Huawei Honor 9 Review: Audio
Author:Soomal
Source:eng.soomal.com

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Huawei smartphones are always not good enough in audio performance, and even the flagship models also belong to the middle level, and no one could surpass the lowest versions of iPhone. Maybe Huawei wants to change this condition, so they turn to Hi-Fi. The newly Huawei Honor 9 sports the AKM Hi-Fi chip with enticing advertisement: With innovative ultra-wide 3D sound field technology, you'll be able to enjoy virtual surround sound through your earphones in three different modes. Immerse yourself in music, whenever, wherever. Audio fine-tuning by Grammy Award winner Rainer Mailler. Huawei Histen 3D audio technology brings the experience of live music to the Honor 9. Therefore, we have purchased one model.

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

Honor 9 has the Hisilicon Kirin 960 SoC equipped with audio I/O controller. From the former test results, we cannot be sure whether the Hisilicon SoC could afford very strong I/O ability, which is reflected in the support to sample rate and the control of digital audio signal. The Kirin SoC always shows abnormal in Huawei smartphones in the test for Total Harmonic Distortion (THD), and it is unknown whether it is because of I/O or digital to analog convert. In addition, we also cannot be sure whether this kind of smartphones have SRC problem. There are some characters showing the SRC problem, but no harmonics. If it is SRC problem, we still cannot be certain whether it is the hardware or the software one, because only Huawei smartphones use Hisilicon Kirin SoC with assorted CODEC, and the problem is always the same.

Instead of using the peripheral Hi6403 that 960 recommended to be digital to analog converter, Honor 9 choosing AKM Hi-Fi chip. According to the data on the internet, the specific model should be AK4376. AK4376 was not strange and once used by models such as vivo X7/X9/X9s, nubia Z11etc.

As for specifications, the SNR of AK4376 can reach 125dB, supporting the sampling rate up to 384Hz, which is enough for smartphones. vivo has a rich experience in the design for audio sub-system. However, the audio of models with AK4376 would be weaker than models based on ESS chip. Models based on AK4376 is almost impossible to become one of smartphones with best audio, but their audio will be superior to smartphones without separate DAC chip under normal conditions. It's impossible to expect Honor 9 to build up status by the audio, but it's worth expecting to become the one with best audio of all Huawei smartphones.

The music player of Honor 9 is the integration of online and local player, and the online content is provided by QQ Music. The interface is clear in logic but lacking some sense of beauty. The local player supports common audio coding formats and lyric and album cover online auto matching, while matching success rate is relatively low, which still needs optimizing. Honor 9 adds Huawei Histen sound technology, which is not helpful for the sound quality and we do not recommend to switch it on, but you can open the function sometimes just for fun.

By convention, we use professional sound card to record sounds, combined with common analysis, to provide quantitative results. Turning off the sound effects, Huawei Honor 9's output level is -9.5dB, while that of Mate 9 is -12dB, and iPhone series is -6 to -7dB in former test.

Testing Item 44.1kHz 48kHz 96kHz Mate 9 Pro
Noise Level, dB -95.4 -95.9 -108.8 -95.9
Dynamic Range, dB 95.5 96.7 108.8 96.3
Total Harmonic Distortion(THD), % 0.0007 0.0007 0.0005 0.0018
Intermodulation Distortion, % 0.0047 0.0041 0.0012/td> 0.0051
Stereo Crosstalk, dB -71.7 -70.5 -70.5 -93.8

With our test goes well, Honor 9 maybe the first Huawei model supporting Hi-Res Audio and has passed the Hi-Res test. Apart from the crosstalk, other specifications are excellent. The performance of crosstalk is lower than our anticipation, which is similar to former tests for models based on AK4376. And the performance of crosstalk is also not improved even under the test of 96kHz/24bit, while Honor 9 is worse a little than these models, thus the problem should lie in the hardware of AK4376. Because the Kirin SoC always shows abnormal in the test for Total Harmonic Distortion(THD), it can be concluded that it is related to Hi640X. The problem of high-frequency actuation still occurs in the waveform of 44.1kHz frequency scanning as usual, but we cannot identify the reason.

The audio was better than the former models in listening experience. Honor 9 provides a better resolution than the elder Huawei smartphones and iPhone, so it is richer in information, especially on treble part. The sound of Honor 9 is softer than iPhone thus can be listened continuously for a longer time. It's easy to find the gap between the two models when using high quality earphones. The dynamic and transient of Honor 9 is not better than iPhone due to the power weakness, so are the vivo X7 and X9. If not adding extra (an) amplifier(s), models based on AK4376 would have a limited power, just suiting for earphones with high sensitivity and low impedance.

As mentioned above, the audio of Honor 9 is not the best, and it doesn't have any dominant event. However, when compared with smartphones without separate DAC chip, it is still more excellent as a whole.

We'd like to mention the recently popular HTC U11 adaptor again. Obviously, the U11 adaptor outperforms AK4376 models in power, helping hidden the weakness. Even if U11 has a weaker performance than AK4376 on details, the power supports the form of sound, causing superior overall performance to that of AK4376 models.

The audio performance of Huawei Honor 9 is a great progress for Huawei and they can get rid of sneers from iPhone fans eventually, but there is still a gap compared with smartphones with more excellent audio. Honor 9 still lacks sincerity on Hi-Fi, while we just take it as a cautious trial, and it is also crucial to the goal of surpassing iPhone.

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