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Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders (designed by Asus) Audio review: A class-leading recording device

Reading Time: 10 min read
77
audio

In March 2021, Qualcomm launched the Snapdragon Insiders community, designed for the famous chipset’s enthusiasts, with news, tips, forums, masterclasses, access to experts, and even backstage access to events. If quite mysterious at that time, the U.S.-based company’s agenda becomes clearer today with the release of a special-edition smartphone.

The Smartphone for Snapdragons Insiders, which was designed, manufactured, and sold by Asus, is fittingly powered by the Snapdragon 888 chipset, and features three rear cameras (main, ultra-wide, and telephoto) along with a 6.78-inch, HDR10 and HDR10+ certified AMOLED display. In terms of audio, the phone is equipped with two speakers for stereo playback, four HDR microphones with a dynamic range of 114 dB, and comes with a pair of earbuds manufactured by the top-end company Master & Dynamic.

Audio specifications include:

  • Dual stereo speakers (top front-firing and bottom side-firing)
  • Multiple Snapdragon Sound Technology playback profiles (music, videos, games, and voice enhancements).
  • aptX compatible
  • Master & Dynamic earbuds included

About DXOMARK Audio tests: For scoring and analysis in our smartphone audio reviews, DXOMARK engineers perform a variety of objective tests and undertake more than 20 hours of perceptual evaluation under controlled lab conditions. This article highlights the most important results of our testing. Note that we evaluate both Playback and Recording using only the device’s built-in hardware and default apps. (For more details about our Playback protocol, click here; for more details about our Recording protocol, click here.)

Test summary


Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders
77
audio
75
playback

81
recording

Playback

Pros

Cons

  • At maximum volume, tonal balance is somewhat harsh and lacks low-end extension.
  • Bass distortions and overshoots present at maximum volume.
  • At soft volumes, timbre lacks brightness and is slightly muffled.

Recording

Pros

  • Great recording performance overall
  • Excellent performance in loud environments with clean tone and no artifacts
  • Good spatial restitution in life and selfie videos

Cons

  • Voices sound hollow in life video recordings due to lack of low midrange.
  • Background sounds slightly dark.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders’ overall score of 77 places it among the best-scoring phones we have tested to date. Besting the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro by one point, this device secures the fourth position in our Audio ranking protocol.

The device achieved the highest Audio Recording score so far at 81 points. Selfie videos, life videos, concerts, meetings, and memos — the phone racked up outstanding scores across all our use cases, attesting to its suitability for any recording situation. Those results reflect the microphones’ masterful performance in every single sub-category, from Timbre to Background, including Dynamics, Spatial, Volume, and Artifacts. Only two minor drawbacks were noted by our engineers, namely a slight lack of low midrange in life videos which makes voices sound a bit hollow, and a darker tonal balance for background recordings.

While the phone’s playback performance isn’t as stellar as its recording’s, it is still well above average. Sound played through the stereo speakers exhibits deep low-end extension, consistent midrange, and well-defined treble, impactful dynamics, very good volume characteristics, and impressive spatial attributes. That all said, at maximum volume, tonal balance becomes harsh, low-end is less extended, bass distortions and overshoots appear, and slight compression can be noticed. Also note that tonal balance can sound slightly muffled at soft volumes.

Sub-scores explained

The DXOMARK Audio overall score of 77 for the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders is derived from its Playback and Recording scores and their respective sub-scores. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at these audio quality sub-scores and explain what they mean for the user.

Playback

Timbre

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

70

82

Black Shark 4 Pro
Best: Black Shark 4 Pro (82)

Timbre tests measure how well a phone reproduces sound across the audible tonal range and takes into account bass, midrange, treble, tonal balance, and volume dependency.

As illustrated by its sub-score of 70, the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders turns in a great playback timbre performance thanks to consistent midrange, good low-end extension, strong bass, and accurate treble. However, the overall tonal balance sounds somewhat muffled at soft volumes, and becomes harsher at maximum volume.

Music playback frequency response

In terms of use cases, the phone’s frequency response is particularly suited for watching movies, and listening to hip hop or pop rock. On the other hand, classical music suffers from a slight lack of low mids. As for orientation, it fares better in landscape mode, especially when it comes to bass reproduction.

Dynamics

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

72

81

Black Shark 4 Pro
Best: Black Shark 4 Pro (81)

DXOMARK’s dynamics tests measure how well a device reproduces the energy level of a sound source, and how precisely it reproduces bass frequencies.

Audio played back on the phone’s speakers features great dynamics. Attack is very sharp, bass is precise thanks to the low-end’s depth and presence, and sounds are punchy from quiet to loud volumes. That said, at maximum volume, bass precision is impaired by distortions and overshoots, and punch is hindered by the overall harshness of the tonal balance, as well as by occasional compression.

Spatial

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

78

82

Black Shark 4 Pro
Best: Black Shark 4 Pro (82)

The sub-attributes for perceptual spatial tests include localizability, balance, distance, and wideness.

