Blog Post

Problem & Solution: iPhone 3G S Video and the Not-So-Fine Whine


After the honeymoon was over, and I started using the iPhone 3G S in earnest, I began to hear a high-pitched noise on my iPhone-recorded videos. At first I thought it was the environment, background noise, or just plain interference. However, once aware of the noise, I noticed it anytime the phone was recording audio, such as with voice memos. The whine is actually emitted by the speaker, and then becomes part of the recording. You will usually only hear it in quiet recordings.

Fortunately I know one of the best AV guys in the industry, Matt Kappenman, who analyzed and isolated the sound for me. He told me that, “It’s right around 4400-4500 Hertz, which is a C# for those musically inclined.” I’m not so musically inclined.

Here is a sample video file we recorded in a quiet room (actually put it inside a safe):
[wpvideo RQbTd5kD]

And here we take a short video of Tova, our dog:
[wpvideo MDBEk8cp]

And here is the file for which Matt was so kind to isolate the noise: MP3 (128KB)

How to Reproduce the Problem

  1. Ensure that you are in an otherwise silent environment
  2. Launch
  3. Switch to video recording mode
  4. Insure that the speaker volume is turned up to maximum
  5. Record a short movie
  6. Stop the movie recording
  7. Play the movie recording back

Note the high-pitched whine that is clearly audible during the course of the movie (you may have to turn your volume up a little). You can hear this while recording if you stick your ear by the speaker at the bottom of the iPhone. The volume of the whine is directly correlated to the volume of the iPhone 3G S speakers during the movie recording — higher volume results in louder whine.

The whine seems to only come from the built-in iPhone speakers (located on the bottom of the phone). If you plug in ordinary stereo headphones to the iPhone, the whine is not audible in the headphones during recording, even with volume turned to maximum.

So far we’ve been able to reproduce the problem 100 percent of the time, with all known iPhone 3G S phones we can get our hands on. However, due to hearing ranges, some people simply can’t hear the noise while others in the room can.

Incidentally, others are reporting this same high-pitched noise when SMS messages come in or when the phone locks. While those problems are annoying, the video recording whine actually interferes with the quality of the video.

The Cause and Solution

The exact cause is unclear. It could be software or it could be hardware. The problem does not appear to occur on the iPhone 3G during Voice Memos, so it appears isolated to the iPhone 3G S. We also verified that it occurs in Airplane Mode, thus ruling out network-related problems. Even if it is hardware, Apple may try to patch the problem in the audio recording routines.

The short-term workaround is easy enough; people might just learn to live with it. Either use headphones while recording or manually place the iPhone into “silent” mode prior to starting the video recording, by moving the ring selector to vibrate.

Here is Tova without the whine using the solution:
[wpvideo V5rPdeGX]

Matt tells me that with Audacity, or another audio program, you should be able to isolate and remove the sound if it’s present in your recordings.

Is it just some 3G S iPhones or all of them? Try to reproduce the problem and let us know your experience in the comments.

47 Responses to “Problem & Solution: iPhone 3G S Video and the Not-So-Fine Whine”

  1. Saud Alsaif

    I own an iPhone 4 and my problem is during video playback.
    I hear air-like background sound but very very very weak sound from the actual video, u actually have to bring the speaker near ur ear to hear something. phone on silent mode doesn’t work, but the playback is fine if i record the video while using the headset mic.

    I live in a country where there is no Apple Store and it will be a hassle to ship it back and stuff.

    any suggestions?

  2. Hey ive been having problems with my iphone where while recording a video the sound cuts in and out. (im not covering the mic on the bottom AT ALL) while at a concert the sound wasnt recorded for the entirety of it….has anyone had a situation like this?

  3. I have a 3G iPhone and it happens to me when I run my alarm clock program while charging. The whine comes and goes. After reading what people have posted I suspect it may have something to do with the color scheme on the LCD.

    The problem occurred right after changing the alarm clock colors. I will revert them tonight & see if it goes away.

