Today we are going to look at the LG V40 ThinQ Android smartphone, one of the very few remaining smartphones with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. But this smartphones, like its predecessors, doesn’t just come with a 3.5mm headphone out; it is also built with a really good-sounding DAC (Digital to Analog Converter). In this review we are going to cover just the audio part of the LG V40. We’ll save the rest of the features or the V40 as a whole on another review. But, just to give you an idea, seriously I think the LG V40 ThinQ is one of the most underrated smartphones released recently. There are a lot of flagship smartphones released, especially October last year. And somehow they have managed to take the spotlight from the LG V40. It’s a little bit unfortunate, because I think this is a really good smartphone and has improved a lot since the LG V20. Anyway, let’s get back to the main topic of this review. Is the LG V40 a good or the best sounding smartphone for the music lovers and even to some audiophiles out there? Let’s find out in out LG V40 audio review below.
LG V40 ThinQ Audio Review – Because the DAC Matters
Each flagship smartphone nowadays has one or two main unique features. Some phones are really good at taking photos or videos, some have long battery life, some with their display, and the LG V40 ThinQ is really good when it comes to audio quality. Seriously, this is one main reason (aside from several others) why you should get the LG V40. LG didn’t just put a 3.5mm headphone jack, but they also built the V40 with a really good sounding DAC.
For those who are uninitiated, a DAC or Digital-to-Analog Converter is a small chip that is responsible in converting digital signal into an analog signal. You can find a DAC in almost all audio-producing device. A Bluetooth headphone has its own built-in DAC, a laptop has its own, even the Samsung Galaxy and S series with 3.5mm headphone out also have their own DAC.
But the LG V40 ThinQ is not built with any ordinary DAC. It’s built with an advanced Hi-Fi audio system – the ES9218P HiFi SoC with 32-bit stereo channels, by ESS Technology. This Quad DAC was first introduced in the LG V20. But during those days, the phone was tuned by B&O if I am not mistaken. The sound characteristics or its tuning was a bit different compared to the new LG V40. This time, the LG V40 was tuned by Meridian. By the way, the LG V30, V30+, G7, G8 also features the ESS ES9218P Quad DAC system.
The ES9218P is a System-on-Chip that offers impressive sound quality to mobile devices, designed to meet the demanding needs of mobile applications. The ES9218P is built around the legendary ESS SABRE® DAC. The technology provides amazing sound quality with a stable image and immersive sound-stage. The ultra-low noise QUAD DAC Technology allows users to hear every nuanced detail while the 2V output amplifier can support even the most demanding headphones, providing ample power for clear, solid base with crisp highs.
The ES9218P also has improved performance and allows new customization features to match the sound-quality expectations of the most discerning listeners. Users can now customize the digital filters within the QUAD DAC technology to their specific tastes, and the sound can be further refined with additional user controls.
Technically speaking, the ES9218P is a really good DAC for a smartphone, but it is not in league with the likes of ES9028 PRO SABRE DAC – ESS’ current flagship DAC; or the VERITA AK4499EQ DAC from AKM. Those are real high-end DACs used in audiophile-grade portable digital audio players; like the Astell&Kern SP1000 or HiBy R6 (PRO). If LG used those kinds of DAC chips with their smartphone, the phone would end up a lot thicker and will run a lot hotter. And definitely, it would be priced (way) higher.
Although it’s not as “high-end” compared to the ES9028 / ES9038 PRO SABRE DACs, the ES9218P is still a really good DAC. And this is what we are going to investigate in this review. How good is the sound quality of the LG V40, and how does the audio quality of the LG V40 compare to a dedicated portable DAP, like the Opus#1S.
