Nexus 4 earpiece

First thing this afternoon when I got to my battle station, Phil gave me a call. This isn't unusual, we talk a lot, but today he wanted to ask me what I thought of the Nexus 4 and the crazy hissing/buzzing/evil sound you can almost hear coming from the earpiece. The one I can't hear and had never heard of. We threw some ideas back and forth, even got nerdy and spoke of vibrating crystals on the PCB that may be firing the eardrum and tiny bones inside the skull to create a sound, and I told him I would dig around the Internet and see what I could find. That's how this job works a lot of the time. Anyhoo, my non-buzzing Nexus 4 and I went in search of what could be happening.

I found a couple things that I didn't expect. The most telling thing I came across is that my Galaxy Nexus makes a buzz from the earpiece. I had never noticed it, and probably wouldn't ever have if I hadn't went looking for it. But it sure does, both on Android 4.1.2 and Android 4.2.1. I'll probably never unhear it now that I've ran into it. 

I also found cases where all sorts of other phones are making a buzzing sound from the earpiece. The Optimus G has the issue (the first device we checked, of course). The Galaxy S3 has been reported to do it. The Samsung Skyrocket does it. Even the iPhone 4S does it. In fact, there is a huge support thread in Apple's forums about the issue. It's a very real issue with intricate consumer electronics. That means now the questions are why is it happening, and can it be fixed?

In my younger days I had an old 1974 Pinto wagon. While you were driving it, a whine came out of the stereo speakers -- even when the stereo was off. I'm thinking this is a similar issue, where electrical noise (electrical noise is simply a signal that you do not want) is causing sound to be created from the speaker. It could be poor component placement, improper shielding, or just a case of too much high frequency crap crammed in a case as thin as possible. Either way, it's going to be very difficult to fix if it's an electrical noise issue. Fixing it in my Pinto meant cutting the speaker wires and buying a Walkman after trying all manner of isolators and filters. 

It's possible that software tweaks can be made to cut back on some of the noise. It's also possible to look into the manufacturing process and adjust. It's also very possible that nothing will be done about the issue, because nothing can be done. It's certainly not a new problem for the folks designing cell phones. Folks are staring the issue with Google to get their attention. (That might not be the best place to do that, but good luck stopping folks.) I wouldn't expect a quick fix for this one though, as there's a long line of phones ahead of it that need "fixed" first.

Discuss in the Nexus 4 forums

There are 32 comments

Small_law says:

You know what happens when you cram lots of little electronics like radios and antenna and batteries and speakers together? Possible feedback. These phones are a wonder, but not one of them is perfect.

I'm not seeing (or hearing) this issue on my N4. In fact, its call quality is much better than the GNex. And I can use the speaker phone without people yelling at me that there's an echo.

I'm not seeing (or hearing) this issue on my N4. In fact, its call quality is much better than the GNex. And I can use the speaker phone without people yelling at me that there's an echo.

Same here, and I'm glad. Now that I've noticed it on two phones I have here (My G Nex and the One S my wife is using) it would drive me insane. I almost wish I hadn't checked while I was looking for it, because I don't think i would have heard it if I wasn't trying.

Saturn1217 says:

So are you saying that your nexus 4 does not have this problem? In other words is this something that doesn't happen on all phones and could manufacturing tweaks prevent this from occurring for those who purchase later in the nexus 4 life cycle?

Animus_3.0 says:


gregmcph says:

Love all the little bits of dandruff and ear hair around the speaker.

nickacs says:


bevcraw says:

A 1974 Pinto. Come on! My cool car was a '73 Chevy Vega with an 8-track player jammed into the hollowed out glove compartment. I don't think it buzzed, though.

And I thought it was tinnitus...

Small_law says:

Mine doesn't have it. If it does, maybe I'm deaf to it. Either way works.

And damn if the earphone speaker port on the N4 isn't a debris magnet. It collects all manner of fuzz and dust. Compressed air is the best cure I've found.

piizzadude says:

But it is a Nexus!!! Pure isn't a bug it is a feature. This is the way Google intended it to be!!


KwietStorm says:

You're even trolling the Nexus 4 on the front page now. Holy hell.

Danf says:

Who needs MJ? now you can get your buzz from your phone!

Great moments in the advancement of technology!


spillytime says:

Lots of phones buzz and make noise...But LG is one of the worst. I have had several LG phones throughout the years, and several of my friends have LG devices. They always have the worst sound quality in the ear piece as well as the worst sound quality when connected to a bluetooth device. LG = Low Grade

On my Galaxy Nexus, I get this "buzz" when I plug it in both my car charger and the headphone jack. It's like an electromagnetic interference from the car USB charging port to the 3.5mm jack. I can hear the buzz on my car's speakers.

eerongal says:

That's a straight up electrical ground loop from the charging. I get the same thing in my car. You can get filters that help reduce it, they work pretty well, they basically look like a 3.5" aux cable with a black box in the middle.

bigzinewicz says:

I am now on my second Nexus 4 16gb and both have the issue. The first one also made a rattling noise and seemed to have something loose inside it. It appeared to be around or near the camera but without taking it apart who knows. The second one has the same thing but to a much lesser extent plus the buzzing inside the earpiece. Neither one appear to be problems YET. LG has never been my favorite phone manufacturer but hey. This does call into question build quality or lack of quality control same as on the Nexus 7 which was designed by Asus.

