Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Forget gaming — there’s another big reason to buy the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate

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The Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate is, first and foremost, a gaming smartphone. But during my review, I found it also hides a secret, as it’s also really good at something else too.

Contents

  • Two front-facing speakers
  • A secret subwoofer
  • Put on your headphones
  • Gaming first, audio a close second

The latest ROG Phone’s secret weapon is its fantastic audio and visual ability, and I consider it as much of a reason to choose the phone as its superb gaming credentials. Here’s what makes it so good.

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Two front-facing speakers

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

What makes the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate such a great multimedia phone is its all-around ability. It’s not just one aspect of sound and vision that’s outstanding — it’s all of them, and that’s rare to find on any mainstream smartphone. It’s not an oversight on other manufacturers’ part; it’s just the way features and technology are balanced on phones that must appeal to a lot of different people.

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The ROG Phone 7 Ultimate’s appeal is more focused, letting the engineers and design team get the key features its audience deserves exactly right. Because the phone must appeal to mobile gamers, part of that is delivering great sound to go along with the excellent screen. Set above and below the 6.78-inch bespoke Samsung AMOLED screen is a pair of front-facing, 5-magnet 12mm x 16mm drivers, each one driven by a CS35L45 Cirrus Logic amplifier. Many other phones have a single front-facing speaker, and many top phones have a second downward-firing speaker too, but the size and positioning of these speakers are never ideal.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The difference between the Asus phone’s speakers and those fitted to other smartphones is immediately noticeable. The ROG Phone 7 Ultimate’s speakers produce a fuller, bassier, more natural sound that’s pleasing to listen to without any of the grating tinniness that’s common on other devices. This is made possible by filling the speaker cavities with tiny foam balls, which artificially increases the volume. What happens when you put it against the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, a phone that competes on price?

If you hold the phone in landscape, it’s easy to block the S23 Ultra’s speakers with your hands and then alter the tone of the audio. There are no such problems with the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate. You can hear the stereo effect more, and it pulls you into the action — whether that’s in a game or a movie — more too, making it feel more exciting. The sound is good enough to appreciate rather than just hear, and that’s unusual on a phone.

A secret subwoofer

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

You don’t have to be an audio expert to quickly hear the difference between the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate’s speakers and other phones. But producing better sound through its two main speakers is only the beginning. The Ultimate model comes with the AeroActive Cooler 7 accessory in the box, and in addition to the cooling fan used to keep phone temperatures under control when gaming, it enhances the audio too.

Inside the AeroActive Cooler 7 is a 13 by 38mm subwoofer, and it effectively gives the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate a 2.1 audio system. It’s designed so you can still hold the phone in landscape orientation with it fitted, but there’s also a small kickstand that holds the screen at a slight angle on a table, making it a great way to watch video.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The subwoofer activates immediately after you connect the AeroActive Cooler 7, and while it doesn’t deliver a thump you can physically feel, it adds depth to the sound, which is noticeable when you take it away. The dual-facing speakers already sound great, and the tiny sub is exactly what’s needed to fill out the phone’s audio so you can really enjoy it.

Watching the opening scene of No Time to Die, everything from the snap of the gunshots to the cracking of the ice has a real presence, and even the roar of MGM’s lion delivers a punch. Sure, it’s all relative, and you shouldn’t expect it to match your home theater system, but for a smartphone, it’s pretty good. Because the sound is directed towards you, it’s engrossing in a way you may not expect such an epic movie to feel on a small smartphone screen. It’s not that the Galaxy S23 Ultra sounds bad, but it doesn’t sound good in the same way, and that will end up affecting your enjoyment.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The best way to describe the difference is the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate with the AeroActive Cooler 7 makes you want to turn the volume up, and the S23 Ultra wants to make you turn the volume down. There’s none of that unpleasant harshness brought on by a lack of bass and poorly orientated speakers.

Put on your headphones

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It’s not just the speakers that make the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate an audio winner — it’s the audio when you use headphones too. For a start, the phone has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. Try finding one of those on any other flagship smartphone today. If you prefer Bluetooth, then the Bluetooth 5.3 connection supports Qualcomm’s AptX Lossless, AptX Adaptive, AptX HD, and LDAC. If you’re looking at those codec names blankly, we’ve got a great comparison here, which explains the differences and which is best. Spoiler: AptX Adaptive comes out on top. The ROG phone is also Hi-Res and Hi-Res Wireless certified.

There are two other factors working behind the scenes: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound and Dirac’s Virtuo platforms. These provide additional features and tuning, including takes on spatial audio and enhancing the sound delivered when listening to music, using Bluetooth headphones, or making calls. Dirac’s real-time DSP handles sound stage management, crosstalk cancelation, bass and frequency response tuning, and more. You will only come into direct contact with Dirac’s Virtuo, as the company provides a custom equalizer and different sound settings through the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate’s AudioWizard mode.


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The AudioWizard mode on the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate.Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Dirac's tuning on the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate.Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

AptX Adaptive active on the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate.Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I’ve listened to Apple Music and YouTube Music, with the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EQ and NuraTrue Pro in-ear headphones, both of which support AptX Adaptive, plus Asus’s own ROG Cetra II Core in-ear headphones. The wired Cetra II Core, particularly for Apple Music’s Spatial Audio tracks, sound really great, helped in part by a custom sound profile setting in the AudioWizard app specifically for these headphones. It made me miss a 3.5mm headphone jack, as using wired headphones with most other phones isn’t that easy.

How about a little recap? The ROG Phone 7 Ultimate delivers a 2.1 speaker system that gives movies an extra dimension you won’t believe is possible on a phone. Then it gives you a choice of wired or wireless headphones, with the best codecs for now and in the future, plus comprehensive tuning with an EQ and various (very effective) sound profiles. Then, and most importantly of all, the phone delivers the sound without any fuss, and regardless of my choice of earbuds, always sounds fantastic.

Gaming first, audio a close second

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate is the best gaming smartphone you can buy, and our 4.5/5 review explains why this is the case. However, it’s also a mega multimedia device. While phones like the Galaxy S23 Ultra and iPhone 14 Pro Max have amazing screens and great audio, neither can quite match the all-around ability of the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate.

It makes sense that it’s this good, as sound and vision play a huge part in a game’s appeal, so for Asus to spend time and effort on getting these two aspects right is obviously worth it. But the company has really gone all-out with the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate, and in doing so, has opened the phone’s appeal up to more people than if it was solely a gaming phone.

While it’s certainly fair to label the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate a gaming phone, it does do it an injustice. When you explore its ability, the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate is a fantastic multimedia phone — perfect for watching video, listening to music, and playing games. If your day involves doing all these things on your smartphone, and you want a device that excels at them, don’t immediately gravitate only towards Apple and Samsung’s top phones. I recommend adding the latest ROG Phone to the list, as there’s a strong chance its focus will enhance your mobile life a little more than these two great all-rounders.

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