iPhone 5 call quality testing, compared across carriers

Which iPhone 5 has the best voice quality: Sprint, Verizon, or AT&T? We tried all three out in New York City near CNET's offices for a side-by-side verdict.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How good is the iPhone 5's call quality, and most importantly, how it does it compare across carriers? We addressed some of the iPhone 5's call quality in our CNET review and follow-up stories, but let's take a listen to the Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T models side-by-side. Is there a difference in audio quality?

For our quick test, I made phone calls from the same street corner in New York to Brian Bennett upstairs, using all three carrier models both against my ear and held several feet away from me in speakerphone mode. I also made test calls from the same location on all three models to our San Francisco office's voice-quality-testing voice mail drop. For comparison purposes, I also threw in my AT&T iPhone 4S in all instances to see how it fared.

Now, this isn't exactly scientific, because we didn't change locations around the city. We also didn't try other cities.

Here's what we observed. But, before we start, here's a sample of the iPhone 4S on AT&T.

AT&T iPhone 4S call quality sample Listen now:

And now, for all versions of the iPhone 5.

AT&T iPhone 5 call quality sample Listen now:

AT&T: You can hear the most background noise, and voice quality is perhaps the most grainy. Call volume is fine, and you can make out conversations via speakerphone and regular calls. Compared with the iPhone 4S on AT&T, there's a clear improvement: voices are easier to hear and the call quality is less mushy.

Verizon iPhone 5 call quality sample Listen now:

Verizon: At first listen, the Verizon and Sprint models seem better, but too close to call between them. Background noise is far quieter, nearly silent, and my voice is crisp and audible in all calls. However, notice on the test call to San Francisco that there's distinct popping and a bit of distortion.

Sprint iPhone 5 call quality sample Listen now:

Sprint: This is the winner, and the more, we listened the more we agreed. Background noise isn't a factor, and my voice comes through loud, clear, and even a bit richer. I also noticed that Brian's call came through clearer and louder on my end. The audio sample shows off how much better it sounds.

What does this mean for you? Well, they all sounded good relative to the iPhone 4S, and frankly, a lot of the iPhone's appeal has little to do with voice calls. LTE data speeds and availability may matter far more. Reception and coverage vary by area, so your experience may be different from mine. But, if all you care about is the best-sounding voice calls, our quick test favored Sprint.

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