What's a cell phone with very good audio quality?
August 27, 2009 6:33 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend a cell phone that has very good audio quality and fits nicely against the ear. No bells or whistles-- just a plain old talking apparatus.

I'm continually frustrated by the audio quality on my two-year-old Verizon cell phone. I sense that a ton of acoustic information is being lost in the transmission, and if I'm outdoors or in a mildly noisy environment, I can barely make out what the other person is saying. The decayed audio is particularly noticeable when I'm conversing with someone who has a low voice. I've tried searching for new phones online but I mostly run into menus like these , which offer a selection of features I don't care for. I don't want to pay for a phone that doubles as a camera, a gameboy, a video player, or a laptop. I just want a phone. Preferably one that conforms nicely to the shape of the ear, as I find that clutching my current cell phone to my ear causes a weird kind of soreness after about an hour. The old cupped design of earpieces on landline phones were the best.

Right now I'm on a family verizon cell phone plan, and I'm not sure if I can just substitute a new phone for the old one and remain on the plan. I'm happy to drop out and get my own service, though, if I find a high-quality, relatively inexpensive phone that's worth it.

Anyway, it must be clear by now that I know nothing about cell phones, but thanks in advance for your thoughts!
posted by ms.codex to Technology (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Whoops, link didn't work-- see the "phone finder" at phonescoop.com.
posted by ms.codex at 6:35 PM on August 27, 2009

I hear you. I recently had exactly this problem finding a new phone: why on earth are the essential features that make it a telephone so goddamn awful? I spent hours reading online product reviews and nearly every model had people complaining of the volume and reception quality. Anyway, I don't have specific model recommendations, but rather a strategy that worked OK for me:

Go to a Verizon store in person, with a friend. You probably want a flip phone - find the ones with the biggest keypad buttons. I think of these as "old people phones" - whether or not that's how they're designed, they tend to have the most dead-simple usability features and, as a corollary, the loudest earpieces.

This is the important part: have your friend stand outside the store and CALL HIM on the display phone. If possible, go during a busy time when there will be lots of ambient noise in the store, so you can gauge for yourself how the sound quality is. You should do this even if you get model recommendations, because how it sounds to you will depend somewhat on little things like how you hold the phone to your ear.
posted by miagaille at 7:45 PM on August 27, 2009

LG's EnV2 is a surprisingly good just-a-phone-phone. The audio quality is so impressive, I can actually use the speaker phone from over 5 feet away in a quiet room and both hear and be heard. When at home, I often use it by propping it up on the desk in front of me (rather than using my "real" phone) and don't even have to bother pressing it to my ear. Try it out at your local Verizon store first, YMMV and all that.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:38 PM on August 27, 2009

I had good luck with the Nokia 6030, which I used until I got my iPhone. My mother's cellphone recently crapped out, and I bought her a 6030, which she likes quite a bit. I was able to find a brand new one on Ebay for less than $50. Had great reception, compared to my previous phone (some Motorola flip phone). Quite loud, too.
posted by sacrifix at 10:52 PM on August 27, 2009

I've been very satisfied in those regards with the Samsung t439.
posted by anderjen at 10:53 PM on August 27, 2009

I thought the LG EnV2 was so bad, it's what sent me in search of a new phone in the first place.
posted by miagaille at 6:14 AM on August 28, 2009

I think that the digital compression used for cell phone calls, the quality of connection with the cell tower, the background noise at each location and whether or not each person is using a quality headset/earpiece are all much more important to the audio quality in practical terms that the theoretical audio quality of a specific cell phone.

Therefore, I think that you are going down the wrong road trying to find "a cell phone with very good audio quality."
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 8:04 AM on August 28, 2009

I think iknowizbirfmark is on the right track. Have you ever been satisfied with the audio quality of any digital cell phone you have used?

There are differences in the acoustics and ear-fit of cell phones. My ancient Nokia 5190 (which still works just fine on T-Mobile USA's GSM 1900 network) fits well against my ear and sounds as good as I think any cell phone can. A $300 Samsung smartphone I recently tried sounds rattle-y and hurts my ear after about two minutes of talking.

However, there is a fundamental limit to the audio quality that it is possible to obtain from a cell phone call. This limit is imposed by the vocoder used by the phone and network to compress the speech before transmitting it over the air. Cell phone vocoders in current use send only about 15-20% as much information as vocoders used on landline calls. The cell phone vocoders are very selective about the information they discard which is why they work as well as they do, but the difference is very noticeable.

Technologically speaking, it would be possible to use the same vocoder for cell phone calls as is used for landline calls. However, since over-the-air bandwidth is a scarce resource, this would increase the cost of cell phone use five- or six-fold, so nobody offers this type of service.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 9:07 AM on August 28, 2009

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