With LG’s V series smartphones, the proposition is simple: connect a pair of headphones and you’re off to the races with an ESS DAC/headphone chip for some of the best portable sound in the world this side of a DAP. Yes, the LGs sound better than any Apple iPhone. That’s as true for lossy Spotify as it is for Tidal HiFi’s lossless.
The V series also maintain pole smartphone audio position once we park the headphones and repurpose a V30 or V40 as a network streamer (with touchscreen). Catch up on that coverage here.
Once we move to hi-res content, the gotchas come thick and fast. LG’s Android OS doesn’t tell us what it’s doing with sample rates and bit depths but Roon’s signal path panel lets us know that the V30’s operating system converts 24bit content to 16 and, if forum chatter is to be believed, resamples 44.1kHz to 48kHz. It would appear that the V30 and V40’s headphone output is capped at 16bit/48kHz.
Only the Tidal app takes us higher; and by the power of MQAskull. MQA (the company) worked with LG to have the Tidal app’s digital output bypass Android’s upsampling/resampling to arrive bit-perfectly at the ESS 9218P chip.
Time to add a USB DAC.
With AudioQuest’s DragonFly Cobalt (review here), the proposition is simple: connect it to a pair of headphones and then to (almost) any smartphone’s digital port for one of the best-sounding portable audio rigs in the world this side of a DAP. Yes, the LG V30/40 sounds better with the Cobalt than without. That’s as true for lossy Spotify as it is for Tidal HiFi’s lossless.
The Cobalt-ameliorated LG also maintains pole audio position when we park the headphones and repurpose the duo as a network streamer (with touchscreen).
Once we move to hi-res content, the gotchas come thick and fast. Roon’s signal path tells us that the LG phone’s USB port refuses to push the Android OS’s bit rate ceiling above 16 bits whilst the DragonFly’s blue status light tells us that the stream is held to 48kHz.
The Tidal app, once again, comes to rescue. Its output lights up the Cobalt with ‘MQA purple’ — just as we’d expect. Bringing Qobuz and locally stored hi-res file into the USB streaming picture is USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP), which injects its own USB driver into the phone’s OS for bit-perfect digital playback that, with the same content, offers superior sound quality to the Tidal app.
If we’re to engage Roon in a similar manner, a move to an iPhone or iPad is needed. With the Cobalt connected to an iPad with Apple’s Lightning adapter, we wave goodbye to any OS-induced bit- or sample-rate ceiling. Qobuz-sourced and locally-stored hi-res content play all the way up to the DragonFly USB receiver chip’s maximum: 24bit/96kHz. Nice.
To go higher, we return to Tidal but not their iOS app. Roon itself will play Tidal streams, conducting the first unfold of its own accord until we tell it that our DragonFly is also capable of the second unfold (decoding) and has an MQA filter onboard (rendering). Full MQA ahoy!
The iPad’s iOS demands less chicanery than the Android running on the LG and, with the DragonFly Cobalt attached, sounds a whole lot better than its own 3.5mm output and quite a bit better than the LG V30/40.
What a ride learning about hi-res playback on these devices! A ride that takes us through a wormhole that few would call beginner-friendly. This show n’ tell is for the more hardened hi-fi enthusiast:
Camera: Olaf von Voss | Editor: John Darko