Audio distortion on the Google Pixel: What you need to know

Shortly after the launch of Google's Pixel and Pixel XL, a handful of users started complaining about audio distortion issues through the speaker when the media volume is set to maximum, or close to it. While it was originally difficult to reproduce, and the issue was dismissed as a hardware issue affecting a small number of phones, it turns out there's a real audio problem with these phones. Before you go asking Google or Verizon to replace your Pixel in hopes of getting one that isn't affected, there's a few things you need to know.

This probably isn't a hardware issue

Google Pixel

Thanks to Reddit user badmark, there's a quick and reliable way to recreate this audio distortion on your phone. Download Perfect Piano from the Play Store (opens in new tab), crank up your volume to max, and run your finger across the keyboard. Anyone who has ever listened to music through a blown speaker probably felt a sinking feeling in their gut when hearing that Pixel audio distortion. It's a terrible sound, and while some users can generate this distortion across many apps, every Pixel and Pixel XL here in the office only offers up that crunching audio through this piano app.

This is clearly a problem in need of a fix, and Google has recognized this and claims to be looking into it.

What does all of this mean? Well, a couple of things. First, this either is a partial hardware problem or a 100% software problem. Currently it's not clear which, because the problem appears to be more severe on some phones than others. It could be that Google is using multiple hardware suppliers for the speaker and some are more susceptible than others, or it could be that some users reporting the problem are exaggerating.

The suggestion that this is all software is based on an assumption made by users experimenting with a third-party ROM that "fixes" the problem. It's not yet clear if the "fix" is the result of actual software changes, adjustments to the equalizer, or simply operating at a slightly lower volume that isn't triggering the distortion. Remember, dropping the volume down just one level on an affected Pixel and Pixel XL makes this issue go away. There are a lot of variables and so far not enough tests have been done to be conclusive.

This is clearly a problem in need of a fix, and Google has recognized this and claims to be looking into it. Google didn't fully acknowledge the issue until the above video gained popularity, and until recently had been offering warranty replacement of phones that appeared to have this audio distortion. That's a lot of mixed messages, all pointing at waiting to see how Google handles this issue.

What can be done about it?

Google Pixel

Naturally, there are folks unwilling to wait for Google to decide this problem needs fixing. That's understandable if you've been frustrated by this audio issue since October like some, but most Pixel owners are only discovering this week that this issue exists and that their phone is affected. In either case, there are three clear options available to you:

  • Keep your volume off of the highest setting and wait for Google to explain and fix this issue.
  • Avoid apps that trigger this audio distortion until Google explains and fixes this issue.
  • Unlock your phone, install a replacement bootloader, and use that install a third party audio mod that "fixes" this issue.

Waiting and continuing to keep an eye on Google's product forums doesn't feel like a great solution, and that's because it's not. Like the Nexus 6P before it, this audio glitch will eventually be addressed by Google. There's no ETA for it, and Google still hasn't made it clear exactly what this problem is. It's probably going to be a month or two, and the update will arrive alongside the monthly security patch.

Going the route of installing a third-party ROM means you're installing software with large red letters on it making sure you understand the creator isn't liable in any way if you brick your phone, which isn't great for everyone. Also, if your Pixel came from Verizon or EE, there's a few extra steps involved to remove locks on the bootloader. This process is fairly well documented, but it's not a good idea unless you know exactly what you are doing. As a general rule, if you need step by step instructions to install a third-party bootloader on your phone, this probably isn't for you.

If you're still not sure what you want to do about this issue, the Android Central forum thread on this issue is a great place to look. You'll find other Pixel owners taking a look at how to address this issue, which may make it easier to determine which solution is best for you!

