Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review: Audio


The audio performance of Samsung had been quite normal till S8 series. Under the support of Qualcomm¡¯s solution, the audio performance of S8 series makes a great improvement, reaching at the first level among smartphones without separated DAC chip. And not surprisingly, Galaxy Note8 should have a similar or even better performance.

  • Source: Manufacturer
    Type: Mass produced
    Commercial Relationship: Yes

It is said that Note 8 has multiple versions with different configurations, including versions with Snapdragon and Exynos solutions. The Note 8 model we got is powered by Snapdragon 835 processor which builds in an audio I/O controller for a favorable performance. According to the teardown by ifixit, Note 8 Snapdragon edition adopts WCD9341 CODEC, which supports up to 384kHz/32bit audio with a SNR up to 115dB and also supports to play DSD[64/128] files. The audio performance of S8 series (Snapdragon) has been raised apparently with this CODEC¡¯s help as well.

It should be noted that, the built-in audio I/O controller and its matched CODEC of the Snapdragon processor are not the same with those of the Exynos, so the two kinds of Note 8 have some differences. This passage aims to discuss only about Note 8 Snapdragon edition.

By the end of last year, Samsung Electronics bought Harman, and Harman¡¯s brand AKG was also owned by Samsung. Hence, the bonding earphones have all become AKG products since S8. The Note 8¡¯s earphone should be the same one with S8¡¯s, for they look the same.

Its built-in music player is the same with S8¡¯s, with a not-that-elegant and a bit disordered look. It can play both online and local audio, but many of online contents need to be paid. As for local part, the music player supports mainstream local audio formats, but cannot automatically match album covers for unknown reasons, yet lyrics can be matched. This insufficiency has a bad influence on looking other than audio performance. The player is able to play native DSD64/128 files well, without compatibility problems. It also supports DLNA with good stability. Moreover, it is supportive of FLAC streaming, while many models only support MP3 streaming before. Additionally, SoundAlive is also available in this player, providing sound effects, surround, equalizer, electronic simulation, and so on. All of these, we believe, are making Note 8 even better.

As various external devices for mobile phones are getting more and more prevalent, we started to test the compatibility of USB audio devices and the ability of Bluetooth decoding. For the USB audio devices, we chose Musiland MD30 Plus with SuperDSP (compatible with UAC2.0) and Matrix Mini-i Pro 2S with XMOS solution. The reason why we selected these two devices is that they can show the current sample rates directly. We will also increase more devices in the future.

Testing Smartphone iPhone 8 Plus Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Samsung Galaxy S8+
Musiland MD30 Plus Auto Switch Sampling Rate Locked to 48kHz or 192kHz Cannot Work Properly
MATRIX Auto Switch Sampling Rate Locked to 48kHz or 192kHz Locked to 48kHz or 192kHz
Comment greater than or equal to 96kHz will be locked to 192kHz, others are locked to 48 kHz

According to the test results, Note 8 will have SRC when connecting with an external audio device, which has a negative effect on the audio performance. S8+ is unable to work normally when connecting with MD30 Plus, but Note 8 does not have this problem.

By convention, we still use professional sound cards to record sounds, combining with common analysis, to provide quantitative results. The output level of Note 8 is -8dB, the same with those of S8/S8+, and the last generation S7 Edge¡¯s output level is -10dB.

Testing Item Note 8 44.1kHz Note 8 48kHz Note 8 96kHz S8+ 44.1kHz S8+ 48kHz s8+ 96kHz
Noise Level, dB -95.8 -95.8 -96.5 -96.4 -110.7 -96.2
Dynamic Range, dB 96.2 96.4 96.5 96.6 110.9 96.5
Total Harmonic Distortion(THD), % 0.0006 0.0013 0.0007 0.0014 0.0013 0.0014
Intermodulation Distortion, % 0.0043 0.0044 0.0042 0.0043 0.0017 0.0044
Stereo Crosstalk, dB -81.3 -81.7 -81.3 -81.4 -81.4 -91.8

Note 8 passes all the tests, with no SRC problem, and also passes the high definition audio specification test successfully. Note 8 has favorable indicators and ideal harmonic distortion. Comparing the test results of S8/S8+/Note 8, they are quite similar. This is not strange for smartphones under a same audio subsystem.

The sound of Note 8 is also almost the same with S8+¡¯s, being neutral and flat, with a good resolution. Its power is a bit weak, making it necessary to use easier-to-power earphones with low resistance and high sensitivity. The sound is apparently feeble when using full-size headphones. Compared to iPhone 6s Plus, Note 8 has a more delicate, informative, and softer sound. However, its power is less than iPhone¡¯s, so it is weaker in transient and dynamic. With a set of easily driven earbuds, Note 8 sounds more comfortable than iPhone, especially when playing DSD files. But if the earphones we use have some specific requirements on power, Note 8¡¯s sounds tend to be fuzzy, and sounds in mids tend to be weaker than sounds in bass and treble, making its overall performance worse than iPhone¡¯s. All in all, Note 8 performs the same with S8/S8+, and Note 8 and iPhone 6s Plus have their own advantages respectively, as their general performances are quite similar. Note 8 can be regarded as the first class in regular designs.

The bonding AKG earphone looks the same with that of S8/S8+, but sounds a bit different. Note 8¡¯s bass is a bit more abundant than its mids and treble, which may be the result of individual differences. This set of AKG earphones looks great and expensive, and sounds at a level of one valued RMB 200 Yuan (about $30). It is really creditable for a company to produce such bonding earphones. This set of bonding earphones can already meet the requirements of the users who is not strict with audio performance. But we suggest that you should buy a better one because the audio performance of Note 8 cannot be accomplished by earphones at a price of 200 yuan any more.

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