Apple’s iPhone XS and XS Max carry over the stereo speaker configuration seen on past iPhone models, with the ear speaker and down-firing loudspeaker acting as discrete units when holding the phone in a landscape orientation. The design has one speaker directing audio toward the user, while the other channels sound out to the side.
For 2018, Apple tweaked audio output algorithms for better stereo separation, though the difference from iPhone X is negligible. With the Pixel 3 XL, both speakers fire directly toward the listener, so it should have an edge over iPhone in terms of clarity.
To test sound output, we positioned a boom microphone a fair distance away from both phones and played a variety of music and video content through their respective speakers. Results were gleaned from both live listening and recorded audio.
Overall, the Pixel 3 XL outperforms the iPhone with louder highs and a wider dynamic range of frequencies. We also noticed that vocals sound much more clear on the Pixel 3, while the handset’s bass is very punchy. On the XS Max, the bass is noticeably deeper but is less refined.
The top speaker on the Pixel 3 XL, which also serves as the phone’s ear speaker, is very quiet compared to the bottom loudspeaker. When watching a video in landscape mode, you can easily tell that most of the sound is coming from the down-firing speaker.
On the XS Max, sound output is a lot more balanced, probably because the bottom speaker is firing sideways instead of towards the listener.
We noticed some unique software tweaks on the iPhone. For instance, the smaller ear speaker takes care of most of the high notes, while the larger bottom speaker handles the mid and low tones. On the Pixel 3, both speakers seem to output the same range frequencies at equal levels.
Interestingly, the right side of the Pixel 3 vibrates at loud volumes. We are not sure if the vibration is a result of frequency tuning issues or is perhaps due to the handset’s plastic frame, but the XS Max does not suffer from similar issues.
Other reviewers mentioned the Pixel 3 distorts audio at high volumes, and we were able to reproduce those problems as well. The XS Max isn’t perfect, however, as we experienced some distortion coming from the top speaker when playing back audio with sharp highs.
Despite the vibration and quiet ear speaker, the Pixel 3 XL wins out over iPhone XS Max thanks to very clear vocal reproduction and a pleasingly wide dynamic range.
Deals on the iPhone XS Max and Google Pixel 3 XL
If you haven’t already ordered Apple’s iPhone XS Max, wireless carriers are incentivizing the purchase. Want to get your hands on a new device asap? eBay sellers are also shipping units now.
Those interested in purchasing the Google Pixel 3 XL can take advantage of a buy one Pixel 3 XL, get a free 64GB Pixel 3 at Verizon Wireless.