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

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.

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!

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

92 Comments
  • If they design it like the pixel 2 XL a slight top and bottom bezel for speakers is acceptable in my eyes. Truth eb told I don't consume enough video content on my phone for it matter much. Much rather have the screen real estate.
  • Couldn't agree more. The Pixel 2 XL is a fine balance of function and form and I'd be more than happy with that. I've got the Mate 10 Pro with the bottom firing speaker + earpiece speaker and it's fine but I'd definitely prefer both to be front facing and sound completely balanced.
  • Agreed; I think the 2 XL has a fine trade off.
  • I definitely agree too... I really like and prefer the dual front facing speakers and slim top an bottom bezels on the Pixel 2 XL. I definitely don't want loose these features to have a bezel-less phone and I definitely don't want a damn notch... I prefer the bezels and the symmetrical look of the Pixel 2 XL.
  • +100, I have a Pixel XL and I absolutely HATE having the bottom firing speaker. My last two phones before it were the HTC One M7 and the Nexus 6P with front facing speakers and they were so much louder and richer sounding than the bottom speaker on the Pixel XL. The biggest thing that I hate though is when you are playing a landscaped based game and your hand covers the speaker. Makes no sense to me whatsoever not to have front facing speakers. I'll take them and a little longer phone any day of the week.
  • +1,000,000, It's impossible to hear discord chat while playing online games with a Pixel XL
  • why not just have discord open on the computer in the background?
  • Ya but S9 + speakers beat iPhone x and pixel 2 ...They are more quality and louder than both of them ...saw soo many videos...S9 speakers beat also Axon 7 the speaker king...I am impressed with Samsung's tuning
  • Correction, AKG tuning
  • Louder and better quality sounding yes but they'll never sound as balanced as dual front facing speakers because of the arrangement. Screen real estate and small bezels take priority over that right now unfortunately so a bottom firing speaker is the compromise in the meantime
  • My iPhone X speakers have more bass than my Galaxy S9+ speakers and the dual speaker setup on my HTC One M8 for Windows and Alcatel Idol 4S with Windows 10. I've tested the phones sitting next to each other playing the same songs and I was impressed by the iPhone X's bass output. The iPhone X surely isn't the loudest but the added bass makes it sound like a real speaker, giving depth to the music my other phones can't match in my testing.
  • Doesn't affect me either way, as i very rarely use the phone's speaker. As I am usually around other people when I listen to things on my phone, I use headphones.
  • My issue exactly, I usually have to be either discreet with what I'm listening to or entertain everyone, both cases don't allow use of the phone speakers.
  • I prefer front facing like the Pixel 2 XL, but the S9+ sounds amazing for what it is. I believe the S9+ speakers sound better than the Pixel 2 XL.
  • I dislike bezel less phones, i want front facing speakers so I have a place at least to hold on and I use a lot of audio and video so sound is important.
  • Um...The Pixel 2XL has both
  • Unfortunately Not.
    I had used as My Daily Driver and Still have the HTC ONE MAX, and the Front Facing Boom Sound Speakers Is Noticeably Louder than the Galaxy S9 & Galaxy S9+ Speakers when playing Any Video side by side even Simultaneously.
  • I'm pretty sure HTC used the earpiece+bottom firing speaker setup before Apple. I know that the HTC 10 had this setup in 2016
  • Yes, they did.
    HTC 10 release date: April 12, 2016
    iPhone 7 release date: September 16, 2016 I don't know that Apple "lifted" the design, as they have done licensing deals for other things like antenna bands and live photos from HTC.
  • Actually HTC One with front facing boomsound speakers: HTC One/Release date 22 March 2013
  • October 2013 the HTC ONE MAX was Announced and then Available shortly thereafter. Being that the HTC ONE MAX was a Lot Larger than the THC ONE M7, it had More Room inside for the Audio Acoustics to be Louder playing through the Front Facing Top and Front Facing Bottom BOOMSOUND Speakers.
  • I have both the Pixel 2 XL and the S9 Plus. The S9 Plus has a noticably higher volume.
  • Lucky man . . Which do you prefer?
