The Samsung engineering behind the ringtones you don't use

Yes, there are still people designing ringtones.

Zoey Chong Reporter
Zoey is CNET's Asia News Reporter based in Singapore. She prefers variety to monotony and owns an Android mobile device, a Windows PC and Apple's MacBook Pro all at the same time. Outside of the office, she can be found binging on Korean variety shows, if not chilling out with a book at a café recommended by a friend.
Zoey Chong
3 min read

The main control room at Samsung's sound lab is where all the magic happens.

Samsung Electronics

What does your ringtone sound like? A lot more work went into it than you probably think, but if you own an Android, you may not even recall what it sounds like off the top of your head.

During a visit to South Korea, I got to see what's behind the sounds in the millions of Samsung Galaxy phones out there. They're crafted by a team of sound engineers at Samsung's R&D centre in Seoul, South Korea. Like musicians, these engineers sit in a studio and play with sounds and beats everyday, trying to create the best ear candy for you. 

Sound: An art and a science

Samsung's sound lab was established almost a decade ago. Its sound engineers are tasked with designing everything we hear from Samsung devices, including ring and keypad tones.

Designing the sounds can take only a few minutes, or up to six months depending on the complexity of the project, said Nam Myoung Woo, Samsung's senior sound designer.  "The testing process is continuous," he said, "starting from the beginning of the sound design all the way until the device is available for sale in the market."

Samsung's signature ringtone is called "Over the Horizon," and one of the team's biggest jobs is to refresh the tune each year. Composed by Samsung's principal sound designer Yun Joong Sam, every flagship Galaxy phone comes with a reimagined "Over the Horizon."

In order to do that, the team embarks on a search for inspiration every year. The Galaxy Note 8 's theme was designed for Millennials, Nam said, so the team collaborated with Jacob Collier, a Grammy Award-winning, 23-year-old musician based in London. 

A surprising amount of effort goes into these ringtones. On the Galaxy Note 8, because the S Pen is a unique feature of the phone, Samsung's sound engineers decided to incorporate pen beat -- an art that involves tapping a pen on the table to create rhythm -- onto the list of ringtones it provides.

The team stumbled upon pen beat as they were thinking of the sounds a pen can make and looking for a millennial trend in music culture, said Nam. They collaborated with pen beat artist Choi Jinyoung and beatboxer 2TAK, as well as musician and producer Tadashi Takatsuka (better known as Tucker) to make a series of new ringtones Samsung calls the "pen and beat" playlist.

More than just sounds

Enlarge Image

A lot of the sounds Samsung's sound engineers create are recorded here.

Samsung Electronics

Besides ringtones, the team also makes the sounds you get when you take a photo with your phone's camera, flip through your cards on Samsung Pay, write with your Note's S Pen and more. When making the sounds, the sound engineers look for ways to connect with users on an emotional level, said Nam.

By replicating the sounds of Samsung's NX20 camera shutter, debit cards knocking against one another and pencil scratching paper when you write, Nam said he hopes we're reminded of the the pre-smartphone era, before multiple devices were merged into a computer in your pocket. 

Despite the effort that goes into making these sounds, more and more people are setting their phones to silent mode most of the time. That's OK with these sound engineers -- they also create your phone's vibrations.

So, the next time you plan on putting your new Note 8 to silent mode, take a few seconds to appreciate the hard work by Samsung's sound engineers. Who knows, you may fall in love with their compositions. 

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