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Despite multimedia being a part of most users’ lives, sound is seldom a priority for many laptop manufacturers. High-quality audio components can be expensive and add weight — two things that obviously don’t sit well with the notion of the traditional laptop market.

ASUS, however, believes that audio is just as important as every other aspect of a laptop’s specification, which is why it has developed the SonicMaster standard for laptop audio.

We talk to Henry Huang, Senior Audio Consultant at ASUS Design, who explains the need for better laptop audio, the background to ASUS SonicMaster and the benefits it can to the listening experience.

Q. Most laptop manufacturers place very little emphasis on audio — why has ASUS decided to focus on it?

Henry Huang: Laptop manufacturers don’t stress audio because it is difficult. Laptops need to be light, small, thin and affordable, but audio components are the opposite — big, heavy and high-cost.

ASUS is an innovator and willing to take on a challenge where others are reluctant. Studies show that 80% of the applications people use on computers require sound — watching TV, listening to music, using VoIP and playing games. We can’t ignore the need for quality audio and it’s a shame other laptop manufacturers do.

Q. From an audio perspective, what benefits can consumers expect when they choose an ASUS laptop over laptops from other manufacturers?

HH: Bad audio is unclear audio. This leads people to increase the volume, but even that doesn’t help and just creates noise. ASUS audio enables a quality experience even at low volume levels, which is healthier and doesn’t bother other people. Even conference calls can benefit from this.

Q. Can you explain what ASUS SonicMaster is about?

HH: SonicMaster is a standard that defines audio specifications based on usage scenarios. There are three different levels, with the lowest guaranteeing users clear voice and speech — this is critical in business applications. The highest level resembles the quality of a high-end audio system, with extremely faithful music reproduction. Users can choose quality levels based on need.

In addition to these objective quality levels, we also have subjective specifications, which relate to how people feel about good audio. For example, many people feel live performances sound better than recordings, and that loud volume is important in noisy environments. Some people prefer vocals in pop music and movies, and most are uncomfortable with noise.

Q. What does SonicMaster offer that isn’t already available on existing laptops?

HH: We apply extra care and planning in the placement of components inside our laptops to get the best positioning and spacing for speakers. We then choose the best speaker components, audio codecs, amplifiers and circuit designs available to get optimised analogue sound performance. We also fine-tune the entire system using digital signal processing (DSP) to eliminate any flaws in sound reproduction.

Q. Can you explain why upping the voltage to the amplifier increases audio fidelity?

HH: Most music has an exceedingly high dynamic range — higher, in fact, than most audio systems can handle. Some transient notes are very high, but of short duration and these are important for delivering that live-sound feel. If amplifier output is limited, these transient notes can be misrepresented, resulting in a flat, incomplete sound.

All amplifier output is limited by voltage and amperage. Simply delivering just enough voltage results in losing transient sound capability. We can’t compromise if we want good audio, so we increase the voltage to get better results.

Q. Are there any specific manufacturing materials ASUS uses to boost audio performance through SonicMaster?

HH: Not as such, since SonicMaster is primarily a design standard. Any materials that can meet our requirements may be used, but those requirements are pretty high because performance is critical. For the NX90, for example, we applied a unique speaker design that can extend and sustain low frequencies beyond what its size may suggest.

Q. Do the sound benefits of SonicMaster extend to listening using headphones?

HH: SonicMaster standards cover the entire audio system of a laptop, including the line-out and headphone sockets. Users who choose to listen with headphones or an external speaker system will still benefit from the difference in sound quality.

Q. And does SonicMaster improve sound quality in every sort of application — voice included?

HH: With SonicMaster, ASUS has developed a platform that allows all audio applications to achieve optimum performance. This means SonicMaster doesn’t focus on boosting only certain aspects of audio, instead it reproduces all sound faithfully.

Q. Would you be able to implement something similar for smaller laptops, or is it too early for that?

HH: Small laptops and netbooks tend to focus on applications like VoIP and web-based TV — these are defined as SonicMaster level 1, so they’re covered too.

SonicMaster can be found on new ASUS N and NX Series laptops.

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