Hi everyone! This is a place where I share my experiences with the devices I come across and use. Hopefully, you'll find the info here helpful in your search for geeky stuff...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

N91-8GB vs N82 **SUBJECTIVE** audio test

I received a request to compare the sound quality of the Nokia N91 to the N82. Since the N91 is marketed as the flagship music phone from Nokia, I thought it would be interesting to see how it stacks up against the new generation N82 with regards to music playback.

So here goes. This is how I did it.

1) I chose 2 songs from Quincy Jone's Q's Jook Joint album, "Moody's Mood For Love" and "Is That Love We're Missin", and sent them from my iTunes library to my N91-8GB and N82 via bluetooth. I chose these 2 songs as I feel they are 2 extremely well-produced pieces of music and know they sound through studio reference speakers very well.

2) Just for the hell of it, I took out my trusty 3rd generation 40GB iPod (both songs already inside compressed with the same iTunes settings) and threw in into the test against the Nokia's.

2) I used my favourite pair of headphones (AKG K271 Studio) to listen to all the devices.

3) I set the EQ settings on the Nokia's to "Default" (which sounds like off to me) and the iPod's to "Off".

4) I judged the quality of audio reproduction with my critical "work" ears, listening to any frequency spike/dip, distortion, sense of space...etc. I must mention the usual disclaimer that this is my personal opinion of the sound quality of these devices. Everyone will have different views of what is "good" and "bad". As a music producer, I like my music to sound as uncoloured and as possible.

So here are my findings:

First thing that anyone will notice is how LOUD the N91 can play. It's much louder than the N82 in terms of output gain. It's fair to say the N91's 70% volume = N82's 100% volume. Against the iPod, I would say the N91 is comparable but cleaner than the iPod.

The next thing I have to say is the Nokia N91 plays back music BEAUTIFULLY. You don't notice it when you're using it alone, but put it beside the N82 and iPod, you begin to see how good this thing is.

Let's talk about the general sound first. The Nokia's have the same "type" of sound. It's nicely balanced, reproducing the music with similar quality to my Genelec studio monitor speakers. There are no obvious frequencies that stick out in an irritating manner. Both Nokia's are clean even up to 100% volume with barely a hint of distortion.

The iPod's sound is distinctly different from that of the Nokia's. The mid frequencies (800hz to 1.5khz) seem to be more pronounced. This makes the snare drums unnecessarily upfront. Vocals take on a more nasally quality. Reverb spaces are harder to perceive as your ears tend to be drawn towards the in-your-face character of each syllable, each snare hit (anything that resides in that general frequency range) and by the time they recover, the reverb tail ends are lost.

As a sound engineer, the topic of "imaging" is usually not applicable to headphones as there is no space between the ears and the music source. But I'll talk about it here because the illusion of space is still created with reverbs and delays that the mixing engineer used to mix the music. Besides, I did perceive a difference in all 3 devices in the way they present their soundstage.

As I mentioned, because of the iPod's mid frequency response, the illusion of ambience tend to be somewhat masked. Music presentation tend to be more 2 dimensional. Panning of the instruments are clear but lack depth.

With the Nokia's, the sense of space is presented in a better way. You can hear reverb tail ends decay nicely, telling you how big a space the sound engineer wants you to feel. The mid frequencies are natural sounding. Vocals sound relatively uncoloured, and I can even make an intelligent guess as to which mic was used to record them. With the iPod's coloured character, they just sounded like cheaper mics were used in the recordings.

Not all is bad on the iPod. It does have better high frequency extension than the Nokia's. For low frequency extension, they are comparable, but I would say the Nokia's edge the iPod out slightly listening through my headphones. It's a very small difference and it may even be attributed to my imagination, but I did hear the kick drums and bass reach down lower to tickle my brains.

Of course, this contributes to the iPod's "sharper" or "clearer" sound, which most consumers would probably prefer when they're out and about fighting off traffic noise listening to non-pro-level earphones.

At 100% volumes, the Nokia's are cleaner with less discernable distortion. At max volume, the iPod seems to distort more. The N91 is as loud as the iPod, and it's cleaner than the iPod.

So, my conclusion is, the N91 wins. It wins the N82 in terms of sheer power to drive earphones and the iPod in terms of sound quality. Overall, the N91 simply sounds more refined than the other 2, more "expensive" if I may.

Again, this is my own personal opinion and not everyone will agree with me.


Anonymous said...

Hi Thank you for testing i asked before about the output power of the n82 and ofcourse about the sound quality. But the 8gb version of the n91 is still different compared to the "old" version maybe not as good as the 8gb version but a little bit louder. I dont know any mp3 device which playes music louder than the n91 (handhald of course). The output is about 1850mv and has a high very impendance. And there is even no disortion and 100%. But the music player of the n95 8gb is good too.

chickenbackside said...

Sorry I don't have the original N91 so all my comments refer to the N91-8GB. I doubt that the sound quality would be much different though.

Anonymous said...

Hello chickenbackside,

Thank you for your review.
I also always concern to musical quality for any mobile phone I'm going to get.

btw, do you have any sony mp3 player such as HD NW5 or NW A8xx, NWX 8xx, NW S7xx ? or samsung YP U3 ? so that you can compare the sound quality ?

As many ppl said sony has a good deep bass & richer & warmer sound...

Many thanks

chickenbackside said...

Unfortunately, I don't have access to the devices you've mentioned. But I'll be meeting Creative people tomorrow. If I can get them to give me some devices to review, I'll definitely compare them.

Anonymous said...

Please comment on this statement...

Nseries, their speakers following from the N73 to the N95 to the N95 8GB maintained the level of good quality stereo speakers, sufficient volume and at close distance, good channel separation.

The n82 seems to have stumbled a bit here. Its top loudest is more like notch 7 at most on the N73.

Yes, via the speakers, it's too tinny and too quiet. I keep shaking my head somethings thinking, "is it on silent?(when hearing ringcalls)/is it on 10%(when listening to music direct)

Some tracks, the N95 definitely shows the difference, like Linkin park faint. The N82 sounds muffled, very much as if I had placed my hands over the N95's speakers.

chickenbackside said...

Firstly, I would never listen to phone speakers with that level of criteria. They are not made for that. Having said that, I would say the N73, N95 and N95-8GB speakers have a cleaner sound than the N82.

I feel it is not so much that it is not as loud as the other devices, but the speakers get distorted much more easily. It's irritating to listen at higher volumes.

The mid frequencies on the N82 speakers (NOT 3.5mm output) are very forward. It's the kind of sound that most people dislike, hence the very popular V-shaped EQ curve that people usually set on a graphic equalizer. Imagine an A-shaped curve and that's pretty much how the N82 speakers sound like.

Anonymous said...

NOKIA N91 blog

Anonymous said...

The N91's sound was a revelation. About the same impact on me as my first pair of HD580's... in other words... par excellence. It destroys the latest iPods - my iPhone sounds appalling. Long live the King, long live the N91.

Anonymous said...

Do u test with N82 latest firmware?
The speaker sound been improved.
In my opinion that was much better that previous firmware.

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