Nexus 5 speaker

Audio output sounds great in some apps — and lousy in others​, especially with spoken-word playback

Two things you need to know about the the speakers on the Nexus 5: First, there's only one speaker. Never mind that you see a pair of speaker grilles — there's only one speaker hidden back there. As we first learned on the LG G2 — a close cousin, insofar as the hardware goes — there's a speaker, and there's a microphone. Not two speakers. That's been confirmed by iFixit's teardown, as well, not that it was a surprise. Stick your finger over one of the speakers and it's readily apparent.

There other thing we've discovered is that the Nexus 5 speaker can be pretty decent, or it can be downright horrible — and it appears that software may be to blame here.

Listen to a song in Google Play Music. Then find the same one on YouTube

First, a story. I loved listening to a record (ask your parents, kids) of "Peter and the Wolf" when I was a wee Phil. Prokofiev's music is still some of my favorite classical, telling the story of the precocious young Peter even without narration. And so I introduced it to my 3-year-old daughter, Isabella.  Every night, before bedtime, it's "Daddy, I want to listen to Peter." And so we fire up Google Play Music, and listen to Peter and the cat and the duck and the bird — all narrated by none other than Sting. (David Bowie's version is pretty good, too.)

Nexus 5For the past month or so we've mostly been listening on the Moto X, or sometimes on the HTC One if we really feel like rockin' before bed. At this point, I'm intimately familiar with how that recording should sound. So it was pretty disappointing when we tried listening to Peter with the new Nexus 5. Suddenly, Sting sounds like he's in a cave — not just a little additional reverb, but almost like the speaker is so far recessed in the phone that the sound is bouncing around in there for a while, looking for a way to escape.

And we're not just talking differences in speakers here. Our findings are unscientific, but obvious and apparent. And easily reproducible.

Audio playback through the Nexus 5 speaker is dismal in apps like Google Play Music.

Grab your Nexus 5. Play a song in Google Play Music. Then find the same song in YouTube. Now we're not quite talking apples and oranges here, we know. File types and compression and all that will be different, affecting playback quality. But there's a stark contrast in the end result. Try it yourself. Podcasts and other spoken-word pieces really highlight the difference. They should not sound like they're sounding.

Local file playback also is bad, with the same echo and distortion. Play the same song in Spotify or Pandora? Things are just fine. The music sounds great. And phone calls (as far as we can tell) aren't affected.

Something's up, software-wise, we believe, when it comes to audio playback on the Nexus 5's speaker. That's actually a good thing. What I at first thought was just a sub-par speaker — and, by the way, we've witnessed none of this on the proper LG G2 — appears, in fact, to be an issue with audio software. That can (most likely) be fixed. We've got an e-mail in to Google to see if there's something more official to be said.

Update 11/8: Google has confirmed to Android Central that I'm not deaf or going crazy, and that they're working on a fix.

 

Reader comments

The Nexus 5 speaker: Yes, there's only one — and software may be hurting what you hear [updated]

132 Comments

I'm glad to see it's not just me. I got my N5 yesterday and have the same experiences.

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I forgot to mention that I have had this same problem all along on my Nexus 7 2012 model. Some things have great volume and others quiet.

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That just happens across most devices (same on my HTC phone), I don't think the issue Phil's talking about is regarding volume per se tho.

I have to make a cup with my hand around the N 7 speaker sometimes, and that doesn't always help. But does work with play music app better and chrome for podcast.

Nope, its not just you. I noticed it too. It really does sound like its far back away from the grille. Strangest thing. When I talk on speakerphone it sounds fine. When I play a game it sounds horrible.

32gb black

I was very disappointed with the Nexus 5 sound even over headphones. Youtube sounds better than Google Music. Google Music is better with EQ flat, no surround, no bass boost. This seems to be a case of an inadequate speaker, a week generic audio driver, and poor default EQ. Even then the audio over good headphones is still metalic and very un-warm.

