A Phone Only an Audiophile Could Love

I don't always carry my phone because having a high quality music library and player is more important to me than checking Facebook on a phone and I'm too lazy and uncoordinated to carry two things at once. Sure, there are phones with good music storage capacity and good music playback fidelity. But because I am an audio snob, those phones just aren't good enough. That might change.

I need something bespoke, something that clearly shows that my phone's music playback ability is far better than your phone's music playback ability. I need a phone that only an audiophile could love and moreover that I can equip with high-end codecs and converters, headphone amplifiers, small but kick-ass speakers and tweaky stuff like that. Mass produced phones can't do that because there aren't enough people out there who care sufficiently about music playback.

But there is hope. After two years of behind-the-scenes development, Google has announced that its Ara phone should be available next year. Ara is a modular smartphone. Its frame contains all the essential phone guts like battery, display, CPU, and antenna but it also offers six variable spaces for you to install any modules you want. For example, you could plug in things like a microphone, loudspeaker, projector, and, of course, a high-quality music player.

Third-party developers will bring to market whatever they think people will want. As long as the modules adhere to the Ara protocols, they will snap into place and instantly start working, thanks to Ara's Greybus software running within Android. The advantage is that you could upgrade your phone without buying a new one, or tailor its functionality to the task at hand. A downside would be keeping track of, or losing, the relatively tiny modules. In case you are interested, an artful, if not particularly informative teaser video can be found here.

Yes, the LG G5 is another modular smartphone but in a much more modest way; it has a removable section that lets you plug in a modular B&O Play music player. That's very cool and I can't wait to audition it, but Google's phone interests me more because it will attract more third-party developers, including the niche companies that can build the really tweaky hi-fi stuff.

Ara developers should have prototype phones and other materials in the Fall, and hopefully we'll start seeing retail products in 2017. Modules with massive (>256GB) music storage will come quickly. The question is, how long do we have to wait for someone to offer a truly audiophile module with the ability to decode the highest quality audio formats, convert that data with vanishingly small consequences, and output a pristine amplified analog signal?