What Will Be The Beat In HTC? Page 2

So is Beats Audio a Better Technology?
I suspect the Beats Audio logo doesn't really mean much. I certainly haven't been able to find any technical info about it in scouring the web. It's far more likely something like an informal THX where Beats was willing to have their logo on something if it sounded and measured to their standard. (Which I'd love to see spelled out somewhere.)

None the less, it gives HP the motive to respond with real technical product improvements. In this HP video describing Beats Audio technology in their laptops, they say, "You may be asking yourself: What makes HP notebook audio so good? HP engineers began the process of re-engineering notebook audio from the outside in, starting with the headphone jack."

What HP came up with as technical advances were:

  • No metal parts in headphone jack eliminates ground noise; re-routed wiring and separate headphone amp reduces cross-talk.
  • "Souped-up" headphone amp increases dynamic range and separation.
  • Audio components isolated on an "audio island" free from interference.

This is not rocket science in the least; these are very simple and commonly used approaches in the audiophile world. But since they are not actually being implemented in laptops otherwise, these changes are very likely, or could very likely be, solid changes for the better. We may scoff at the Beats logo being thrown around as a calling card for hi-fidelity, but if the changes to the HP notebook were as indicated, it did in fact represent a better approach to audio in their product.

Now here's the important part: the success of the Dyson vacuum, and potentially the success of the Beats Audio on HTC phones, rests not on celebrity but on actual performance differences between it and competitor's products. The crux of such a product marketing campaign is actually first and foremost a program of technological improvement to the product.

In this case, HTC's purchase of the Beats Audio brand allows them to begin a program of technological change knowing they have the hook needed to get a critical mass of consumers to take notice and act to acquire an improved product. There are plenty of examples of technical superiority loosing out in the long run (Beta vs. VHS; Dolby vs. DBX), I think it's a wise move for HTC to cover the pop-culture celebrity mania base with the acquisition of the Beats Audio brand.

The Big Problem
Almost 20 years ago when I started HeadRoom with the first commercially available portable headphone amplifier, I would justify the longevity of the position and product by observing that portable headphone amplifiers will always be needed because manufacturers of portable media playing devices would never put in enough battery capacity or power hungry audiophile quality electronics to satisfy discerning listeners that might only make up only 1% (if you're lucky) of the potential market.

Over time, the equation has changed somewhat. Electronics have improved, but the source file quality has degraded. The player can do more stuff in a smaller size and it's more expensive; as a result much more costly headphones are commonly used. It seems to me there has been a lot of change, but the fundamental sound quality delivered has not improved at nearly the rate that the product feature improvements have. I suggest that the time might be ripe for such an improvement in audio quality to occur.

The Solution
It seems to me that miniaturization has reached the point where you can double the size (in volume) of a smart phone and still have it fit easily in your pocket. For example, I have a Droid Incredible with an extra large battery and case from Sedeo, which increases its overall volume substantially. The phone used to run barley a day on a charge; it now runs three days between juice stops, and it still easily fits in my pocket.

What that means to me is that there is likely the room now to develop a fully functional but somewhat larger smartphone that includes things like better power supply decoupling, isolated and shielded analog circuits, and more power hungry audio circuit topologies. What it means to me is that my old justification for the longevity of portable headphone amplifiers could be at an end. Hell, many of the headphone geeks I know simply plug their JH13s into an iPhone and call it good. You know what, it is.

My iPhone does sound significantly better than my HTC Droid. I reckon HTC knows that and wants to do something about it. Buying Monster is step one. The real question is are they going to take step two and sink money into technological change. And will they take the opportunity to develop real improvements to their audio --- digital fine, but analog, power supply, and shielding technologies --- to go along with their expensive little "b."

I hope so ... God, I hope so. Because if they do, the pop-culture may all-of-a-sudden get "it" when it comes to audio fidelity like they have with higher quality video. One day soon you just might walk into Costco and see a high-fidelity headphone section that's the size of the cameras or GPS.