The Google Music EQ helps but the sound is MUCH better through Neutron Music Player. I'm very pleased with the sound now. I'm sure a future update will fix the default sound quality as well.

Disagree on this, and will be directly related to your headphones, I have two sets of headsets and it is just awesome thankfully and correctly doing L R perfectly. Speaker and I mean that in the singular can be hit and miss depending on the situation.

Agree with Kasam. I've got a pair of IEMs, and they sound just as good on my new Nexus 5 as they did on my iPhone. No tweaks necessary.

Yeah I've been very disappointed with the speaker so far. Hopeful an update can give it some help them. That and the camera! Although I have had less of an issue with the camera so far.

Google Music through Sonos sounds great so it's definitely not Google Music's fault!

i wouldnt mind having two speakers inside my Nexus 5... but then again My Oppo Find 5 had only one speaker as well and i rarely used it for music.

F'ing software! I don't know why companies still use the dreaded thing. Why can't we stick to hardware alone! :P

that would be software and clearly not what the first post was mentioning.

Go to Radio shack and get a diode and plug it in so you'll only have one directional flow.... all funny nothing serious

The speaker and camera are the two disappointments for me at this point. Hopefully a software update will improve both.

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Excellent response. From hence forth, this website should only post positive nexus reviews. Any faults should be skirted around or, preferably, ignored entirely.

Audio has been normal for me through headphones and bluetooth. It's just the built in speaker that struggles.

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"There may be s software issue on the N5 and 4.4. That could be a good thing" Why is every post these days "Google effed up but wait...here's kind of an excuse and/or flawed logic why" lol

Hardware and software are both parts of the phone. Software problems are arguably more inexcusable. The consumer should know what they are getting hardware wise. We EXPECT software that works on the most basic levels. This is a basic level. Just think it's weird that this site will have a post with a couple sentences bashing a logo on a Verizon phone. Then turn around an write a soliloquy explaining a Google mess up in the most positive tone an eff up can be discussed.

The Verizon logos are just funny. We don't care about those.

We do care about speakers working properly. And we also expect software to work. Which is why we're writing about it here. 

Sorry if we're not pithy enough for you — but that's just not our style. 

....except when its a company you want to criticize. That's kind of the point. Just looking for some consistency.

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"....except when its a company you want to criticize. That's kind of the point. Just looking for some conspiracy."

There I fixed it for you :)

They brought attention to an issue. This is good for both the company and the consumer. Get off you high horse. Why do you come here when all it is to bash the writers for doing their jobs? We would all be a lot happier (including yourself) if you just didn't visit this site anymore.

You couldn't be more wrong.

Software will always be an ongoing give and take of optimization for different types of hardware. Especially when hardware changes by the day.

You want software to be the issue because they work on it and patch it. When hardware is as fault, say the speaker was just junky, you're stuck with that forever.

This is basic, and well on a basic level, it works doesn't it? I'd rather have a software issue that Google says "Hey we're going to fix that" than run into a hardware issue and have little to no response at all or worse off "Hey we've made a newer version that solves this and you'll still have to buy it"

They're not saying it's good that there's a problem. They're saying it's good that, since we're stuck with a problem, the problem is in the SOFTWARE, not the hardware.

You've missed the point of the article completely. The article IS critical because there IS a problem. There is zero "flawed logic" or any excuses here in any way, shape, or form. The remark "That could be a good thing" is only saying that this issue is likely fixable (and not a hard fix), so that people who have bought these phones are not forever doomed to bad sound from the speaker.

I just had a Hangout on my phone and the volume and clarity of the conversation was totally fine. I have never and would never listen to music from my phones speakers. Ive also yet to have an issue hearing my phone if it rings or notifies me. Its not BoomSound but it def not "bad".

It's always like that at the release of a new device.

