Is "GSM [speaker] buzz" a thing of the past?
November 16, 2011 3:35 AM   Subscribe

Is "GSM [speaker] buzz" a thing of the past? I have an iPhone 4.

I want to buy these speakers: http://www.geardiary.com/2009/02/21/review-audioengine-2-a2-premium-powered-desktop-speakers/

However, the review says: [Con:] "No gsm shielding makes them largely unusable with an iPhone unless it is in Airplane mode"

I just learned this is my researches, but apparently "GSM" is 2G, and I believe the technology in iPhones 3G and 4 is somehow different. 

I also saw somewhere someone say "I just got a 3G and the buzz sound is gone."

This leads me to believe my iPhone 4 won't create this problem with these speakers--that and the fact that most if not all of the threads on various forums (and questions on AskMe) about iPhones and speaker buzz seem to be from 2008, and they specifically call it "GSM" buzz. 

However, the review in question is from February 21, 2009, well after the 3G came out. 

What's going on here? Should I buy these speakers? Their use with my iPhone 4 would be a primary one. 

Thanks. 
posted by skwt to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
 
An iPhone will hop between different types of mobile network depending on coverage, so you will still be able to use 2G if 3G or better coverage is not available.
posted by devnull at 3:49 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


This leads me to believe my iPhone 4 won't create this problem with these speakers--that and the fact that most if not all of the threads on various forums (and questions on AskMe) about iPhones and speaker buzz seem to be from 2008, and they specifically call it "GSM" buzz.

Well.... yes and no.

The "GSM buzz" to which you refer comes from the closed-loop power control used in GSM. GSM is a packet-based TDMA protocol in which many users share the same radio channel by each radio issuing coordinated short radio bursts.

You don't hear the GSM radio burst per se, but you are picking up spill-over energy from the power-control (the burst approximates a square edge and if you remember your Fourier analysis consists of a broad spectrum of sinusoidal signals.) This is why you basically hear "the GSM buzz" only during the beginning of a GSM call when the mobile is blasting out high power bursts and the bast station is signaling back "turn it down, turn it down." Once the channel settles down, the power control is much more gentle and you don't notice it so much. The problem with GSM is that this power control occurs at about 217 Hz which is right in the audio band so you hear it.

There is no difference between an iPhone 3G and 4 except the antenna design which is worse in the iPhone 4 which would only exacerbate this problem.

Both the 3G and 4 have a quad band chipset (GSM+GPRS + EDGE + UMTS) and most operators will camp you on the low-bandwidth GPRS/EDGE network as much as possible. I think you can go into your menu and make it 3G only which should help, although it might worsen your connectivity in areas where the 3G coverage isn't complete - which is a lot of places.
posted by three blind mice at 3:59 AM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


I can't speak to those speakers, but I have an iPhone 4 that wreaks havoc with the speaker on my work phone. My signal strength is poor in that building so my phone does a lot of straining to hold a signal, and will flip from Edge to 3G to nothing fairly often.

So I can attest that my iPhone 4 interacts poorly with an unshielded speaker in a situation where signal strength is iffy. I don't know if it would be an issue if I had a strong signal that the phone could keep a lock on.
posted by acanthous at 4:08 AM on November 16, 2011


I bought these speakers and used them daily when working from home for three years and did not encounter much, if any, GSM buzz. I do have a 3GS though.

They're great speakers!
posted by reddot at 4:37 AM on November 16, 2011


I get that nasty buzz when I'm driving; it's correlated with the phone dropping from 3G to Edge service- my phone is AT&T. If you always have 3G service where you'll be using the phone, you'll probably be fine.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:32 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no difference between an iPhone 3G and 4 except the antenna design which is worse in the iPhone 4 which would only exacerbate this problem.

Ahh, but there is. The iPhone 4 is available on Sprint and Verizon, which use CDMA and not GSM. As such the Sprint and Verizon versions will not buzz your speakers. As per the above, the AT&T iPhone 4 might (and I'd put my bets on "probably will".)
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 5:40 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I live in a very rural area and am always on the Edge network (AT&T Wireless). As a result I get the buzz everywhere. According to this thread it is a 2G & Edge network issue.

