Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Samsung Galaxy Note 9 - The Speakers

I've put this device through its paces against all the devices I have to hand here and none come close to it except for the Marshall London and Razer 1. There's no point in doing further tests as everything else here is leagues behind in quality and mostly volume, too. The London needs to be sidelined really too, as it's sadly unusable as a phone in 2018....

Samsung claim that they have worked real hard on their stereo speaker setup. "These phones are capable of creating stereo sound to produce an immersive audio experience that makes it seem like you're in the scene. Our stereo speakers are tuned by AKG for clear audio and also offer surround sound effects with Dolby Atmos delivering 3-dimensional sound that seems to come from various directions. Instead of mixing by channels, Dolby Atmos places sounds within a three-dimensional audio environment, giving listeners the impression that sounds are coming from everywhere. While leaving the speaker in the bottom of the phone may be better for practical reasons, it created a new problem; the speakers faced in two different directions."
To get round this problem, they used their new partnership with AKG to 'tune the output level of each speaker to account for their placement'.

The Razer 1 then, against the Note 9! I firstly tried them both with no Dolby Atmos employed. The Razer needs Dolby Atmos to make it market-leading, but the Note doesn't. It could be used without and still be excellent. The Razer, flat and dull. The Note 9 for volume was way ahead of the Razer 1, but for quality, based on lower volume, the Razer 1 still raises a close challenge.

Dolby Atmos turned on now on the Razer 1 but not on the Note 9 and the Razer 1 noses ahead. The volume of the Note 9 is still higher than the Razer 1 but the former loses out in quality. With the Razer's Dolby Atmos switched to Dynamic and test YouTube video playing, the Razer beats the Note hands-down on quality and bass. The Note 9 almost sound tinny against it, though yes, still very loud.

Lastly, we turn the Dolby Atmos to the Auto setting on the Note 9 (I tried others and this is the best) and the quality increases markedly - at the slight cost of a bit of volume - but any sniff of tinny sounding output disappears and the quality is almost up there with the Razer - it's a very close thing. But because the Note 9 has the edge on top volume, I have to declare it, with Dolby Atmos employed, the winner here. Just. And subjectively!

As always with assessing audio, a lot depends on how stuff has been encoded and what kinds of files you're listening to. I downloaded my copy of The Prophet's Song by Queen which exploits stereo well to both devices, an .mp3 file, 320kbps, and the Razer reproduces that louder (by 20%), richer (by 20%) and with better stereo effect (by 20%). Not an exact science! Both running through Google Play Music, both with Dolby Atmos switched on. I also listened to other genres of music, other files, and they were closer with some, further apart with others.

I turned to some test Dolby Atmos Video on YouTube and 5.1 across Netflix and there is no question at all that the Razer 1 blows the Note 9 away in this test on volume, stereo effect and quality of sound, richness, bass. Razer seem to have done something special with Surround and it sits ahead. Whilst yes, you can just about detect that something's coming from behind your left ear into frame with the Samsung, it's markedly more distinct and clear with the Razer. Whether that's because the speakers are truely stereo and front-facing, I don't know. But it sounds better and more immersive.

It's very hard to say which is best, because when the phones are used for different purposes, each has strengths and weaknesses against the other. For me, if I had to choose on speaker output alone, I'd go for the Razer 1, laying aside any bias on brand - objectively, for my general use - but the truth is, that we're nit-picking. Anyone with either of these phones would instantly know that they're streets ahead of any average phone out there and if producing great sounds from your pocket computer that's always with you is as important to you as it is to me, without resorting to earphones, neither of them will disappoint. They will blow the user away - when it sinks in that these sounds are coming from a phone!

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