I've yet to find anything that even annoys me apart from the screen being a bit bright. Battery is great (currently at 30% with 12 hours usage and 4 hours screen time), camera is flat out amazing (I don't have the steadiest hands and OIS is lifesaver).

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Wow, 4 hours screen time? Do you use auto brightness? I hate trying to squeeze every last ounce of battery out of a phone but if I can get 4 hours without having to do any annoying battery saving things that would be great.

Why is 4 hours so amazing? If you're on wifi and/or don't have a lot of background syncs and/or etc etc then 4 hours is entirely within the realm of possibility, even on older phones. I can get up to 4-5 hours of display time on my EVO LTE pretty often, and sometimes I barely eke out 2.5 hrs...

It all depends where I was and what I was doing (I use auto brightness btw and it isn't even particularly thrifty on this phone).

We'll see how it goes with the Nexus 5 that the UPS guy just dropped off... :D Might not have a chance to swing by the store for a SIM until tomorrow night, blah, if they even know how to provide me one by then. I should start unlocking the bootloader and getting that out of the way tho.

Yeah I'm in WiFi range both at home and work so 3G is just a fill in (and signal strength is excellent here so the radio doesn't have to work too hard even then).

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A little off topic but, did you get the 32GB variant to use on Sprint? I'm wondering because I also have the EVO LTE and I want to get this phone but my contract isn't up until June. Are they going to let you throw the N5 in place of your EVO without breaking or signing a new contract?

Also, if I add a line for my wife, can I keep the N5 and give her my EVO as a hand-me-down and still get an upgrade in June? I realize you don't work for Sprint, just wondering if you knew.

Yep, I got the 32GB variant off the Play store... Wasn't gonna originally but I decided I'd rather spends the extra $50 to carry more of my music library day to day. 16GB "only" leaves about 8-9 GB free considering you've got like 12GB free out of the box, you can write off another 1-2GB on apps, and you shouldn't fill flash storage up to max capacity for performance reasons.

Anyway, my contract's up around June/August too, it's not an issue, and you should absolutely be able to hand down the EVO LTE to your wife. Neither would affect your renewal/upgrade. You can handle the EVO line transfer yourself on their site (just like whomever I sell mine to would), for the N5 you'll have to procure a SIM-like card from Sprint but it's free.

I'm hitting up the store tomorrow, just hope they're briefed on it before their official Friday launch.

This is true. When I first tried my MOTO X in late August, the thing was POS.

Now I have another one & its like a whole new, wonderful world.

Software is amazing now (Both good and bad, I guess).

I feel bad for all the new Nexus 5 peeps but i am ABSOLUTELY confident Google will fix ALL this stuff.

BTW, when the hell is KitKat coming to the Nexus 7 2013? Or is it already...

KitKat itself is great, but wow, they really need to sort out the rest of the N5.

The camera is slow, variable and for me, too dark, the speaker sounds like ass and the screen calibration is terrible.

You read the article right? They said the problem was software, not hardware, so staying in-house instead of going LG wouldn't have made a difference.

Maybe, in all likelihood it's neither Moto nor LG writing those drivers, but whomever built the specific DSP (Qualcomm, Broadcom, etc)... And sometimes Nexus devices require different drivers than would otherwise be used so it could very well end up working out the same regardless of what OEM took all the bits and put them together.

Moto X probably has issues too. I don't even have one but know from pictures that I absolutely hate the gap between the wifi and the signal bars on that phone.

Maybe, but I think they're still trying to placate other OEM and not make it seem like they're competing directly with them now that Moto's in house...

Besides, they've given every other OEM two years/two devices in the program, sorta: G1/Nexus One for HTC, Galaxy S/Nexus Galaxy for Samsung (plus the N10), N7/N7 2013 for ASUS, and now N4/N5 for LG.

Moto could be next, unless they reach out to Sony or break the trend... I wouldn't mind them circling back to HTC tbh, but the Nexus 5 is still pretty significant regardless of the camera/speaker...

