LG did something peculiar with its new G6 flagship smartphone, releasing it with wireless charging as a headline feature in the United States and an upgraded, quad-DAC audio system as a highlight in its native South Korea. There’s no option to have both on your phone, and no opportunity (short of importing the device yourself) to pick the other market’s variant. Today we posted our comprehensive review of the American G6, but I want to talk about the Korean alternative. I want to tell you exactly how much better it is.
The universal problem faced by manufacturers of Android phones is how to differentiate their product from all the others running the same base software. Some would argue that it’s a futile task, and that only an integrated hardware-plus-software approach like Apple’s can really be successful in the long run. That’s probably true, but an Android phone with a single killer feature can still make waves in the market. That’s what I think the quad-DAC LG G6 is.
In a sea of Android sameness, here’s true hardware differentiation
I’ve been able to test the American G6 extensively and recently took delivery of its Korean sibling. The first phone had me scratching my head for reasons to keep my SIM inside it instead of returning to my Google Pixel and its superlative camera. It’s a very nice phone, but its software is worryingly bad and its camera and battery are just okay. The second G6, however, was so damn impressive that it made me hate the Pixel’s mediocre sound output. I hadn’t noticed how pedestrian the Pixel was in that respect until the radically superior Korean G6 showed up. That’s my definition of a killer feature.
Introduced with the LG V20 last year, LG’s quad-DAC setup employs four digital-to-analog converters to do the job of one, using some clever engineering to combine their calculations and thus purify the output from the headphone jack. Combined with an excellent amplifier, this system delivers an improvement in sound that is instantly and easily recognizable (though it does nothing for wireless audio, mind you).
You don’t have to be an audiophile to appreciate how much better everything sounds on this LG G6, as evidenced by my colleague Sam Byford — an unapologetic AirPods user — also being wowed by it. At the same time, if you want a smartphone that you can call the one for audiophiles to get, the quad-DAC LG G6 is definitely the one. It’s vastly better than the V20; its crude and bulky design has more seams than a Dr. Frankenstein creation.
The best part about the upgraded audio on the G6 is that it’s universal and requires no extra labor from the user other than flipping a toggle in the settings. Every app benefits from it, and I was first blown away by the difference it makes while listening to a YouTube stream of The Knife’s "Silent Shout," hardly an audio snob’s overelaborate high-res system. The G6 made my Pixel sound tinny by comparison; the G6 had fuller bass, wider dynamic range, and a compendium of other small improvements that all boiled down to it just being much better.
But if it’s so good, why, you might ask, does LG make it a toggle rather than an automatic feature? The answer is that it drains the battery in a hurry. Yes, every good thing comes at a price, and let’s not forget that for LG there’s a monetary cost as well. For music fans like me, this is a huge deal and a reason to keep the Pixel on the shelf for a little while longer — but for a lot of others, the wireless charging stuff might in fact be preferable. The problem for LG, though? Those people can get wireless charging from many other places. What they can’t get is sound like this.