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Dolby is now designing speakers for laptops

Dolby Labs, the San Francisco-based company best known for Dolby Atmos audio tools and Dolby Vision imaging technology, is now setting its sights on screens that are decidedly much smaller than theater screens: our laptops.

The company said today in a briefing with journalists that it’s now working directly with laptop makers to design speakers. Its initial hardware partner is Chinese manufacturer Huawei; and the Huawei MateBook X, which launched earlier this summer and which Verge writer Vlad Savov called one of the “best-sounding laptops” available, is the first consumer laptop that contains the Dolby-designed speakers.

Dolby has been proving various technologies to PC OEMs for around a decade now, according to the company. But the difference with this new initiative is that it is now weighing in on the speaker design process at the start of the laptop’s manufacturing process, instead of applying its audio technology to a product or program after it’s already made.

Dolby senior product manager Jeremiha Douglas said this is the “deepest level of collaboration” the company has ever had with a consumer device system, and said that it was partly driven by evolving laptop designs. As laptops sport thinner and lighter designs, Douglas added, “they have less room for audio.”

He also said that Dolby tore down various laptop models as a part of its research process into designing speakers, and that they found a lot of suboptimal laptop sound comes from having unbalanced stereo speakers — in some cases, laptops might have left and right speakers made by two different manufacturers, or a speaker that maxed out at five decibels less than the other.

At its headquarters in San Francisco today, Dolby gave two demos of its sound technology in the Huawei MateBook X, one demo with AKG headphones and one without any headphones. The sound was notably impressive, certainly some of the fullest-sounding audio I’ve heard coming from any thin PC.

Photo by Lauren Goode /The Verge

But it’s also worth nothing that the videos used in the demos were Dolby-mastered video and audio. When it comes to non-Dolby-Atmos content, an up-mixer is applied to make the stuff coming out of the built-in speakers sound at least a little bit better, but it’s reasonable to expect that the sound won’t be as great as it would be if it was native Dolby content.

In addition to the MateBook X, Dolby also designed the speakers on the gaming focused MateBook D laptop. When asked what other OEMs Dolby is now working with to design speaker systems, the company declined to say, not surprisingly; but hinted that other Dolby-designed laptop speakers are on the way.

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