They need to start heavily advertising the fact that it's the first/only phone out there that's unlocked out of the box and can work with three national carriers, LTE and all.

Why not, they probably worked as close with HTC on that as any of the other projects... Just because they hadn't come up with the Nexus name doesn't mean the G1 wasn't part of it's genesis.

Anyway, Moto did have the Xoom, but that one's definitely kind of iffy... I don't know that they worked together a lot with them so much as just gave them Honeycomb first cause they were further along to release than anyone.

The original Droid also got some special treatment tho, wasn't it the first with multitouch? My point was simply that they seem to try to spread the love around, so to speak. Unless you're Sony I guess, tho they seem to be falling out of the US market.

Maybe it's a terrific ploy to stop idiots, yobs and general scum from inflicting their acquired musical selections upon surrounding members of the public via shitty phone speakers

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I think it has something to do with the Snapdragon 800 "audio tunneling" function that was supposed to reduce audio battery use by 30%. I'm expecting an update in the 2 next weeks to fix the camera and sound issues.

That may be why enabling the EQ (even on flat) improves it.. It forces it to use the normal software path.

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Still no cure for the Note 3. The external speaker is bad no matter what. It is the only thing that kills a perfect phone

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Phil, is spoken-word audio okay on the Moto X's external speaker? Podcasts and AudioBooks are a good 33% of my smartphone use, and I use external speakers a lot.

I'm so close to pulling the trigger on a Moto X now that Verizon has lowered the price to $99 on contract.

I'm coming off an iPhone 4S, which got hit hard by the ugly stick of iOS 7. Not to mention the stick of keyboard lag...

From what I've read here in some posts, my speculation is that some sort of equalization may hurt voice frequencies because small speakers in general can't produce deep bass and maybe a default equalization adapted to that specific speaker/amplifier/case is lowering voice audio band levels so that it has a more flat frequency distribution on music... but this will limit maximum perceived volume... but this can be deep in sound driver and not visible to user equaliser, maybe it has pre-defined equalizations for a few known apps...

Could be anything, voice doesn't generally carry a ton of deep bass tho, unless you're a tenor or something... It's mostly mid frequencies.

Tiny phone speakers will struggle with anything tho, they're smaller than tweeters (highs) on real speakers. If they're actually trying to emphasize bass thru DSP, together with the naturally bright tendencies of these speakers, it may be be drowning out the mids.

I don't really care for great SQ out of a crappy speakerphone, I'd just hope they don't mess around with the software trying to eke out this grand response for music and just leave it so voices can be made out semi clearly.

Sounds like Phil's daughter needs one of those tiny Bluetooth speakers by her bedside tho. :p

Well, it has two speakers in any case... If you think 3-4" of separation between them actually creates even remotely effective stereo imaging then I've got a bridge to sell you.

Don't get me wrong, HTC put in some pretty nice speakers (relatively speaking), and front placement obviously helps a ton (at the cost of bezel space mind you), but the stereo bit is about one rung up the marketing gimmick ladder from Beats EQ.

When it's inches from your face, it does have effective stereo separation. It's all relative. If you have a One, you'd probably already know this.

If audio is transmitted through two channels (L & R) how is that not effective stereo imaging? Sounds can be heard panning from one channel to the other.

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Effective stereo imaging isn't about that, hard left/right pans are easy... Good stereo imaging can create a strong centered sound even without a center channel, so say, a singer's voice appears to be standing right in front of you while instruments come from the periphery etc. If you're hearing hard left/right pans you're actually getting poor imaging... :P

There's a world of audio science to this, and it's not a simple one. Headphones all have two channels too (obviously) and many still struggle with soundstage and accurate sound placement... That's because the way a human positions sounds is actually based on a whole lot more than just hearing left/right.

Look at someone that's trying to figure out where a sound is coming from sometime, what do they do? They shift their head a bit to one side or the other, like many animals do, that shift, along with room acoustics and a whole bunch of variables play a large role. Couple inches of separation between speakers isn't gonna replicate it very effectively, it's true of any small dock too.