Reproduction of the audio’s spatial attributes is another of the phone’s strong suits: the sound field exhibits an impressive wideness, sound sources are precisely localizable, and distance rendering is highly realistic thanks to midrange consistency. The balance between left and right channels is good, albeit slightly off-centered when it comes to voices.

The sound field from the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders designed by Asus exhibits an impressive wideness,

The phone’s spatial attributes suit all use cases, with a special knack for pop-rock, hip hop, and games. Note that it also fares very well in inverted landscape mode.

Volume

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

66

79

Black Shark 4 Pro
Best: Black Shark 4 Pro (79)

Volume tests measure both the overall loudness a device is able to reproduce and how smoothly volume increases and decreases based on user input.

Volume steps are remarkably consistent and numerous, which allows the user to finely adjust the listening level. What’s more, the maximum volume is satisfactory, and minimum volume is adequately tuned for keeping dynamic content such as classical music and movies fully intelligible.

Hip-Hop Classical
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders 72 dBA 68.2 dBA
Xiaomi Mi 10S 74.7 dBA 72 dBA
Black Shark 4 Pro 74.5 dBA 69.5 dBA

Artifacts

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

76

96

Samsung Galaxy A52s 5G
Best: Samsung Galaxy A52s 5G (96)

Artifacts tests measure how much source audio is distorted when played back through a device’s speakers. Distortion can occur both because of sound processing in the device and because of the quality of the speakers.

At nominal volume, the phone does a fairly good job of controlling sonic artifacts, whether spectral, temporal, or noise-related. However, at maximum volume, occasional distortions are noticeable, along with compression and noise. Spectral artifacts can also be perceived on synthetic signals.

At maximum volume, a little compression…
… and occasional distortion can be perceived.

Recording

Timbre

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

88

Highest Score

As illustrated by its category-leading sub-score of 88, the microphones offer excellent tonal fidelity. As shown in the graph below, compared to its top-ranking competitors, the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders produces even slightly stronger bass, more midrange, and boosted treble.

Life video frequency response

Tonal balance is impressive across all use cases (even when recording in loud environments), with precise high-ends, very consistent midrange, and deep low-end. In memo recordings, our tests revealed a fuller tonal balance, with richer low midrange. That said, note that voices tend to sound nasal and hollow in life videos due to a slight lack of midrange.

Dynamics

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

74

78

OnePlus 8
Best: OnePlus 8 (78)

Audio recorded with the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders has great dynamic characteristics. To begin with, the signal-to-noise ratio is very good (per the 114 dB dynamic range microphones!), with adequately attenuated background noise leaving room for speech intelligibility. Further, the sound envelope is realistic and accurate, thanks to razor-sharp transients.

Spatial

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

76

78

Black Shark 4 Pro
Best: Black Shark 4 Pro (78)

With a sub-score of 76, the phone’s spatial performance for recorded audio comes very close to the best we’ve measured so far (78). Among all use cases, life videos exhibit the best attributes thanks to great wideness, very precise localizability for target-sources, and highly realistic distance rendering. In selfie videos, localizability, albeit very good, is slightly impaired by noise reduction. Distance is also somewhat less realistic due to a small lack of midrange presence.

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders in a meeting scenario.

Volume

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

85

89

Xiaomi Mi 10S
Best: Xiaomi Mi 10S (89)

Recording loudness is excellent across all use cases, and particularly for life video recordings. Maximum recordable volume without distortions is excellent, allowing for good-quality recordings in loud environments, such as a concert. Here are our test results, measured in LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale). As a reference, we expect loudness levels to be above -24 LUFS for recorded content:

Meeting Life Video Selfie Video Memo
Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders -23.8 LUFS -19 LUFS -18 LUFS -17.7 LUFS
Xiaomi Mi 10S -23.6 LUFS -17.7 LUFS -16.4 LUFS -17.4 LUFS
Black Shark 4 Pro -27.6 LUFS -20.8 LUFS -18.8 LUFS -20.8 LUFS

Artifacts

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

90

Highest Score

Here is another area where the Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders produces class-leading results. Very few sonic artifacts are noticeable, regardless of the use case. The only minor flaw is a slight gating effect impairing background capture in outdoor scenarios.

Here’s a sample recording, illustrating the phone’s ability to keep sonic artifacts to a minimum:

Background

Asus Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders

50

58

Apple iPhone XS Max
Best: Apple iPhone XS Max (58)

Considering all previous results, it comes as no surprise that the phone’s background restitution is very good. However, in life videos, it is impaired by the slight lack of midrange, and a subtle high-mid resonance. Overall, it also lacks a bit of brightness, which can make it sound slightly canny and dark.

Conclusion

The Smartphone for Snapdragon Insiders establishes itself as a fierce competitor in the audio arena. If it certainly is well suited for playback — whether for watching movies, playing games or listening to music —, it is the best recording device we’ve measured to date. It thus makes an excellent choice for recording any type of content, in all kinds of scenarios, from a vocal memo all the way to a live, loud, bassy concert.

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