Earlier today we reported that Google's latest Pixels had some low audio quality when recording videos, but that isn't the only issue to have appeared since the pair of phones launched. There are also widespread reports that the Pixel 3 XL's two stereo front-facing speakers have drastically different volumes. According to a statement made by Google on Reddit, this profound difference in sound balance is intentional.
It's hard to call that stereo.
Reports of the behavior are widespread, so much so that it seems to be a universal hardware problem. The issue manifests as an audible difference in volume between the top and bottom/left and right front-facing speakers resulting in imbalanced stereo output. For some perspective, Google's Nexus 6P was well-known for having the same behavior manifest as a latent defect, and there are reports that the OG Razer Phone has the same issue. Some have claimed last year's Pixel 2 and 2 XL had a similar problem, but it was much less pronounced. Reaching further back, the Nexus 6 may have had its own balance issues, and even the iPhone and Galaxy S9 — which combine the earpiece with a bottom-firing speaker for stereo audio — suffer some degree of imbalanced audio.
Hi all, This is by design. We specially designed speakers that allow for louder sound (40% louder than last year) and better low frequency response. We use new amplifier technology with advanced speaker protection algorithms to push these speakers harder and really get every last bit of performance out of them. We also worked closely with the expert tuning of a Grammy-award winning music producer to enhance the audio in a way that plays to the strengths of the hardware system.
Google's comment directly states that this imbalanced audio output was "by design," and therefore a conscious decision, perhaps something like Xiaomi's Mi Max 2, which tunes the bottom speaker for bass. What makes that explanation strange is that the smaller Pixel 3 doesn't have the same problem. In our tests, the Pixel 3 also has slightly imbalanced audio, it's nothing compared to the difference between speakers on the Pixel 3 XL.
Ugh, found out the Pixel 3 XL has a sound imbalance.
The bottom speaker is much louder than the top one, it stood out right away as soon as I started playing music.
2, 2XL, 3 also vary, but slightly. 3 XL stands out.
Someone also noticed here https://t.co/XTem6HrRfr.
— Artem Russakovskii (@ArtemR) October 17, 2018
Obviously, there's going to be a difference in available space between the top and bottom bezels given the Pixel 3 Xl's sizable notch and cameras. This difference in volume could easily be explained by differently sized drivers. Teardowns don't seem to have focused on the subject, but the driver on the bottom appears to be quite chunky, while the enclosure for the top speaker is a good deal smaller.
Still, it's unfortunate that the stereo front-facing speakers on the Pixel 3 XL have such a drastic difference in volume. If their output couldn't be balanced, the purpose for having both the phone's speakers be front-facing seems to have been lost. Two-channel stereo sound isn't really that useful if the two speakers don't sound similar, and if Google wanted to do a dual-driver setup with each tuned to different frequencies, the compromises made in design to offer a stereo-optimized experience could be a bit pointless.