Sorry, I'm a bit of am audio geek, and I'm not knocking the One; like I said, they crammed in some pretty nice speakers for a phone. The stereo part tho, well, whatever... ;)

Hopefully the 4.4.1 update that's be talked about will help this. The ringtones and notifications are super low in volume too

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I gave to keep mine at 50% volume otherwise the email notifications can be heard right across the office.

You're not the first to have quiet sound though.. I wonder if a certain number have the speaker misaligned or something.

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You all whining what do you expect from a nexus you want low cost you get lack luster experience. Not a consumer device.

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No one is whining, we are just wondering if software defects are not getting in the way of fully using our hardware. Especially if there is something wrong with KitKat, then your pretty (rooted) G2 is gonna have audio problems as well ;) (when you get the update).

Stop the hate, and read what people are actually saying.

Actually were all Google bitches and beta testing 4.4 so when manufacturers get it they'll b minium bugs. Also manufacturers have there own audio tweets

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Can't tell if you're being sarcastic or if that's the most ironic case of trolling I've seen all week... Your sig and the Nexus collectible toy avatar are throwing me off. That's probably my favorite Android from Andrew Bell's series tho.

just an FYI Phil, the G2 has issues as well that nobody but myself seems to even notice. there's hardcore compression/limiting going on in Google Music (and no, there's no EQ available) and the entire time i've figured it was a software issue with LG's UI...but if it's happening on the N5, I'm not so sure anymore. the speaker on the G2 doesn't sound as good as it could because of this compression/limiting. i'm wondering if the same sound you're hearing on the N5 is what the G2 suffers from.

hmm odd.. maybe it's not the same issue then. all I know is the g2 speaker has annoying compression and limiting going on, which totally ruins the sound for me.

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wow, i played a song in the Play Music app and turned on the flat EQ and turned off the surround sound and it sounds a ton better. Much more volume and sounds better than Power Amp, my go to music player for Android.

Speaking of sound issues... I got my N5 today and some notifications are arguably louder than others. They don't always coincide with the volume levels.

The speaker and battery on this thing are making me want to return it and go back to my Note 3.

But the speaker on the Note 3 is bad too. Miss my HTC One, but it was starting to feel old (yeah, I know).

Please put BoomSound and a MAXX battery on every single phone from here on out. And OIS. Let's stop the madness, phone manufacturers.

Have absolutely no desire to trade in my One for this. Google still refuses to put in popular features like battery percentage in the task bar, but puts in useless stuff.

Phil, did you also notice a muffled or a static sound once the audio is set to below <50%, it's been one of the most common problem that is being reported by many people.

You know what... I turned down the volume because it was really loud in one of my favorite games (D.O.T.) and anything below 50% sounds horrible. It sounds muffled or like the sound is coming from a hallway. In comparison, this makes the Note 3 sound great. There's definitely an audio bug.

I haven't thought of Peter and the Wolf in ages, I am kinda partial to the Walt Disney narration myself, I think it is great Phil that you got your kids to love it.

Remember, the moaning, crying, bitching, trolling, nashing of teeth over HTC's innovative Sense bloat many aspects Google incorporated into future Android releases, Blink feed crap, non replaceable battery, no ext SD BS because I spend weeks in the wilderness listening to my 20,000 song library watching porn 32 GB totally inadequate, diamond cut aluminum industrial design nonsense because everyone uses a case they remove and reolace to swap batteries.

Turns out, the envious haters are so massively wrong while bumping each other in the butt for an early claim on a 16 GB N5. Astounding hypocrisy!