MC_Android says:

I can sympathize. When you have so much cost-cutbacks it's not surprising build quality isn't something that stands up with several Nexus devices. I've experienced many but the worst was probably the Nexus 7. the HTC Nexus One is still the most well built smartphone I've ever owned (with the exception of the multitouch capabilities but that was a limitation set on by design/hardware).

Quasar says:

I am getting the buzz on my Nexus 10. The buzz changes while I'm touching the screen too. I'm not sure if it was a bad headset or not. I'll have to try it with other headsets. Also, since my GNex and my N10 have been updated to the newest version of Jelly Bean, they both randomly wake up from sleeping every few minutes. What could be causing that? It's not nice on the batteries.

winenerd says:

Mine buzzes slightly but I can only hear it if I put my ear to it while I'm not on call though, which is never unless i try.

manny 24 says:

I have the same sound noise , called Google and let them know the issue and they are replacing the phone.

I noticed on many newer phones that when you plug in headphones or an aux cable, the end of the connector is clearly visible. Phone manufacturers do this to have a slimmer, thinner phone, but things like headphone jacks are compromised. But the end part of the connector is the ground, so if its not properly seated, it will create a ground hum (60Hz or 80Hz if I'm not mistaken).

HTMLSpinnr says:

I hear both a distortion buzz at louder volumes, as well as packet radio type buzzing during calls as the radio transmits. I could tolerate the latter, but the former causes me to turn down the volume on my N4.

chronophilos says:

I shouldn't have read this one. After having mine for two weeks and noticing nothing wrong, I had to go check. Sure enough, there's a buzzing sound all the time coming from the earpiece in mine. I cannot unhear it.

BdawgTrap says:

Inductive noise. Not Electric noise... its different in a car though, the noise comes from the engine and more specifically the alternator. In a phone or computer it could be crosstalk between the electrical components.

It's often also the spark plugs in older cars. "Resistor" plugs were the result/solution the auto industry came up with.

konaman01 says:

Its Aliens (the green kind) or Government. Get the foil hats people

This was a problem day #1 with the Motorola BIONIC. It was eventually fixed (covered-up) by an OTA update. But, the ICS update re-introduced it.

Using headphones/earbuds with in-line volume attenuation will mask the problem (so you don't hear it).

mitchstehlin says:

weird.. I knew I heard a little buzz during a call yesterday, and wouldn't ya know it pops up on AC.

btw do they have no regard for how much of a dust trap the earpiece is..
I mean come on. You'd think this would be an issue they noticed and would fix.

fam617 says:

This is a bigger issue than folks think - or like to think. It sounds like something is loose and vibrating - similar to a blown tweeter speaker. I know there are a ton of folks that will agree with me on this.

Seems like faulty workmanship and a hardware issue on LG's behalf.

It's called "mass production" and ensures nothing is 100% perfect. If the 'defect' warrants a return or replacement, then it should be pursued. To suggest this is the end of the world or some major transgression is ludicrous.

EM management takes up huge amounts of resources when it comes to electronics design and yet there is still an 'art' to it.

Most phones that are released these days are similar to 'first year' cars - they're a whole new set of features and technologies, not incremental refinements and changes. There will always be unexpected issues as a result. Deal with it or stick to more robust tech.

juggle says:

I had horrible buzzing from the earpiece on my Inc2 to the point that I dreaded getting calls because it was so hard to understand what anyone was saying.

But it was pretty obviously mechanical in nature not electrical. I got a new speaker for about $10 on ebay and took the plunge with my mini screwdrivers.

Wasn't very hard to replace...but once I was in there I suspected that outright replacement really wasn't necessary. The big problem was all the crud sticking to the speaker. Most of it was tiny iron filings but some of those were holding other assorted bits of detritus to the speaker. No wonder it made all kinds of horrible sounds.

It was also interesting to learn that the speaker isn't actually attached to anything - other than a tiny bit of double sided tape holding it in place. It's just sandwiched between the case and the main board with some pressure contacts. The new speaker didn't come with it's own double sided tape and the original tape wasn't re-usable and I didn't have any new tape on unsurprisingly the new speaker is almost worse than the original because without that tape it can rattle in there at some frequencies. A bit of new tape fixed that though.

The big problem seems to be the simple matter that speakers have magnets in them and I appear to have far more tiny bits of metal in my pockets than I would have expected (though given that I've had problems plugging in my headphones because of weld slag stuck in the socket I guess I shouldn't be too surprised at how many random metal particles there are in my pockets.)

I've helped a friend or two with the same problem and sure enough their speakers were covered with tiny flakes of metal and other assorted pocket crud as well. Cleaning them off fixed it.

Not sure if there is a real solution to this kind of thing though. Without tiny holes the sound can't get out...but with them it invites that magnet in the speaker to suck up any tiny tiny bits of metal that may be near it.

Yulun Song says:

my phone was delivered today. however, when i made a call, the quality of earpiece is so bad with buzzing!! i was so say about that with a passion for long-time waiting! I have to return it to exchange a new one! and I believe i have to wait for another longtime waiting! sucks!