pop up in the notification bar indicating that you’re good to go. The sound settings menu now has an extra option letting you adjust left-right balance, but otherwise it’s business as usual.
Meet the best-sounding phone in the world
And by ‘as usual’ we mean ‘with 100% more toe tapping’, because the Hi-Fi Plus puts the default audio performance to shame. The LG G5 already sounded pretty good, but with the module hooked up tunes sound a lot more clean and detailed, with a wider sense of space and a clearer idea of where instruments go. The tonal balance holds strong and dynamic impact is harder than your best Shoryuken.