LG G5’s Hi-Fi Plus audio module is like an ammo clip for astounding audio

Making its first appearance here at MWC in Barcelona, the G5 is poised to be a revolutionary leap forward for LG — and smartphones in general. That’s because it’s the first phone from any major brand to introduce a modular design, allowing you to personalize the handset to suit your daily needs. And, as an audioholic, it’s no surprise that the component I’m most excited about is the G5’s new high resolution module, the Hi-Fi Plus with B&O Play, a dedicated chunk of hi-res audio circuitry that can be locked in and out of the bottom of the phone like an ammunition clip.

LG has crafted plenty of audio devices in the past, including its own dedicated multiroom audio system, MusicFlow. But the Hi-Fi Plus has some serious pedigree because it was designed in partnership with high-end audio company Bang & Olufsen. That’s a name that carries real weight in audiophile circles thanks to speakers like the mind-blowing Beolab 90 speakers (priced at a cool $80,000).

There have been other companies that have released smartphones with hi-res audio support in the past but many have been a half-baked effort, while others (like the Sony Xperia) are pretty hard to come by in the United States. The G5’s new module comes with neither of those caveats and plenty of reasons to be excited about this new turn for LG’s flagship phone.

The goods

Modular design aside, the Hi-Fi Plus’ most intriguing features are its 32bit Sabre ES9028C2M DAC (digital to analog converter), and its Sabre9602c amplifier, which will allow the device to playback 24bit/192kHz hi-res tracks. A trusted name in hi-fi, ESS’ Sabre components are in a wide array of high-end receivers and other audio components for brands like Pioneer, Yamaha, and others. That kind of quality circuitry is something audiophiles have been looking for in a smartphone for years.

The system also comes with a headphone upgrade in Bang & Olufsen’s H3 in-ear headphones, which will run you around $200 on their own. That leads us to wonder what it will cost you to buy the module for your G5 — all LG is saying at present is that the pricing will be “reasonable,” but there’s no telling what that will translate to in dollars and cents. Then again, even a modest hi-res portable audio player will usually cost around $500-1,000, so anything under that healthy sum may be worthwhile considering.

Performance

While listening through the provided H3 in-ears, I was relatively impressed with the system — and more enamored with clipping the module in and out of the phone than I’d like to admit.

That kind of quality circuitry is something audiophiles have been looking for in a smartphone for years.

But when I auditioned it through my Westone W40 balanced armature in-ears, things really opened up. Though LG only provided a modest collection of hi-res tracks to audition at the press conference, they sounded wonderful in my short time listening. Bass was rich and full, while drums had a smooth, textured thump that really grabbed hold. The dynamic expression wasn’t mind blowing, but the system offered a crystal clear exposure of the instrumentation, and sparkling details in the vocals that exposed subtle nuances like the soft puff of lip movements in the mic.

It’s hard to give a full endorsement after such a short time with the system — especially when we haven’t seen the price yet. But suffice it to say that, for audio lovers, this is one of the most exciting products to hit smartphones in a long time — who wants to take both phone and a portable audio player along every where they go?

I’m very much looking forward to spending more time with the G5 and its new Hi-Fi Plus module, and even considering looking into it as a possible upgrade. And, as a stalwart iPhone owner, that’s saying something.

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