Tested: Active Noise Cancellation

Posted:  October 14, 2011   By:    4 comments   


We have a hypothesis, Sony Ericsson Xperia phones, especially the Xperia arc, play and ray all have one exceptional feature — all three devices make very clear phone calls.

We based this on our experience with the three devices and comparing it with the many other devices that we’ve reviewed. Time and time again, the dual-mic Xperias shine through in the call quality department.

Calls on the dual-mic Xperias are always loud and clear in any situations. Another thing that we’ve notice is that the Xperia emit this faint but noticeable feeback of your own voice in the speaker so you know that the phone’s microphone is picking up your voice clearly. It’s difficult to describe in words but those of you who are using Xperia arc, play or ray, the next time you’re on a call try to listen to the feedback, you can hear yourself in the speaker.

It sounds weird but it is something you need to experience to understand and appreciate.

Anyway…based on this, we set out to put our hypothesis to the test. So, we took an Xperia ray, an iPhone 4 and a Plantronics Discovery 975 Bluetooth headset and made calls in different environments to test the active noise cancellation feature on each device. Here are our findings.

Methodology
The test method is simple enough, we hooked up a phone that will be receiving the test calls to a voice recorder via its 3.5mm jack. With this, we recorded calls directly. The microphone on the receiving-end is muted to eliminate any feedback.

Once that is setup, we proceed to make phone calls to the receiving phone while in out test environments. In this case, we made calls in three noise environments — quiet, in car and extreme noise.

At the same time, we also took recording samples of the different sound environments using the voice recorder to make as control samples (a non-variable). This will give listeners an indication of the actual noise levels present in those environments.

Test One: Quiet Environment
In our first test, we set out to collect recordings of each device in a quiet environment. This will give us a baseline as to the overall microphone performance of the three devices.

Compare it with:
iPhone 4
Xperia ray
Discovery 975

In this instance, there is not much to separate the iPhone 4 and Xperia ray, although we do feel that the Xperia ray produced a clearer sound with a fuller body. While the iPhone 4′s call quality is good, it sounded hollow and muffled when compared to the Xperia ray.

With the Discovery 975, things were very different. While the call was still clear, the microphone on the 975 seemed over-sensitive which resulted in a voice that sounds broken and highly strung. Also, we note that, in the call, voice from the 975 sounded hollow and lack the body similar to the two phones tested.

In this test, we’ll give it to the Xperia ray but not by much. It produced a better, more pleasant sound but the iPhone 4 was not far behind.

Test Two: In Car at 100km/h
In the second test, we took the three devices for a spin — literally. So we jumped into a car and drove at 100km/h with the radio switched on to mid volume level. This test attempts to replicate the typical scenario a user would be in when making phone calls.

Compare it with:
iPhone 4S
Xperia ray
Discovery 975

In this case, we find that all three devices was able to effective isolate the background noise to enable a clear voice coming through to the other end. Once again, the Xperia ray was the most accomplished in the trio, producing clear, full-bodied sound with almost zero background noise. The iPhone 4 while was still good at isolating background noise, produced a more muffled voice compared to the ray.

Noise cancellation performance on the Plantronics was also good with all of the road and engine noise cancelled out. The headset did pickup some noise from the radio but it wasn’t much to bother the conversation. We do note however that the same over-sensitive microphone issue which produced a highly strung caller voice heard in the first test is prevalent in this test as well. While the caller’s voice still sounded clear and distinct, the headset once again was beaten by the phones.

Test Three: Extreme Noise
In the third and final test we attempted to create an extreme environment that would post a challenge to the active noise cancellation software and hardware of the three devices. And so for this test, we headed to the bathroom.

The bathroom presented a unique set of challenges for the devices as there is a layer of echo that the noise cancellation software has to isolate and cancel out. At the same time, the echo amplifies any noise created in bathroom. To challenge the noise cancellation software and hardware even further, we poured a steady stream of water into a bucket which was also filled with water. This created a very noisy environment for the caller and pushed the noise cancellation feature of each device to the limit.

Compare it with:
iPhone 4S
Xperia ray
Discovery 975

Once again the Xperia ray proved to be the best of the lot canceling out the echo and the loud noise of pouring water without much trouble. Voice quality is consistent throughout and it was the clearest among the three devices. The active noise cancellation setup on the Xperia ray looks to be the most sophisticated and effective in this test.

The iPhone 4 is again in second place. While the active noise cancellation of the iPhone 4 was as effective as the Xperia ray it didn’t posses a similar level of finesse. When the noise of the pouring water kicked in, we noticed that the voice quality on the iPhone 4 diminishing and sounding muffled as a result of the software trying to isolate the background noise.

Voice quality of the Discovery 975 is the worse of the three in this instance, but its noise cancellation performance is the best. The sound of the stream of water in the background was virtually eliminated but the headset struggled to isolate the echo present in the earlier part of the video. The echo was a challenge for the the headset as the microphone needed a constant voice input to effectively isolate any background noise.

When the caller paused for a breath, the noise cancellation stopped and when the caller continued with his conversation, the headset had to start all over again in sampling and isolating the background noise resulting in an on-off noise cancellation affect.

At the end of the day
To our ears at least, the tests prove the the Sony Ericsson Xperia ray has the best noise cancellation performance compared to the iPhone 4 and Discovery 975 headset. And because the Xperia arc and xperia play have a similar setup, we can also conclude the these two devices have similar noise cancellation performance.

Despite being our favourite Bluetooth headset, the Plantronics Discovery 975 was outclassed in this group. Perhaps it wasn’t fair to compare a headset with mobile phones but it was still fun to find out. Having said that, the tests also proved that the 975 is still a capable headset with good active noise cancellation performance but in this case, mobiles phones offer much better performance.

And there you have it. While not scientific — and we don’t claim it to be — our tests show that active noise cancellation is a great feature on mobile phones and Bluetooth headsets. It gives you the freedom to talk normally in noisy environments where you would normally have to shout if there wasn’t any active noise cancellation available.

So the next time you’re getting a new smartphone, make sure it has a secondary microphone. It’s very useful especially in the Sony Ericsson Xperia ray.

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4 Comments for Tested: Active Noise Cancellation

Lizzam Abdul Latiff

Somehow I'm getting "This Video Is Private" error.

    soyacincau

    Whoops. Should work now. :)

Foo

+1 for attention to detail in investigation.

Alien

wow cool this made me to buy Sony Xperia