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Samsung ATIV Book 9 (2014 Edition) review: This laptop sounds as gorgeous as it looks

Michael Brown | July 16, 2014
Based on the way most laptops sound, I'd venture a guess that audio is the last thing engineers think about when they design laptops. In fact, I'd go one step further to speculate that marketing efforts drive most laptop builders' decisions to collaborate with audio companies. But I won't lump Samsung's 2014 ATIV Book 9 in that crowd, because it sounds absolutely divine--especially with headphones.

After a few email exchanges with Samsung, I learned that S Player+ uses Microsoft's WASAPI (Windows Audio Session API) to take complete control of the Wolfson WM5102. Using WASAPI, S Player+ can send an audio bit stream directly to the Wolfson WM5102, bypassing the Windows mixer and muting all other sounds. Once I installed the WASAPI component in Foobar2000, tracks on that player sounded just as sweet as they did with S Player+. And unlike that software, Foobar2000 was able to play all  my high-resolution tracks. 

S Player+ played some of my 24-bit/48kHz albums — including Cara Dillon's exquisite Live at the Grand Opera House — but it produced error messages complaining about file formats when I tried to play several other albums, including a recording of Hector Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique by the London Symphony Orchestra, as conducted by Sir Colin Davis. Both albums were encoded as FLAC files at the same resolution and sampling rate — and Foobar2000 played them both without issue — but I got no love from S Player+.

So the ATIV Book 9 is a beautiful laptop that sounds divine. But with Samsung expecting the model reviewed here to fetch $1500, I had to dig deeper to determine if its price-to-performance ratio is reasonable . 

So what else you got?

That $1500 buys you an Intel Core i5-4200U CPU with integrated graphics driving a 15.6-inch touchscreen at 1920x1080 pixels. The system also comes with 8GB of memory, but only a 128GB SSD.

Spend another $130, and you can get Toshiba's Satellite P50t-BST2N01 with a Core i7 processor, 16GB memory and a discrete AMD GPU driving its 15.6-inch display at 4K resolution. 

The Toshiba is thicker and heavier, its audio components aren't anywhere near as luscious, and its battery life is appalling (part of the price you pay you for 4K resolution), but that's a lot of extras for not very much money. And then there's Dell's Inspiron 15 7000-series laptop, also with a Core i7 CPU, and a discrete Nvidia GPU driving its 15.6-inch touchscreen at the same resolution as the Samsung.

The Dell has a mechanical drive instead of an SSD, and it's more than a pound heavier, but it offers twice as much memory and costs $260 less. (Samsung also offers the ATIV Book 9 with a Core i7 CPU and 256GB SSD for $1900.)

Samsung's machine does have other positive attributes. Its backlit, island-style keyboard feels awesome under the fingertips, delivering just the right tactile feedback. And its oversized trackpad is exceedingly responsive and accurate. And despite its slim proportions, Samsung's engineers managed to squeeze in two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, a full-sized HDMI out, gigabit Ethernet (you'll need to use the provided dongle), an SD card slot, and even an analog video output (although you'll need to purchase a VGA adapter to use it).


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