LG V40 ThinQ Specifications
|Operating System||Android 8.1 (Oreo), with LG UX 7.1|
|Display||6.4-inch, OLED touchscreen, 16M colors
1440x3120 resolution, 19.5:9 ratio, 538 ppi density
Corning Gorilla Glass 5 (front and back)
HDR10, Always-on display
|Protection||IP68 dust/water proof (up to 1.5m for 30 mins)
Shock Resistant - MIL-STD-810G Tested
|Chipset||Qualcomm Snapdragon 845|
|CPU||up to 2.8 GHz x 4 + 1.7 GHz x 4 Octa-Core|
|System Memory||6GB RAM|
|Internal Storage||64GB / 128GB|
|Expandable Storage||microSD/microSDXC up to 1TB, same tray with SIM|
|Rear Camera||Standard - 12 MP, FoV 78˚, f/1.5, 1/2.6", 1.4µm, 3-axis OIS, dual pixel PDAF
Super Wide-Angle - 16 MP, FoV 107˚, f/1.9, 1/3.1", 1.0µm, no AF
Zoom Telephoto - 12 MP, FoV 45˚, f/2.4, 1.0µm, 2x optical zoom, OIS, PDAF
|Front Facing Camera|| Standard Angle - 8 MP, FoV 80˚, f/1.9, 1.4µm
Wide-Angle - 5 MP, FoV 90˚, f/2.2, 1.4µm
|Video Recording||Rear - 2160p @ 30/60fps, [email protected]/60/240fps, 24-bit/192kHz stereo sound rec., HDR video, gyro-EIS
Front - 1080p @ 30fps
|Audio||Loudspeaker with Boombox Speaker
3.5mm headphone out
ESS ES9218P 32bit HiFi SoC QUAD DAC
Audio Tuned with Meridian
24-bit/48kHz HD Audio Recorder
DTS:X Virtual Surround
Super Far-Field Voice Recognition
Wind Noise Filter
Hi-Fi Streaming (MQA)
|Network Type||GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE|
|SIM||Single SIM (Nano-SIM) or Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)|
|WiFi||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, hotspot|
|Bluetooth||BT 5.0, A2DP, AVRCP etc. LE, aptX HD|
|GPS||S-GPS, A-GPS, and Qualcomm Service|
|NFC||Android Beam (NFC)|
|Radio||Stereo FM radio with RDS|
|USB||USB 2.0 Type-C connector|
|Sensors||Fingerprint (rear-mounted), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer|
|Battery||3,300 mAh Non-Removable
wireless charging and Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 support
|Dimensions||158.8 x 75.7 x 7.6 mm (6.25 x 2.98 x 0.30 in)|
|Colors Available||Platinum Gray, Carmine Red, New Aurora Black, New Moroccan Blue|
|Weight||169 g (5.96 oz)|
|Release Date||October 2018|
|SRP (At Launch)||~$900 to $980 USD|
A Quick Look on the LG V40
Out unit comes in a nice black box with the V40 ThinQ logo on the front portion. Removing the top cover reveals an LG branded piece of cloth that you use to wipe the phone. You are also greeted with some of the (new) highlighted features of the LG V40. The rest of the accessories are found on a compartment underneath the phone itself.
The box includes some reading materials, the “key” to the SIM card/microSD card tray, a fast charger, USB Type-A to Type C cable and an earphone. It’s nice that LG added an earphone, so that you can immediately try out the sound quality of the LG V40. But if you’re into music and you love the detail, you care about audio quality, tuning and etc, then don’t use the included earphone. It’s usable or serviceable, but doesn’t sound good at all. The B&O H3 earphone included with the LG V20 sounds better compared to the earphone included in the V40.
Anyway, I assume you have a better pair of earphones anyway since you are aiming for a smartphone with a good audio quality in the first place. No matter how good sounding your source is, if your headphone / earphone doesn’t sound good (or the other way around), then don’t expect to have a good music listening experience. From the audio file, to the source (music player) down to the final output, your headphone / earphone, everything must be good (at least).
If at this point, you don’t have any good sounding earphones, I highly recommend you get one. There are many companies out there that offers good to fantastic sounding earphones, like: Campfire Audio, Audeze, Fiio, Sennheiser, Noble Audio, and many others. The list just goes on. At the end of the day, it will come down to one’s sound preference and budget.
On the right-hand side, you can see the SIM card / microSD card tray and the power button. On the other side, there’s a dedicated Google Assistant button and the volume keys ( – / + ).
At the bottom portion of the V40 are the 3.5mm headphone out and a USB 2.0 Type-C connector. There are also holes for the bottom firing speakers. At the back, you can see the fingerprint sensor and the three cameras with flash. The camera quality on this phone is great. You get a standard / portrait mode, wide angle and zoom. There are several filters and effects as well. Camera quality is not phenomenal, but it is definitely an improvement from the V20. We’ll discuss more on this on a separate review as this review is focused more on the audio quality of the V40.
LG V40 Audio Options
The first screenshot above is the main menu for the sound quality and effects. Once you plug your earphone or headphone, the HiFi Quad DAC option becomes available. There’s also a DTS:X 3D surround, but I haven’t used this since it simply ruins the tuning and sound signature of the earphones I use. It’s fake 3D! Perhaps with full sized cans it would be a different story. But the option is there if you want to try it out.
There are three digital filter options, the “short” filter is the default. If you have a sensitive earphone, you may be able to tell the difference. It does affect the sound characteristics a little bit. The Sharp filter seems to be the more neutral or balanced sounding. But again, this may depend on the earphone you use and the genre of music you listen to. But it is good that the option is there.
There’s also sound presets and an equalizer. If you’re using the built-in music player, and if you like tuning the sound of your earphones, this will come in handy. Otherwise, most popular music player apps, like the PowerAmp, HiBy Music or Onkyo’s HF Player comes with their respective built-in EQ and presets as well.
I’m not really the EQ-kind of guy. I like to keep things at default or at reference sounding. Because I want to keep the sound signature or characteristics of my earphone or headphone instead.
