The Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ Takes Aim at the Audiophile Market

It seems clear that phones have become the end-all/be-all product for most people. It’s a phone, computer, GPS, camera and music player — an essential part of everyday life. However, one group remained somewhat disconnected, until, perhaps, now. The new Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ both have features that many serious music listeners are getting excited about.

Many movie lovers will be excited to know that both the S8 and S8+ have been certified for “Mobile HD Premium” which means that they will support High Dynamic Range (HDR) content. Both Netflix and Amazon will be a great source for this, which is similar to Ultra HD 4K TV certification. HDR videos have enhanced contrast and a wider range of colors, and the edge-to-edge Infinity Displays on the S8 and S8+ are well-equipped to handle it.

However, it is the audio features that make these phones stand out among the rest. The phones are equipped with different chips depending where in the world you are, most likely either Exynos 8895 or Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 in the USA with a 32-bit DAC, along with aptX and aptX HD Bluetooth. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ both have UHQ capabilities with support for UHQ 32-bit and DSD. The music player is gorgeous, and even better, it’s simple to navigate.

Another cool audio feature on both phones is Dual Bluetooth Audio that can stream audio to two different Bluetooth speakers or headphones with separate volume controls for each one. Along the same lines, there is the Separate App feature that lets you route different apps to different outputs; for example, you can stream music via Bluetooth to an external speaker while also using the internal speaker for another app, for example GPS guidance.

The best thing, however, about the S8 and S8+ are the included AKG earphones. It’s not surprising that these bear the “AKG” label, since Samsung recently purchased Harman, who took over AKG years ago. Interesting to note: although the earphones are clearly labeled “AKG”, the Samsung logo is still present on the headphone jack. The earbuds are said to retail separately for $99, and they do sound significantly better than any bundled earphone I’ve come across. I only wish they were packaged in such a way as to convey their superior quality. I had the opportunity to compare the headphone output of the S8+ with the new Note8, and there was no significant difference between the two using the bundled AKGs.

The AKG earphones are a dual-drive system with an 11mm and 8mm co-axial configuration. The cable has two parts: the main cord is fabric wrapped, and then once they split to the individual earphones are rubber coated. It feels like they would be great at the gym or on a jog. They do not have active noise cancellation, but they do have a snug in-ear fit that passively blocks out some noise. I used them on a recent flight and just having them on kept the engine noise at a comfortable level.

It should be noted as with all in-ear models that beyond a comfortable fit, the sound quality is dependent on a good seal within the ear. The AKGs come with an assortment of tips, and it is well worth your time to experiment to be sure you’re getting the most out of these earphones.

I checked them out with Portugal The Man’s “Feel it Still” downloaded from HD Tracks. The bass on this track is tight and solid, and the AKGs handled the bass with a satisfying feel and controlled impact. The bass line in the bridge is clean, taut, and pronounced. The midrange is detailed and quite natural, although a bit pulled back. The high-end is equally clean. The percussion has a clear, sparkling quality. The overall feel of these earphones is a bit bright, but it handles the high-end without any harshness, even at somewhat louder listening levels. At extremely loud levels, they do get a bit shrill. Some users might prefer a warmer, deeper sound, but luckily, the S8 and S8+ have built-in EQ settings to adjust to each individual's personal preference. Again, just make sure the eartips are the right size for you to get all the bass they deliver.

A few phones have been able to grab the attention of audiophiles with the ability to play high-resolution audio files along with high quality amps and DACs. However, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ might be the first main-stream phone that is stealing the hearts of music lovers everywhere.

brenro's picture

We had no idea the earphones were worthwhile. They've been stuffed in the cellophane bag since she got it.

bigcjm's picture

It's basically no secret you can get good audio out of the LG flagship phones. It's probably one of the things LG puts out front in their advertising. I really hadn't heard much about the S8 audio capability. As a current LG V10 owner I was concerned I'd be giving up a good portable headphone source when looking at the s8. Nice to know there's no concern there.

thehun's picture

On the S8 or + that is news to me, and certainly not listed as such on Aptx's site.

Vogateer's picture

If you go to Samsung's specs page, neither AptX nor AptX-HD is listed. Could we get some sort of confirmation that the S8 actually supports AptX-HD?

e-drummer2005's picture

To me, this is the most exciting feature. Analyzes your hearing and applies a compensation filter to improve sound quality. A huge improvement for my 51 year old hearing!