In the mean time, I'd love to hear your comments on the subject in general, and on what you think HTC might do to its smartphones to make them sound better in particular.


lewis's picture

Dyson revolutionised vacum cleaners. They didn't necessarily make them better, but they changed the game through innovation. A dyson (may or) may not suck up more dirt than a conventional VC but it offers distinct benefits through design, benefits which were not offered up to this point.

Beats trade on the idea that 'this is the only way to hear the music as the artist intended'. Reference cans? Propietery tech? Nope. Heavily coloured soundscapes.

A distributor once told me the beats dock was a flop, why? Because people cand walk around with it in public.

If it was about audio then beats would be educating the consumer about file compression etc. It has nothing to do with audio quality and everything to do with percieved audio quality.

dalethorn's picture

I hope HTC has more luck than HP.
Edit: I dumped my HTC phones for the same reason I dumped HP long ago - LI-Ion batteries that last only two months if that, and other problems.

DaveBSC's picture

I just don't think that HTC buying Beats and putting their "technology" in their smartphones is going to change audio perceptions any more than Beats audio has for HP laptops.

How many people do you see carrying around Edition 8s with their Envy laptops with Beats audio? I would guess zero.

The Dr Dre headphones and the Quincy Jones headphones and all of the others are a fad, one that will not last. People that buy them are interested in status, not sound, and they will move on when the next cool new status symbol arrives.

The Hifiman HM-801 is the opposite of a status symbol. It's a big ugly brick that looks like it was designed in the '80s. People see it and they make fun of it - until you have them try on your D7000s, and press play. Then they stop laughing.

I could care less what marketing gimmicks HTC puts on its cellphones. Talk to me when their phones are rocking high-end Burr Brown or Analog Devices Op-amps, and PCM1704UK DACs, or the best sigma delta converters like the AD1955 or WM8741. Oh right, that will never happen.

RudeWolf's picture

My one and main gripe about using the cellphone as a serious listening station is that then essentially means of communication and means of music listening draw from the same limited power source. I don't know about you guys but for me there have been times when I'm forced to take off my headphones because the battery level on the phone are too low.

I certainly would not mind a better hardware design for music listening on a phone but for me it seems that this is a visual age when a larger screen will awlays win the op-amp for power draw. After all much of the fame that Beats have is maintained by flashy looks. Same for Scullcandy.

SAS's picture

As an aside... Miele makes the best vacuums for audiophiles. They are quiet.

dalethorn's picture

I select headphones different ways depending on what resources are available and how convenient it is to get to them. When I go to the Apple store about once a week or so, I see what they have, and sometimes run tests on them. I cruise the headphone sites for new items, I read Stereophile and TAS (and Stereophile refers headphones to Innerfidelity), and when something catches my interest for possible purchase, I start checking Internet reviews. And the irony of Internet reviews - so many sites and so many commentors are all too willing to rant on and on about this or that little nitpicky aspect of the sound ("How glorious and crystalline the XYZ 'phone sounds with AngelicPop recordings etc."), but they rarely if ever tell you how they really sound, by comparing to one or more references that ground the discussion in reality. Recently I read a lengthy tome on a head-site that described the HD-800's bass as "light" and then provided examples ad nauseam. I've even read quite a few of these that describe the Beats' bass as "light". So it's obvious to me that we are talking apples and oranges on these head-sites - not in terms of the gear, but in terms of a basic understanding of what we're trying to do. The root premise of Stereophile that goes back 49 years is fidelity more or less, to reproduce good recordings of real music, particularly well-recorded live music, in a way that the reproduction gives the best sense of the original sound. Looking at it a different way, to get one headphone and one source/amp with a wide variety of recordings and genres, where that gear plays all of them well. The way that's done is to get as "neutral" of gear as possible as well as good quality recordings. I find for example that the HD-800 plays almost everything well, but some of the 'phones I've had work well with only a subset of those tracks, due to various colorations. Arguments are made that all 'phones have colorations, but that's a misleading argument that suggests that all colorations are equivalent in quantity and quality, or that there is no standard for reproduction at all. So I don't have a problem with Beats in terms of their audio fidelity as long as it isn't advertised as high fidelity, but I did avoid looking at them due to physical reliability issues.