HTC U11 Review: Audio -- The Best Audio Adapter


It has been a long time since we reviewed HTC smartphone last time, because they are not outstanding in all aspects, not that unique, not popular in China mainland, and we are poor. This time, the U11 ranks the first in DxOMark, and removed the 3.5mm headphone jack, which attracts our attention.

  • Source: Self-Buying
    Type: Mass produced
    Commercial Relationship: No

Despite the controversy, HTC still follows Apple in U11 that removes the 3.5mm headphone jack, and providing a Usonic earphone with USB Type-C port. In order to be compatible with old headphones, HTC has a USB Type-C to 3.5mm jack adapter.

HTC equips Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 mobile platform, which providing reliable audio digital signal I/O. However, the CODEC is not that important, as the adapter has instead.

Two kinds of USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter solution are existing. One is transmitting analog signal that comes from the CODEC, while another moving over digital audio and the digital-to-analog converter, filtering circuits, and headphone amplifier will then all be housed in the adapter. That is to say the latter design is a mini AMP/DAC, while the former one is just an adapter. HTC U11's adapter is a mini USB AMP/DAC that can be used with both HTC and other brands smartphones.

Although HTC is still a Chinese brand, but it was not appealing to China mainland users for lacking localization. This time, U11 uses Netease Cloud Music as the build-in music player.

By convention, we use professional sound card to record sounds, combined with common analysis, to provide quantitative results. The output level of HTC U11 is -7dB, similar to that of iPhones, a little higher than the -8dB of Galaxy S8 & S8+.

Testing Item 44.1kHz 48kHz @XZP 44.1kHz @XZP 48kHz
Noise Level, dB -95.9 -96.8 -95.8 -96.8
Dynamic Range, dB 95.6 96.8 95.6 96.8
Total Harmonic Distortion(THD), % 0.0029 0.0011 0.0011 0.0011
Intermodulation Distortion, % 0.0093 0.0047 0.0054/td> 0.0047
Stereo Crosstalk, dB -95.9 -97.8 -95.5 -97.4

A problem occurred during our testing. We met harmonic error when testing, but it is normal in RMAA quantitative result. We considered that should be the SRC problem, then tested Sony Xperia XZ Premium connected with the U11's headphone adapter, and found no harmonic error occurred. So, the result is HTC met SRC problem again, and again. Also, HTC U11 does not pass the Hi-Res test.

Although SRC problem occurs, for its thick sound, U11 is still outstanding among those smartphones without separated DAC chip. We cannot figure out what's in the adapter, then we tried using this adapter with Samsung Galaxy S8+ and Sony Xperia XZ Premium. It is surprising that both are much better in audio output, especially with Sony, for much thicker, clearer and better details, more stretching and better power. This makes us surprised, that whether this adapter was designed for HTC or for Sony? We strongly command Sony Xperia XZ Premium users to buy one. However, as the SRC problem exists, with this adapter, HTC's audio performance is weaker than that of Sony and Samsung's for lower resolution and stereo imaging. It should be the same with Sony and Samsung. Theoretically, this adapter supports all Android smartphones with USB Type-C port, but most domestic mobile phone cuts the drives. For example, One Plus 5 cannot use this adapter as an DAC/AMP.

With this adapter, any smartphone can be better than any smartphone without separated DAC in audio in thicker and more concreted sound, as well as slightly better resolution. So, how about those smartphones with separated DAC? We use vivo Xplay 6, which is one of the best Hi-Fi smartphones, for a comparison. We consider that this adapter is as good as Xplay 6 in sound thickness, but Xplay 6 still wins in resolution and density. We can draw a conclusion that this adapter provides a fair sound quality that is between those smartphones with and without separated DAC.

Let's have a look at this Usonic bounding earphone. It is a USB Type-C port earphone, but cannot be used with other smartphones. It does not have an ideal sound performance. However we still want to talk something about it. HTC provides active noise cancellation and native in-ear tuning to optimize audio performance. It is similar with the Audeze iSINE20 that we have reviewed. It's just the Usonic's speakers are not good enough. After removing the 3.5mm headphone jack, earphones must change, but how to change? It takes time.

We regard the SRC problem is just an accident. HTC removed the 3.5mm headphone jack, but provides better sound. We hope HTC engineers can see this article, then push an update to fulfill the U11's potential in audio.

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