  • I have both as well. The sound is better on the S9+
  • I definitely prefer the current way of doing stereo speakers. I don't rely so much on my phone speakers anyway. I either use earphones or car system via Bluetooth or Bluetooth at home. So my phone has to be optimized for large screen and small footprint.
  • For the bottom facing speaker style, i don't understand why they don't make the phone extend an extra 2mm, and direct the sound up towards your face similar to how people try and cup their hand around the speaker in loud environments. They don't HAVE to have the speaker aimed toward you, just have it redirected with a couple mm of plastic/metal.
  • The "Stereo" Speakers on the S9+ will be one of the main reasons I upgrade from my G6. But I'm spoiled. I own both a Moto X Pure Edition and Idol 4S, both with great front firing stereo speakers. But then again, I love the 18:9 5.7 inch screen with small bezels. If the G6 would utilize the earpiece as a second speaker I'd probably stick with it. (yes, I know someone over at XDA has a mod to do just that. I'm just not confident enough or capable enough to root my phone to do it) Anyway. I haven't had a chance to hear what the new setup on the S9/S9+ sounds like, but after having had phones with stereo speakers, it will be nice to have. My only concern is that the speakerphone function incorporates the earpiece speaker as well. I've heard conflicting reports.
  • Front-facing stereo or gtfo
  • Of what? The car? The house? Bunny suit?
  • bunny suit...
  • Not the bunny suit 🙀
  • The best speakers are on the Razer phone. And that phone deserves a lot more love then it gets
  • Agree on both points. Way better sound, and not much love. I thought it was hilarious that AC chose the S9 as the best gaming phone, with having so little to hold onto, forcing you to curl your thumbs in for gaming , and meh to poor battery life.
  • That's because AC has to appease their suitors.
  • The front facing speakers on the Pixel 2 XL are speakers that are designed right and that's the only blip on the S9 design, Samsung should have had both speakers on the bezels, the front facing speakers are what I loved about my Nexus 6.
  • Only ever use headphones when listening to music or watching films.
    If I want others to enjoy (or not) I cast.
  • I've never heard a phone that could match what HTC did. The One M9 I had sounded better than a lot of external Bluetooth speakers. The S9 is a major improvement over the S8 in sound quality though. I seemed to always have a finger over the speaker on my S8 and it did weird things to the sound.
  • It was wonderful not NEEDING a BT speaker on business trips. The Razer phone I think topped the M8 and M9, but someone from HTC designed the Razer speakers, so it's still in the family ;)
  • I love the stereo speakers on the s9+. That is the only extra feature that I wish my Note 8 had right now. I didn't know how terrible prior Samsung's phones have been audio wise until I heard the S9+ duel stereo speakers. The Note 9 will be a monster!
  • Front facing is the way to go! I don't mind a little forehead and chin.
  • Bezels suck in every single case. I'll take the S9+ setup all day! Love the sound!
  • Yeah I’m tired of bezels. Won’t buy another phone with them. Makes the phone look so outdated and it’s just another fingerprint collecting surface that no longer needs to be there.
  • Galaxy S9+ has bezels...
  • They're so massive too, what an eyesore.
    Pretty sure the OP is stating an opinion about bezels and most phones today are "near" bezel less & and even advertised as so... For the smaller S9, the top bezel measures in at 8.18mm, 0.48mm thinner than the S8. On the bottom, the change is slightly more significant a 0.76mm, measuring in at 6.96mm in total.
    For the The Galaxy S9+ which you referenced the top bezel is at 8.21mm with a 0.39mm reduction from the 8+, while the bottom bezel measures in at 6.99mm. Impressively, that’s a reduction of 1.01mm. In both cases, the reduction in bezels actually brings brings the physical heights of the phone down by 1.2mm and 1.4mm on the S9 and S9+ respectively. *Infinity Display: a near bezel-less, full-frontal glass, edge-to-edge screen. *The screen and the bezel blend together to form a seamless design. Meanwhile, the iris scanner is hidden away within the upper bezel to highlight the Infinity Display.