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

35 Comments
  • Huh, this is a weird one. I watch videos with the volume at max all the time and have never experienced this issue, but it's REALLY apparent when using that piano app at max volume, or one step below max. Also, if it were purely a software issue, wouldn't we be likely to experience the issue when using external speakers or headphones as well?
  • Me also 🤔🤔mmmmm🤥
  • While I haven't tried the piano app, I do experience the Pixel clipping distortion on two bluetooth headphones when Google Assistant or Navigation speak. (It makes Google Assistant sound like she's stuttering.) Music at the same volume levels are undistorted.
  • I'm also finding audio distortion (short 'pops/crackles'…no words) when android auto responds to Voice control commands in my car over Bluetooth. Interestingly, it works fine in another car I have tested. To complicate it further, using voice control in navigation or home screen 'ok Google' commands I have no audio issues over the car Bluetooth.
  • I am using my Google pixel whoute any speaker problem
  • I can replicate this distortion using the Piano app. But it does not appear on ANY other app using max volume.
  • Same for me, this has to be a software issue.
  • I have noticed audio issues since I got the Pixel XL, and this is just another piece of a larger problem and I hope they get it fixed.
  • I have this issue when playing NBA live
  • I have this problem when using navigation on Google Maps with the voice level set to louder and the volume on max.
  • Premium device.
  • .... can have issues, too.
  • Note 7.....
  • iPhone 4
  • iPhone 7 Plus (rear cameras are randomly dying)
  • Watching videos in chrome, apps (like my DJI Phantom app) and sometimes YouTube. And I also get it over Bluetooth and aux occasionally.
  • In the last few days I've noticed that my lower left speaker is much louder than the bottom right. Is this something known or could I have a bad one? I just tried the piano thing and like the others at max or one down I get the static but other levels none.
  • There isn't a speaker in the bottom right. The phone only has one speaker that's in the left. The right cutout is just for the microphone.
  • Thank you for that. Got it not too long ago and I haven't really looked at everything yet. But that's a relief to know as I do not want to deal with Google's swap out program. The last time was just plain bad.
  • You're welcome. I'm glad I could help. I got a replacement Nexus 5X from Google, and the process was pretty painless. I imagine that it would be the same with the Pixel although I have not had to replace it.
  • Can you verify the source? I cant find one... My right speaker when out this morning and i dont know what it is.
  • Google's own store page listing the specs. It says it has a "Single bottom-firing speaker" https://www.androidcentral.com/e?link=https2F2F...
  • I swear... Google can not release a single phone without some sort of potential hardware issue. Like a audio issue, or a vibration issue, or something. It's really sad.
  • If iPhones can drop calls just by holding them or bend like a flip phone, why can't Google get in on the fun too? ;)
  • Would never use that piano app and it's not happening in any other app. I could not care less about
  • How about an article about the Pixel Bluetooth stuttering issues that so many users are experiencing? There's a huge thread in the Pixel forums about this but no mention of it on the main site. We need Google to act to fix this.
  • I haven't noticed this issue, but Pixel XL does have way too many bugs for a $800+ phone. Halo effect in camera, screen flashes randomly sometimes, there was/is Bluetooth issue, LTE on band 4 issue in Canada and Latin America, rear glass seems to be so weak that it cracks with little to no force. Google takes everyone for idiots who will stupidly follow them and toubleshoot issues instead of QA
  • I don't know what kind of a bandwagon the pixel is, but I've never got on. Not that it's a bad phone, but it's not worth 800$ to me! Nothing to make it stand vs the competition other than buttery smooth software. Even tho, it lacks features of phones at that price PLUS it has several issues.
  • Heh never knew it was an issue till I started reading articles about it. Google should absolutely fix it though - it's unacceptable.
  • Wonder how long we are going to be waiting on a fix for this one! On Verizon here and still have major connectivity issues, dropped calls, other party not being able to hear me but I can hear them. And this is after 3 replacements all with the same issues!! After the Dec update a lot of websites issued statements that the LTE issues were resolved with the most recent update. Sounds like they just did a quick fix and it happened to work for some so now all of a sudden its resolved? All Google wants to do is issue replacement phones, which on one hand is good, but its not getting to the root of the problem as they keep popping up. Blue tooth connectivity, LTE connectivity, these are all connection issues. Two months into this phone without a permanent fix? I have owned many phones over the years and never experienced dropped calls and connectivity problems like with this phone. And this occurs all while in areas that have outstanding signal. Totally unacceptable to be waiting for this long without something other then a quick fix
  • My iphone 5s has the same crackling with the Perfect Piano app. It's nowhere near as pronounced but it's there.
  • I have only noticed the distortion on Navigation and set to Louder setting. Why so many posts /comments from people who don't have the phone? Trolling much? Too much time on your hands?
  • Jealousy, most likely. Lol
  • So not only did Android Central have to come out with a guide about lens flaring for the Pixel, they also came out with a guide about audio distortion. How's that for the best Android phone of the year, as picked by some Android bloggers? /sarcasm
  • Odd nobody seems to cal out the app developers to fix this problem. If this was widespread, on all apps then it would be a phone hardware problem