Some Galaxy S4’s experiencing headphone distortion issues – is yours affected?

May 14, 2013
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If you’ve been having problems listening to music through headphones on your Galaxy S4 then you’re not alone. A lot of other users have been complaining on Reddit and XDA about a strange audio clipping issue occurring on their handsets.

The problem seems to be affecting users with Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 powered handsets who are plugging in low-impedance (sub 16 ohm) headphones into the smartphone’s 3mm jack. The issue manifests as an irritating buzzing or crackling sound if the volume is turned up past a certain point, but the exact cause has been a little harder to diagnose.

Due to the hardware dependency of this issue — people have been testing the handset with any number of different headphones — I think that it’s unlikely to be caused by software. The output level could be controlled by a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), but that doesn’t really explain why different headphones would produce different results. Combine this with the fact that not every handset is experiencing the same problem, then it seems rather unlikely that this is a software issue.

XDA member Jensign has conducted a few tests to attempt to find the cause of the problem, but the results produce more questions than it answered. As my first thought, I would have put money on power supply clipping caused by a larger than expected current drain from low impedance headphones — remember that old science equation I=V/R?

But according to the results produced by Jensign, the problem only occurs at specific frequencies and only for specific volumes. The tests showed noticeable distortion at around 1kHz but nothing for above 10kHz, and he didn’t experience any clipping at maximum volume, which is particularly odd.

Galaxy S4 distortion testsSource: jensign

As a bit of an audio buff myself, I’m pretty puzzled by this. Unless there has been some mistake with the tests, the only conclusion that I can draw is that some of the audio chips used in Qualcomm’s SOC are defective, resulting in bizarre distortion characteristics caused by some internal circuit resonance frequency.

Having said that, without knowing exactly how the circuit works, no-one is entirely sure. Perhaps there is a software or firmware issue with certain regions and handsets which may be fixable with a patch. In the meantime, if you’re experiencing this problem yourself, I suggest taking your handset back under warranty.

So far, customers are having mixed responses with Samsung — some have only managed to have their handsets taken in for software updates, but that hasn’t solved the issue. Others customers have simply been refused assistance, with stores claiming that their headphones are simply “incompatible” with the Galaxy S4.

We’re still waiting on an official statement from Samsung to see what, if anything, it plans to do about this problem.

Have you experienced any issues with your Galaxy S4 audio? Let us know in the comments.

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