  • And I didn't buy it :)
  • I really liked the Boom sound on my HTC M8. I find myself using the speakers on the S9+ plus more now. I watch 99% of you tube videos and world star on my phone. The AKG tuning is good, turn on Dolby Atmos and it sounds great!
  • I have the Axon 7 as a backup phone and it does sound very good. The wife uses a Moto X Pure and it sounds good...very loud for speakerphone use also. I currently use the Mate 10 (non-pro) which has the "same" setup as the S9+. Have not heard the S9+ but the Mate 10 is OK. A little tinny at times but it does help when driving and using talking maps for navigation. Makes it easier to hear directions straight from the phone. I still prefer balanced front facing stereo speakers...but again I have not hear the S9+.
  • Axon 7 and the Moto X Pure? You guys have GREAT TASTE in phones. I went from the HTC M7 to Moto X Pure and now I have the Axon 7 which I purchase last year and I'm STILL, VERY VERY Happy with the phone. I love the front facing speakers. The only thing that really sucks about it is the horrible camera. I'm hoping that the Axon 8 or maybe the next essential phone or the next pixel phone will include front facing speakers.
  • The Axon probably will have front facing speakers, but since minimizing the bezels is part of the character of the Essential phone, it probably will not.
  • Axon 9 already semi confirmed as rear stereo speakers due to bezel-less design.
  • Yeah, you're right; speaker grills on the back. Sucks if that's the case. Facing away from you is worse than on the bottom.
  • Still using my Nexus 6 to this day. Love my front facing speakers especially when using viper4android & dolby atmos combination it's the loudest sound quality you can get. Will be upgrading to the s9+ later this week and do a comparison.
  • In a word: No. Better than a single speaker, not as good as dual front facing speakers. You still have to keep your finger from sealing the speaker port on the edge.
  • The Pixel 2 XL has the right balance. I front facing stereo speakers they sound more balanced
  • just give me woofer on the back and 2 , 2 inch front facing speakers with 20 watts of power. put them on top and bottom of screen.
  • I think the s9 series has excellent speakers. Highly recommend!
  • The speakers on my old Blackberry Z30 were much better than my Note 8. I still use the BB Z30 to listen to music while riding around in the golf cart.
  • I want the most screen I can get in the smallest form factory possible. So I take front and bottom.
  • I use a ZTE axon 7 which has Dolby Atmos certified front facing speakers. Watch a movie on it once or listen to music in a crowded room and you'll understand why it's really hard to give this up.
  • Love the pixel 2XL setup. Although I always thought a bottom firing speaker just for notification wouldn't be a bad idea considering the front of your phone in your pocket will muffle the sound of front facing speakers. Just imo.
  • Good point!
  • Front facing stereo speakers matter to many, especially when done correctly. Personally I don't care for a bezeless phone,nor a tall skinny phone, a curved screen,or even a glass backed one,but I know I am in the minority here.
  • I'm right there with you.
  • I agree! That's why I am currently using the Mate 10 (non-pro)...it has a glass back which I do not really like...but it's in a case as usual so that doesn't really matter much. Other than that I agree with your assessment of current phone trends.
  • I don't need my phone to be able to blast music at me all the time, so as long as it's decent enough, I'm okay with any configuration. Razer is probably a better example, but the bezels are really too big. Implemented properly, like s9+ and iPhone X, they can sound really great too, and better than phones with front facing speakers like Pixel 2XL.
  • If your like myself and stream alot from your phone, having that stereo speakers makes such a difference. A lot of these phones with a notch should be making use of a front speaker.
  • HTC One M7, One M8, M9, And ZTE Axon 7...those have been my phone's of choice over the last few years. Dual front firing any day over bezeless forehead and chin. Looking at the Pixel 2 XL next.
  • I prefer true front firing speakers. Once you've had that, nothing else really matters. But I'm okay with dual speakers period. Nice nod to the HTC phone. I still think they abandoned the usefulness of the 10 way too soon.
  • HTC M8, had the best sound went to the g5 and I felt like one ear was cheating on the other. Went back to HTC with the 10 and fell in love again. Front facing speakers are a huge buying factor for me. Once you've had them, you don't want to go back. Front facing speakers is a huge reason I have a 2xl and did not but the original pixel.
