I was astonished when I heard my first compact disc. It was of course a digital copy of an analog recording that I was well familiar with. The dynamics and clarity were astonishing when compared to the 8-track version, but it still had tape hiss. In fact, the tape hiss might have been even more pronounced because of the clarity. There were a few all digital recordings then, but not many. A few labels, such as Telarc and Denon started releasing astonishing realistic-sounding digital recordings of classical music from around the world. Their secret was simple. Don’t mess it up by processing the music at all. Just record it and release it. You could hear every note, every breath, and every chair adjustment of the performers. There was no way I was going back to compact cassettes or vinyl after hearing such perfection.
But things changed with MP3s. Yes they are convenient, and yes, they really can sound pretty good. But most music is so dynamically compressed now that the life has been squeezed out of it. And of course, you really lose the width and depth of a recording if the mp3 was saved in too low of a bit rate.
So when trying to compare the Hi-Fi DAC from ESS of the LG V20, would anyone really be able to tell the difference between it and your average phone? First of all, LG is using the HyperStream II Sabre ES9218 from ESS.
Well, first of all, you can only turn on the Hi-Fi Quad DAC chip when headphones are plugged in. You essential have two digital to analog converters per channel for a total of four. I have to say, that any well recorded album regardless of musical genre sounds incredibly natural and lively on the V20. Turning on the Hi-Fi DAC on a standard resolution recording does enable up-sampling of the 16-bit/44.1kHz recordings whether they are in mp3, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, AAC, or the format of your choice. But it can’t work miracles. A 16-bit/44.1kHz recording has a finite amount of information, and while up-sampling might smooth out the top end, it can’t really create something that isn’t there. As a result, most recordings will sound almost the same. With that being said, any standard recording on the V20 sounds better than any other phone, tablet, mp3 player, iPod, etc., than I have ever heard. Even without the awesome capabilities of the Quad DAC, the V20 has a really powerful and low distortion headphone amplifier. Don't forget, this has a real headphone jack for use with real headphones; even large heaphones that require loads of juice to power them.
Still, I wanted to hear what the V20’s advanced audio capabilities could really do.