You probably know by now that the LG G5 is a modular phone. The bottom of the device is removable and can be swapped with different accessories that multiply the phone possibilities. A couple of them caught our attention: a little module that will amaze audiophiles, and a bulky module that adds physical camera buttons. The official name is LG HiFi Plus and plugging it into the G5 expands the size of your device by a little less than 1.3cm. In exchange, it offers an spectacular improvement on the music you can listen to.
Inside the module there is a Sabre DAC 9602C. It's manufactured by ESS Technology, a veteran Californian company that sells custom HiFi solutions. The Sabre 92602C was introduced during CES 2015 and its specifically designed to improved sound quality on smartphones and tablets.
DAC plus battery.
Does it make any difference? Yes, a lot. The LG HiFi Plus amplifies the sound signal and plays 32-bit audio in high fidelity at 384 kHz. What it does, technically, is improving the original signal by amplifying it and reducing noise dramatically. Sound will be more powerful, clear and packed with subtle tones.
With the accessory, you can be listening to a song you've heard a million times and discover that there's been another instrument playing in the background or that you can actually hear the lead singer catching his breath before the chorus. Music comes alive.
All of this happens, obviously, if you're using a good source with enough sound quality. If you're listening to one of those awful YouTube videos the result will be exactly the same. That said, music playing from a service like Spotify or Apple Music or Tidal -- all of which include support for high fidelity tracks -- should be enough to appreciate the effect.
Another important detail that you should take into account is the headphones you use. They must be capable of handling a very high frequency response; otherwise it will limit the signal the headphones receive from the LG HiFi Plus. I've been trying it with over the ear Bang & Olufsen Play H3 headphones and some random AKG mid-range in-ear headphones, and the difference is huge. Sound with the AKG is actually more powerful. But it's also more metallic, and the balance is much worse.
I have my doubts about whether LG will sell the HiFi Plus separately or in a package deal along with an additional product, like the B&O Play H3. ( think most audiophiles love to choose their own headphones and will probably prefer to buy just the DAC module.) LG couldn't answer this specific question and has yet to provide information on when the LG HiFi will be available or its price. The only thing we know so far is that it will be in US stores before winter.
LG Cam Plus
Also: LG Cam Plus
The Cam Plus is another module that the G5 has to offer, though it is far less interesting for enthusiasts. It adds physical buttons on your device to turn on the camera, shoot pictures, control the shutter, zoom and record. There are also some functionality to adjust exposure and adds an additional 1200 mAh battery to give the phone a little more oomph.
That said, using it means you'll have a bulky protuberance in the bottom on your phone. Allegedly it enhances the grip when you need to take photos.
It's not a bad idea. But the physical controls must be big enough or the texture different enough so that I can recognise each control with my finger without having to look the device. That's not the case.
The buttons are too small and flat to be as effective as I'd like them to be. A secondary sensor or even a FLIR one would also be nice nicer. Then again, modular smartphones like the G5 are brand new, so it will inevitably take some time for accessory makers to hammer out all the kinds.
Top image: The DAC is the all black product on the left side with the Bang & Olufsen branding.