  • Everyone wants bezels gone, but don't understand dexterity and usage.
  • I prefer front facing speakers and don't much care about the bezel. I use a Pixel 2 (not XL), and love not having to cup my hand to get the crisp treble. However, I'm not too familiar with this side+ear piece set up, so I guess it might well work ok for me.
    However, I really want to have dual SIM and microsd support, so I'm thinking of switching back to something older because nothing recent does both at the same time. I thought the dual front facing speakers were more important, but having to lug around two phone when I travel is too much pita.
  • S9+ here, a friend has iPhoneX, GF has S8+, and I gotta say I compared the 3 of them side to side, with a 4k YouTube video, and Amaxon Prime UHD videos, and honestly the Dolby Atmos AKG tuned speakers on the S9+ completely destroys S8+ and outshine the iPhone X sound output by twice the loudness and clear sound, the screen also is noticeably brighter and crystal clear crisp color depth. When connecting to a Harmann Kardon Home theatre iPhone has slightly more volume output, until you turn on Ultra high fidelity audio in S9+ and boosts the sound greatly, I personally would love a 3 speaker setup, 2.1 mini, with 2 earpieces one on each side of the screen and a lateral or Downfiring boom speaker to make true stereo cause sometimes it sounds too forced or its blocked by my hand when grabbing the phone, also the AKG earbuds sound amazing, yet still can't match my Bose earbuds. I haven't been this happy with a phone since a long time, honestly in terms of novelty and state of the art tech, It reminds me of past days when I had a Sony Ericcson P900 in my hands while everyone else had stone age Nokia's and Motorolas all around 😎
  • If I want good sound quality I use earphones, Bluetooth speaker, or Chromecast audio. Even the HTC one m7 sounds like garbage next to even cheap external speakers. Anyone who voluntarily listens to music with their phone speakers doesn't appreciate music.
  • I don't know if you see the irony in your comment. I don't see how one can listen to audio through inferior interfaces (quality wise) and still say they appreciate music. Most audiophiles would cringe at that thought.
  • Degrees of acceptable quality.
    I've known audiophiles arrange a whole room and will only sit in one place while listening to their music.
    I kind of agree, a phones speaker system is never going to be "great" but even a Bluetooth speaker can be good enough. For me at least.
  • The HTC M7 design is still beautiful. A guy in my office still uses a black one, and I'm amazed at how good it still looks. That said, it has big bezels between the speakers and the screen. Filling that space with screen and keeping the speakers as they were would've been ideal. I guess the Pixel 2XL essentially does that, but the black glass bezels disguise that they're there for the sake of speakers. And the rounded screen corners just make the bezels stand out more. Repeat after me: front facing stereo speaker grilles as part of the body design - not pretending that they're part of an all screen front that isn't all screen. And for God's sake, don't round the screen corners unless they're flush with the body corners in a true all-screen design, like the Essential phone.
  • Big fan of my Dolby Atmos front facing stereo speakers on my Axon 7. Nice to use at the office vs. buying a separate BT speaker.
  • I have the S9+ the sound is great I don't need better sound than this. There is always bluetooth and a headphone jack if you want more. To those who want bigger bezels to hold on to they are not needed. If you adjust how you hold the phone you can comfortably hold the phone with out dropping it. A case help and you need one to protect your phone. The pixel 2xl which is a great phone looks like a cheap samsung rip off to me.
  • There is a difference... Try & avoid Bluetooth.
  • With all due respect, does anyone seriously listen to music via their phone speakers? I try to avoid Bluetooth, let alone my phone speakers. No, you don't need to buy $1000 Bowers &Wilkins P9 headphones (I got mine by blowing a tonne of Airmiles as a merchandise reward), and Bluetooth isn't horrible... But c'mon... Smartphone speakers aren't for enjoying music.
  • You must not have had a phone with excellent speakers, then.
    Some phones were graced with truly exceptional audio output.
  • PS The headphone jack is sanity for those who enjoy music. Apple & Google Pixel must never be forgiven for eliminating sound quality.
