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May 2, 2018

Are the Galaxy S9-style stereo speakers better than front-facing speakers?

by John_A

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They might not sound quite as good, but they’re less intrusive to the phone’s overall design.

Built-in audio has never been a particularly strong suit for most phones. Manufacturers are usually happy to just drill a couple of holes into the bottom of their devices and call it a day, but the end result is usually a tinny, thin-sounding speaker that’ll leave you connecting to headphones or Bluetooth speakers more often than not.

Every once in a while, though, we see a phone that actually makes onboard audio a priority. HTC is probably best-known for this, putting a big focus on its front-facing BoomSound speakers when it launched the legendary One M7. Since then, a number of other companies have tried their hand at front-firing speakers, but eventually even HTC gave up on the idea, because it just gets in the way of a beautiful design.

They’re both better than a mono speaker grill, but one boasts superior audio while the other saves room for design.

The HTC 10, along with the newer U11 and U11+, forego the dual front-firing speakers and instead opt for a combination of the earpiece speaker and a speaker grill along the bottom edge. Apple lifted this layout starting with the iPhone 7, and most recently, Samsung has started doing the same with its Galaxy S9 and S9+ — but why has this become the new norm?

This stereo speaker configuration makes a lot of sense from a design perspective. Nearly every phone is built with these two components in mind (save for a few devices with oddities like bone conduction), so there’s nothing to change as far as the outward appearance goes. The same can’t be said about the dual front-facing speaker layout, which is becoming increasingly less viable as the market shifts towards bezel-less phones with taller aspect ratio displays.

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Imagine a phone with front-facing speakers and a notch. Once you’re done screaming and swearing, you’ll get an idea of why the stereo speaker configuration is becoming so popular lately; it doesn’t get in the way of any modern design trends, and most people aren’t buying their phones based off of speaker choices anyway. If you want small bezels, you’re going to have to live without front-facing speakers — or, in the case of the Pixel 2 XL, get both in exchange for a huge chassis, because internals still have to go somewhere.

I’m personally a big fan of the newer dual speaker design. I love the utility of a big screen, but I still want a phone that fits comfortably in my hand and pocket, so a phone with minimal bezels is ideal. That’s why I carry phones like the Galaxy S9 and iPhone X — both of which utilize the earpiece/speaker grill combo. Sure, it isn’t as loud or full-sounding as a pair of true front-firing speakers, but it’s still a hell of a lot better than something like the Galaxy S8, and I don’t mind connecting to my Bluetooth headphones when I really need better audio.

What’s your take? Do you, like me, favor the speaker combination implemented on newer phones like the Galaxy S9, or do you long for the days of BoomSound? Let us know in the comments below!

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