You sir are correct. The preeminent HTC One has boldly stood the test of time for 2013. I look forward to an early 2014 HTC One Snapdragon 800 refresh with additional cutting edge innovation.

n5 seems to have the same bugs as the galaxy nexus, as that model has issues with low volume speaker, distortion and low earpiece volume as well

To be honest, while this is something that should be looked into and resolved (and I'm sure it will be), if we turn to our phones for music listening pleasure we usually plug in a headset or use an external speaker.

So yes, this IS a problem, but I've had my N5 for a day now and if this is the worse thing about it, I'm a very happy camper.

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No.... Yours is the only report of sane sound issue in the N7-13.
Can't be true after this much time.

I'm watching the N4 transformers bonus on my N5, my speakers sound perfect. Also playback from Google Music sounds fine. There may just be a bad batch of speakers.

Hm I can recall something about DSP chip which give a more battery during playback.
With google music it works, with others players don't. May it be the case? :)

I heard this too from some people complaining and was a little concerned for when I got mine. Perhaps then some apps just need to be properly updated to 4.4?

Oh shit it's totally true! I was so disappointed by the speakers which raped Mirrors... On YouTube it sounds great though (albeit quieter). I wonder how far this goes (3rd party apps like Netflix)

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Who gives a rip. Does anybody really play any music over the speakers? That is what headphones are for or external speakers

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Yes... owners of HTC One listen on front facing stereo boom sound speakers when showing You Tube clips to others or viewing news or other Web clips privately, sampling songs and the myriad of circumstances when listening without digging out the headphones. Perhaps you didn't read or comprehend Phil's "real life" example in this article you're commenting.

Geeze, you're just like the "everone" "no one" absolutists regarding cases/bumpers, screen protectors, ext SD, swappable battery zealots.
Now add everyone uses headphones. Yeah, perhaps "everyone" who has POS garbled inadequate tinny scratchy inaudible speakers.

It's all relative... I'm really into my audio, I've got half a dozen pair of good headphones, a couple pair of nice bookshelf speakers, a HT, etc. To me even the One's speakers sound tinny and weak compared to anything I'd consider to be a decent sound system.

Doesn't mean I wouldn't prefer having Boomsound over say, the barely audible speaker of the old HTC Sensation/EVO 3D (that sucked hard), but it's not gonna drive me to get a One over any phone with a decent speaker either.

I don't spend hours watching Youtube clips or news on my phone with others tho, so it all comes down to personal priorities, like you allude to. Having these choices is a really nice thing tho. That being said, I'd take one really decent speaker over two space hogging ones if I was designing the perfect phone.

I do, but not music, audiobooks, when lying in the bed, don't want to mess with headphones and cables, also listening audio and video podcasts. Not everything in this world is about people listening only music. To be honest, for me the quality and the volume of the speaker is very important. I have an excellent tiny mp3 player to listen music with the headphones. But from a device like Nexus 5 I would expect a solid speaker as well. Recently compared Nexus 5 speaker loudness with the old Samsung Galaxy S2, witch is much clearer and louder. I have to keep volume level always 100% and it's hardly enough if there is minor noise around.

P.S. Don't understand though how the software update can fix anything if the speaker itself (the hardware) is weak... Educate me please. Cheers :)

It's all relative.. agreed. I have a Butterfly S which also features boomsound speakers and it has great sound... for a phone, that is.

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Since it's not a flagship phone, stop expecting it to be perfect, LG has allocated the budget for the RAM and the Snapdragon 800. CMIIW

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Is anyone else getting heat problems sometimes I leave my phone under my pillow and it gets really hot just on stand by

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Sounds like the Nexus phones keep having the same issues and never seem to fix them. I have a Galaxy Nexus and the 2 main weaknesses seem to be the same as what people are saying about the 5. Poor Camera and Poor Speaker. I don't understand how the speakers are so bad. I remember my GNex speaker was worse than a midlevel Android phone I had before. Id put them side by side and it was just amazing; I often can't even hear the ringtones if Im in another room, and if Im in public, I would miss calls because I couldn't hear them…Forget listening to music without earbuds or bluetooth speakers