  4. When ever i record a video on my 3G S, i get no audio when i play it back.. I tried everything, music and voice recording both work perfectly. I just can’t hear the audio on my videos when i play it back. Does anyone know the problem?

  5. CMB2009

    This problem occurred with my Black 3GS when I used the Pandora app, closed the app, then tried to watch a movie trailer using Flixster app…the movie trailer was hanging and froze up then the noise started after I closed the app.

    Sound noise was gone when I synced it with my iTunes via PC. I was going to do a “Restore” from iTunes when my phone was docked…but was not necessary.

    My phone’s S/N does end in 3NR as well and have had it less than a month.

    So try syncing your phone with iTunes or do a “Restore” from iTunes. This is what worked for me. I’m hoping this is software and not a hardware problem.

  6. grekexy

    Hi guys,

    I habe the same issue with my 3gs 32gb black. It always occurs when i
    -lock the phone
    -send a text
    -take a picture using
    -record a video using (during the entire video)
    -pause music playback in iPod
    -record a voice memo (during the entire memo)

    I hope they’re on it…

  7. Crystal


  8. Crystal

    I just got my 3Gs today, and i used the video first and did notice the whine, I am not too happy about it, since i had to jump through hoops to get this dang thing because everyone around here has been out of stock since the third day it came out! I have read a couple of the other websites about this though and have been told by the retailer that it is a software bug that they are trying to fix. But what can you do? I love the phone, and its not very noticeable unless you try real hard to hear it.

  9. It seems like the high pitched noise is actually caused by the recording sound that plays after you hit the record button. As noted by others, the same noise occurs after other notification noises play.

    In this case, if it’s hardware and somehow feedback related, the noise should go away when vibrate mode is on. However, the noise only goes away if you record AFTER turning vibrate mode on. If I have vibrate mode off, start recording video, the high pitched noise continues to play even if I then turn into vibrate mode.

    • It might be feedback. I found by holding the phone such that the bottom of the phone did not rest on my palm there was no high pitched noise.

      Try this. Start recording video with the bottom of the phone resting in your palm, half way through move the phone such that you are not cuffing the speakers with your palm. When you replay the video you should be able to tell the point where you moved the phone from you palm.

  10. rcurry71

    Thanks for this information. I just purchased my first iPhone (3GS). I have recorded several videos with my 3GS. I understand that I can email them or post to YouTube, but how can i get them to sync with iTunes?

  11. I knew it wasn’t just me :)

    I had my phone replaced 3 times the store was stumped. Mine makes the noise everytime I text someone, and if it is in silent mode there is no sound. I have tried all the ringtones and sounds and no matter what I get that annoying high pitch sound. They told me Apple is aware of it and will be fixing it in an update…we will see.

  12. I find that mine makes this high pitched noise when placing the iPhone on charge or when sending a text message too. After the text message tone the sound goes on for the full minute until the iPhone auto-locks.

    I’ve already had one replacement because of it but the new one is the same.

  13. christian

    This ia really annoying, especially since the video was the only reason I upgraded from the 2G. I can’t believe this would slip through product testing! I called technical support and directed them to this website…

  14. While I could hear the whine in the blog post, I cannot reproduce it on my 3G s. I followed the steps to the letter; there was no whine coming out of my speaker, nor any whine on the recorded video.

    • Okay, after reading the boygeniusreport thread about 3 seconds of high-pitched squeals after any sound, I put the speaker right up to my ear immediately after unlocking it with the volume all the way up. I did hear something, but rather than a high-pitch whine, it sounded more like an extremely quiet hiss, that shuts off with a definite “click”. Sounds to me simply like the speaker/sound circuitry is being left on for a few seconds then shutting off. This hiss (and even the subsequently “click”) is a total non-issue for me, as it’s completely inaudible at normal volumes & listening ranges.

      Then I tried the video experiment again. This time I definitely heard the whine. It was very different than the hiss I heard above, and it kept going for the length of the video. Then at the end of the video, I heard the same audible “click” that I heard at the end of the three-second hiss.