LG V40 Sound Impressions
I have been using the LG V40 ThinQ for a couple of months now. I mainly use the HiBy Music app to play the music I listen to and I use either the Campfire Audio Andromeda or the Atlas for my impressions. But most of the time I use the Andromeda since it is somewhat reference-sounding like. It has a balanced tonality, with great treble extension without being sibilant; mids are crystal clear and it is a transparent and revealing earphone. The Atlas is more of a V-shape earphone, powered by a 10mm dynamic driver. It’s good for EDMs and the likes.
To my ears, the LG V40 sounds pretty much balanced in terms of tonality. I don’t think it’s leaning towards the warm side, but it doesn’t sound analytical or dry as well. It sounds natural with good amount of extension in the treble section as well as in the bass region. It also has a good amount of sound staging and imaging; both depth and width and doesn’t sound cluttered at all. And yes, this is a hi-res audio player. LG just didn’t put that hi-res logo unlike most portable digital audio players nowadays claiming to be hi-res and all.
I have not tried or listed to the LG V30 series yet. So I don’t have any idea if they sound similar or not, but based on specs sheet, they use the same DAC chip. So I’m guessing sound quality is also good, but the tuning on the V30 series may be different. I do however have tested and auditioned the LG V20, and between the V20 and V40 they do sound quite different. The LG V20 was tuned by B&O, and to my ears, it sounds warm and has a sound signature or characteristics that is more “consumer friendly”, rather than a reference-like tuning. I’m not saying that the LG V40 is reference-grade, but it does sound neutral and balanced overall. Perhaps some would find it lean-sounding.
When I compared the LG V40 against the Opus#1S, I was surprised to hear that sound quality is very close. The details are there, even micro details and small nuance that other smartphones are not capable of producing, the LG V40 doesn’t have any problems with those, just like my Opus#1S. The Opus#1S does overtake the V40 when it comes to clarity and noise floor. The Opus#1S has a very low noise floor and you can’t hear any hiss or background noise even with a sensitive IEM or earphone.
Unfortunately, the LG V40 doesn’t have a really low noise floor. What does this mean? Using the Campfire Audio Andromeda earphone, I can hear some hiss or background noise. The Andromeda is a sensitive IEM, so the solution to this problem if ever you are bothered by the background noise is to use the iFi iEMatch adapter. Although, I just have to emphasize that it depends on the earphone you use and if you can pick up the hiss or not. Most consumers aren’t really bothered by the noise, or can’t even hear them. If you’re like me that is sensitive to hissing or background noise, you might want to use that iEMatch. Again, this is a “your millage may vary” situation; you may or may not hear the hiss, but it is there.
One reason why the Opus#1S was able to achieve a very low noise floor is that it physically uses two DAC chips, two Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips to be exact. Despite being called a “Quad DAC”, the LG V40 doesn’t really have four physical DAC chips. It’s just one ES9218P DAC chip. Not to mention that the DAC chip is more or less installed on the same PCB as the rest of the components of the smartphone, so some noise leakage is bound to happen.
LG V40 Price and Availability
The LG V40 ThinQ is now available in the US. It’s available in Aurora Black, Platinum Gray, Carmine Red, and Moroccan Blue colors. The retail price varies actually, so it’s somewhere around $900 to $980 USD. You can check out the latest pricing and availability via the link below.
For US: LG V40 ThinQ is available on Amazon.com here
LG V40 Audio Review: Conclusion
At the end of the day I can confidently say, based on my time and experience with the LG V40, that sound quality is definitely there and it can definitely compete or with an entry level to mid-range dedicated portable DAPs. My only real issue with the LG V40 when it comes to sound quality is its “not-so-low” noise floor. Don’t get me wrong, the noise floor isn’t bad. You’re not going to hear hissing or background noise all the time. However, if you are using a very sensitive earphone or IEM; you may hear it, especially with mellow or soft sounding tracks. But if you’re listening to rock and other loud music, I doubt that you will hear that background noise.
Another thing that I don’t like is that they didn’t implemented a manual gain control. You can’t manually set low gain or high gain with the V40, even with its predecessors. Again the iFi iEMatch would come in handy, but if you plug in a harder to drive full sized headphone, I think it automatically ramps up the output levels. I can understand why LG decided not to include a manual gain switch, since some consumers might not be aware of it and may accidentally damage their hearing if used incorrectly. But it would be nice if a manual gain option would be available to “advanced” users.
So would I recommend the LG V40 for music lovers and audiophiles on the go? Definitely yes. For audiophile snobs and critical audio listeners who simply want the best out there; perhaps not. Better stick with a higher-end dedicated portable DAP, unless you want a smartphone / DAP on the go. The V40 is also a nice upgrade if you are coming from the LG V20. Just note that the V20 is warmer compared to the V40; some would prefer a warm-sounding source or player. But the V40 has refined tuning and settings compared to the V20.
Smartphones with dedicated 3.5mm headphone out are a dying breed. There are only a few of them left this 2019 and most of them don’t even sound good. In my experience, only the LG V / G series smartphones, with Quad DAC technology, are the best in terms of audio quality.