  • i like Galaxy S9 and iPhone X dual stereo speakers
  • Considering my iPhone X sounds way better (to my ears) than my Pixel 2 XL, I don't mind the combination of earpiece+bottom speaker. As long as every new phone has a similar setup, I'm all for it.
  • I left a much longer comment elsewhere in the thread, and I'll save the backstory for that comment. But I spent a lot of time side by side comparing a Pixel 2XL with an iPhone 8 plus. Though I am quite pleased to report that I ended up going with (or, as the backstory explains, "sticking with") the Pixel - and absolutely love the thing (no regrets whatsoever), the most unexpected and astonishing discovery I made in that comparison was that though the Pixel might've been louder, I actually felt the iPhone sounded better. While I would not exactly categorize the Pixel as "tinny" - especially by smartphone standards, the iPhone just struck my ears as fuller, richer, and warmer sounding. The Pixel sound was higher impact perhaps, but the iPhone sound was higher quality. So, if Pixel is not what we're gonna call "tinny", then the iPhone is even further from that pejorative! The iPhone sound is "plush luxury car" - like a big old 70's or 80's Cadillac! In any case, I assume that the sound on the X and the 8 plus are fundamentally the same, and so all that just to say this: "yeah, I agree with you, man!" :-) Cheers!
  • I definitely like the idea of dual-speaker, and stereo, but I'm not gonna get too bent out of shape over the Pixel 2XL school of both front-firing in smallish bezels but bigger frame vs the iPhone X nearly bezelless design, with one speaker pointing towards you and one pointing away. I'm rarely gonna have the phone close enough to my face without headphones for the distinction to really make a meaningful difference. Hell, at a distance, even stereo itself is on the verge of being superfluous. Ideologically, there's something that really feels somehow wrong about the new approach as I shudder to think of what that'd be like listening to a big stereo with one speaker pointed off to the side like that. But that's a mostly irrational objection in the context of a small handheld device that I rarely have that close to my face for the sound spacing to be critical. And we can't deny that the new approach opens the door to even sleeker design possibilities and even smaller bezels / bigger screens. Although to be fair to the flip side, the Pixel 2XL shows how you can have dual front-firing, and still have relatively small and attractive bezels, and still have a big screen in a phone that's still not gargantuan. In fact, in length and width, the Pixel 2 XL is ever so slightly SMALLER than an iPhone 8 plus....with dual front-firing speakers....and a bigger screen....and much much smaller bezels. I say they're both fine approaches, and I could live reasonably happily with either one. For the mostly irrational reasons stated above, I feel a much stronger pull towards the front firing model (it just "feels right"), even though the other approach really is more forward thinking (ironically), and more flexible. Ultimately, I think the way Samsung and Apple are doing it is the future, though, so I shouldn't let myself get too attached to things as I have them with my 2XL. And lastly, even though dual front firing arguably has the greater potential for the best sound, it doesn't always mean it is so. I got my 2XL two days before "screengate" broke, and spent the remainder of my 14 day Verizon exchange window languishing over whether to stay with the Pixel, or go back to Apple by way of the 8 plus. My wife has the 8 plus, so I got to do a lot of side by side comparisons between them. Though I am quite happy to report that I ultimately ended up sticking with the Pixel (and have come to really love it), to my complete astonishment, one of the biggest surprises to come from those comparisons was that even though the Pixel (with its supposedly superb dual front firing speakers) sounded LOUDER than Jodee's iPhone (which has the front/side stereo design thing), I thought her phone actually sounded BETTER. I thought it sounded fuller and richer and warmer. I wouldn't call the Pixel "tinny", but the Apple was even further from it. So just because the two forward thing might have the theoretical potential to offer the best sound, my experience shows me that that is not necessarily so. So apart from simple ideology and a love of symmetry, I really have no real reason to stick with a model that is much less efficient, and flexibile, and that is very likely going away soon. Cheers!
  • This article misses the mark by a fair margin; the Anandtech article isn't just about battery life, but about performance as well. Samsung made the mistake of clocking the Exynos 9810 too high which requires too much juice, which forced them to keep the governor very conservative. This means that the cores ramp up slo