      What this tells me is that there’s some noise coming through the speaker whenever its circuitry is active. After a system sound is played, the circuitry stays active for a few seconds. When playing a video, the circuitry stays active for the length of the video. Makes sense. But the whine that’s audible during the video playback is clearly worse than the “hiss” I hear for the short interval after a system sound plays.

      The other interesting data point is that the volume of the whine I hear during playback is proportional to the volume setting at the time of recording. If I lower the volume sufficiently before I record video, I can no longer heat the whine at all on playback. This tells me that the whine is somehow being recorded onto the video, and is not simply a playback artifact.

    • Wildcat

      I agree with Eric, if you play with the volume the whine becomes proportionally louder or quieter. Very frustrated with this issue and hope that Apple takes care of this soon.

      I wonder if there really is those that have and those that don’t have the issue or if its a case of those that think they don’t just can’t hear the pitch. Not sure but there sure is a lot of us with these issues

  15. kshusker

    This isn’t a feedback loop.

    If it were a feedback loop, all iPhones would have it. Instead, only some iPhones 3G S’es have it.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t even require that the mic be on (a feedback loop would require the mic to be active)

  16. It’s a feedback loop. It’s physics. Nothing you can really do about it, other than put more distance between the speaker and microphone. If there was a way around it, they would have implemented it in PA systems by now. Alas, tis not so.

  17. It sounds to me that what is being experienced is a natural phenomenon called a feedback loop.

    This explains why it only occurs when the volume of the speaker output is higher and or on. The problem goes away because when you put the device into silent mode because the output speaker is no longer active and feeding sound input to the mic. This happens on any device which provides both monitor and input signals at the same time. Unless I missed something here I am surprised no one has thought of this.

  18. carla h

    I believe this whine while recording video is the same issue described here:

    I think what triggers the whine isn’t the act of recording video itself, but rather the chime sound that the iPhone makes when it starts recording. A common thread among all these reports is that the whine occurs after the iphone plays one of its system sounds. I just tested this by recording using the workaround described in the blog here (thanks Dave!) but flicking the ringer back on after the video started recording.

    No whine. So, its not the act of recording that causes the whine, but rather the’s playing of that chime when recording starts.

    Either way I am annoyed. My new $500 phone should not have a bug like this!

    • I like that theory Carla and yes, I agree, it does sound the same as mentioned in other posts.

      Thanks for toggling it after the video starts and yup, you guessed it, that fixed the problem as well.

      The cause may very well be the chime, however in other instances (SMS, lock, etc.) the whine goes away after a few seconds. During recording it lingers during the entire recording, but I completely agree the underlying causes is most likely the same, which leans me more towards hardware.

  19. Andrew and Frank, if you don’t mind, can you look up the serial number of your phones (Settings—>General–>About)

    My SN and a friends with the same issue both end in 3NR

    ANother friend not experiencing the problem has a serial ending in 3NS
    I am wondering if these letters refer to the batches or factories in China where the phones were made, and perhaps one (large) batch might have had a bad run of a certain component, causing this issue.

    • Crystal

      Mine also ends in 3NP, i am wondering if i should swap it, but the only problem with that is what if i get another phone with the same problem??

    • I have a new 32GB iPhone 3GS with a serial number that ends in 3NS. I can hear that high pitched whine on video recordings I have made. I hope this can be fixed. In the meantime, I will try to remember to put the phone in silent mode before doing a video recording. What a pain, but thanks for the suggestion to work around the problem. Haven’t try it yet, but I hope it will work.

  20. Christopher

    Could it be feedback?

    Maybe the speakers are playing back the audio while it’s recording. Try covering the mic without setting the phone to vibrate. If it’s stops whining, then it’s a feedback issue, which means “play through” needs to be disabled by Apple.

  21. Thanks for posting this, I thought I was going crazy. I was going to try to get my phone replaced at the Apple Store, but this is obviously a general problem, not just something wrong with my phone, so will have to wait for the software patch or recall.

  22. i have a new 3GS and u r right, switching to vibrate does eliminate the high pitch noise in video mode. thanks for looking out. gonna pass the word!