What are the best-sounding smartphones to come out this year? Not the ones that are the loudest - that's settled by the numbers in our tests and we already covered it. No, we're talking about the phones that we can listen to with our own ears and truly like what we're hearing. And while some of the phones we've gathered here are objectively loud and that did help their cases, that's not what got them on this list in the first place.
We introduced the current testing methodology in early 2020 to replace the old one in an attempt to offer a test that better reflects real-world usage of smartphone speakers. Plus, it lets you actually listen to the speakers playing sounds as opposed to just comparing numbers. If you're not familiar with the testing procedure or the reasoning behind it, you can read more about it here.
Make no mistake, we won't be making grand audiophile statements like comparing this phone's treble to the way crystal champagne flutes clink in the cupboard during a magnitude 7 earthquake, or likening the bass of that phone to the thunderous roar of... something that roars thunderously. It's more of a roundup of the phones whose speakers we like.
We reached an almost unanimous verdict that the ROG Phone 5 is the loudspeaker champ of 2021. A gaming phone must deliver in all aspects of the experience and the ROG certainly doesn't skimp on sound. You can appreciate its competent performance in general uses like video playback or blasting Christmas jingles in the office much to the annoyance of your coworkers. Mind you, this one is only the 5th loudest phone we've tested this year.Asus ROG Phone 5
The one dissenting opinion put another Asus - the Zenfone 8 in the top spot instead. Even though we wouldn't necessarily agree with that guy, we'd very much admit that the tiny Asus puts out sound that is a lot larger than the handset's dimensions would suggest. If we were giving out awards, the Zenfone would get something like Best sound quality/size ratio. Not the iPhone 13 mini, no.Asus Zenfone 8
We do like iPhones, though, don't get us wrong. The 13 and 13 Pro have wonderful speakers and they both sound virtually the same to our ears. So props to the non-Pro for sounding as good as the Pro. The Pro Max is a notch better which is good to know if you've spent the extra money to get the absolute best iPhone. The Max also happens to be the 6th loudest phone we've tested in 2021.iPhone 13 family
The Mi 11 Ultra, proves it's not just an amazing cameraphone, but is also good for playing some tunes by scoring a spot both here for sound quality as well as on our Top 10 chart for loudness. Xiaomi is actually pretty good at this whole loudspeaker thing, and we'd also like to mention the 11T in here to show that a phone doesn't need to be an all-out flagship, in order to have good sounding speakers. If you got the 11T Pro, know that we like that one too - it's the same to our ears. Just how Xiaomi the Black Shark 4 is, is beside the point, but it too makes it to our favorites list.Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
Vivo doesn't normally do stereo speakers (as all the phones here have), but the X70 Pro+ that came out this year does make better use of the earpiece than other members of the brand's lineup did until now. And it's a pretty great setup too, easily making it to this improvised shortlist here.
An honorable mention goes out to the Huawei Mate X2. A very niche device in more ways than one, the foldable Mate has more volume to work with and allocate to speakers and it shows in the sound it puts out.Huawei Mate X2
You may note that there isn't a single Galaxy in this selection of ours. While we wouldn't call them bad, we're not exactly loving recent Samsung loudspeakers. Maybe the Note20 would have made it in terms of sound quality, but as its name suggests, it's a last year's phone and that disqualifies it.
Here's an especially large loudspeaker widget for you where we've included all of our favorites for 2021 - beyond the top spot held by the ROG Phone 5, the rest of the phones below are in no particular order.
Feel free to put on a pair of headphones and listen through the samples, and don't hesitate to add other phones for further comparisons.
Use the Playback controls to listen to the phone sample recordings (best use headphones). We measure the average loudness of the speakers in LUFS. A lower absolute value means a louder sound. A look at the frequency response chart will tell you how far off the ideal "0db" flat line is the reproduction of the bass, treble, and mid frequencies. You can add more phones to compare how they differ. The scores and ratings are not comparable with our older loudspeaker test. Learn more about how we test here.