What’s that I hear? behind the scenes in Samsung’s Sound Lab

August 9, 2012 | Comments | Tomorrow Works

There are so many ringtones available to us today – some that you can buy, others that come pre-loaded on your phone and then of course the music files in your phone that you can set as a ringtone.  It’s pretty remarkable to think about the diversity of sounds that we have available to us now compared to just a few years ago. 

 

 

We took a visit to Samsung Electronics Sound Lab to learn about the development process for today’s modern tunes.  The Sound Lab is equipped with electronic pianos, large speakers, and various sound equipment and recorders. Samsung employees play these themselves and create new sounds which go through all kinds of development and testing before they make their way to your phone.

 

 
So, who is behind the sounds?  They are called Auditory User Interface (AUI) designers, and their task is to provide sounds that are optimized to the user’s environment. They find the point of unity between the sensation at the fingertips and ears when the user touches the device.
 

If you think about it, there are sounds on almost every electronic device that you use – from the ringtone on your cellphone, to the shutter sound on your camera, to the alarm on your washing machine, notifying you that your laundry is finished.  This myriad of sounds comes from the team working in our Sound Lab, and we decided to spend a day catching up with them.


 

A ringtone has just 10 seconds to become memorable

 

Samsung Electronics has been using Sonic Branding for a long time.  This marketing technique uses auditory elements such as sounds or music to make the consumer recall a certain brand. It all began with the idea that a melody to represent Samsung Mobile was needed as cell phones transformed into smartphones.
 

The team started with three missions: First, the ringtone must be likable when you hear it.  Next, you should be able to remember the melody once you’ve heard it.  Finally, the sound must represent the identity of  Samsung Mobile.


Mobile users pick up the phone within 10 seconds of the phone ringing. So, many ringtones are made to last 30 seconds and have the pattern of repeating twice. Because users are so quick to pick up, an effective ringtone must start strong and catch the user’s attention right at the beginning.
 

 

The AUI designers came up with many options for the Galaxy smartphone’s signature ringtone, but the winner was called  ‘Over the horizon.’ The original ‘Over the horizon’ lasts for 3 to 4 minutes, but two bars of the core melody are periodically repeated in the ringtone to help with memorization. Truly enormous trouble, time, and effort have resulted in a beautiful ringtone.

 

 

Trial and error – from toilet-flushing to the perfect water ripple sound

 

GALAXY S III is much loved for not only its functionality and design, but also its natural sounds, UX, and its water ripple effect on its homescreen.

 

 

During development, the sound design team set the keywords of water, wind, and nature, and selected the sensory theme of ‘water.’


Next, they began experiments to create beautiful sounds. In the Sound Lab equipped with cutting-edge sound equipment and recording devices, they brought in a rubber washbowl filled with water, and tried stirring it or changing instruments. As such, the sound design team repeated stirring the water hundreds of times and collecting sounds until they got the sound they wanted.

 


 
Of course, sometimes there were setbacks. “We tried scratching the water on a thin plate with our fingers and toothpicks. We amplified it to a human-audible volume, and against our intent, the feedback we got was that “it sounds like flushing a toilet.” Once we heard that, we realized how true it was.


If you’ve played with the Galaxy S III, you know that now, finally, the water drop function sounds exactly like your mind thinks it should, and that’s thanks to the endless effort of AUI designers trying to find the best sound and not giving up despite continued failures.

 

 

 

What other sounds does our team work on?


It’s not just all about smartphone ringtones either – the AUI designers work on all kinds of different sounds.  They also conducted the washer project, working on the touch sound of the buttons, power-on sound, and ending sound of washers to be exported overseas. They thought that doing laundry should at least be pleasing to your ears.
 

“[The new ending sound] came from the idea that the washer completion notice sound was similar to the noise of a truck backing up. When the washing machine is done, we wanted it to be like listening to music in the living room.”-Senior Designer Moonsik Chung

 

It shouldn’t surprise you what our Sound Team does in their free time…


To our AUI designers, listening to music is more than just a hobby. Including Seung-Hye Yoo, the AUI designers listen to all kinds of music from the UK charts or Billboard Charts to stay on top of the most recent trends.  Part of their interest in global music is to learn about and collect music from around the world to satisfy the global market consumers.

 

The Power of Sound


Auditory sense appears to be functional, but it actually has an invisible power on your memory and even emotions. In the past, ringtones were easily created with computers, but if you listen to them now, they sound quite robotic.  Recently the methods are changing to the form of live music, centering on actual instrumental recordings to deliver the sensibility of the original sound.

 

Moonsik Chung, Yonggu Lee, Joongsam Yun. Seunghye Yoo


 
As you can see, the AUI designers are pretty dedicated to delivering sounds that make people nostalgic and elated.  Maybe you’ll let that ringtone play through a little longer next time you receive a call! Or maybe not, but you’ll still know how good your ringtone is.

 

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