If you primarily are 3G or better, this should not be an issue.
posted by davidvanb at 5:52 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just noticed the buzz on my iPhone 4 last night on my bedside clock radio for the first time in a very long time. So...still there. Must have a decent signal around me normally.
posted by clone boulevard at 6:25 AM on November 16, 2011


the burst approximates a square edge and if you remember your Fourier analysis consists of a broad spectrum of sinusoidal signals.

I dearly hope you were wearing a tweed jacket when you said that, because it's the most professor-like statement I've seen in a while.

(BTW, this is praise)


Short form, no, the AT&T iPhone 4S will still do the GSM buzz if you have, say, a subwoofer with an unshielded input channel and low signal strength.

There is no difference between an iPhone 3G and 4 except the antenna design which is worse in the iPhone 4 which would only exacerbate this problem.


Actually, the antenna design in the iPhone 4 is better in almost every way. Yes, holding the phone in your hand reduces signal, which is true of every single smartphone with internal antenna in the world. Yes, putting the shorting point when it could be touched wasn't ideal -- but do note that we have a large case of confirmation bias (the people posting the most had a problem, but a large number of people who didn't did not have the problem.) I couldn't reproduce the shorting problem in real-world usage, but that's how I use a phone.

If you actually use the test mode, you can show that the iPhone 4 is much better than the 3 in almost all cases. Now, if you wet your finger and bridge the antenna, you will see a significant loss. If you're in an area of weak signal, that might be a drop. If your phone is in a case, then you don't short the antenna.
posted by eriko at 7:23 AM on November 16, 2011


Lots of answers so far, but not many practical ones. Here's the scoop (I deal with this every day):

Sprint or Verizon- no buzzing ever.

On AT&T-
The iPhone will cause that GSM buzz if it is on the 2G (EDGE) network. It will NOT cause a buzz on 3G. If you have decent 3G reception in the room with the speakers you will be fine. If the reception is meh and the phone occasionally switches between the two networks (you will see the display on the upper right switch between "3G" and "E") then you will get buzzing whenever it is on EDGE. In fact, it will buzz if the phone is thinking about switching over. Having said that, I've been using various iPhones around sensitive audio gear for a long time and this buzzing problem is no longer an issue.

None of this is iPhone exclusive, by the way. If your friend with the ancient flip phone comes over, he could really make some noise.
posted by stephennelson at 9:20 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


This has been very helpful, thanks everyone. I hadn't realized my network mattered: I'm on AT&T, and I rarely although not never flip to "E".

On balance, I think I'll get the speakers. Glad to have the bonus testimonial for the speakers themselves (thanks reddot).
posted by skwt at 9:47 AM on November 16, 2011


What size room do you have though? I was using them in a 10" x 12" room and they sounded great. But they were facing me directly.

After I got an office job, I tried out the speakers in my kitchen, which is about 22 feet by 12 feet, and I wasn't as happy with them there. I may not have been able to position them as optimally as in my office. So, it may have not been the room size, but I'm not sure.

I got Audio Engine's P5s for my living room, which is the same size as the kitchen, and they sound great. But again, it might also be the positioning. In general though, I love Audio Engine and think they make great speakers for the price.
posted by reddot at 4:54 PM on November 16, 2011


Hm, that's interesting. I have a 14'x18' living room, a 14'x12' bedroom, and a tiny 12'x6' kitchen, and I was planning on using them in all 3 rooms, though mostly living and bed. Were you unhappy with them in your larger room because they didn't seem to produce a 'big' enough sound?
posted by skwt at 4:52 PM on November 17, 2011


Hey there,

In my kitchen, I felt that they sounded dull. However, I say you should go for it and give it a try, b/c audioengine has a good "demo" policy where you can try them out for 30 days and send them back if you don't like them.

My guess is that it was mostly positional in my situation. I don't have a lot of flexibility (flat surfaces) to put speakers on.
posted by reddot at 3:47 PM on November 18, 2011


Good to know, thank you. And yeah, I saw that policy, and liked it. Reader, I ordered them.
posted by skwt at 1:46 AM on November 19, 2011


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