HTC and Beats by Dr. Dre: what they didn’t tell you about the Sensation XL

Yesterday I covered the announcement of the Sensation XL and I followed the reports from media colleagues who were present at the HTC event in London. Most of the stuff was the same: tech specs, Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, Sense 3.5 UI, and other technical details. I was quite clear in mentioning that Dr. Dre himself was present at the event and that the Sensation XL is not a top-of-the-line smartphone, which piqued my curiosity as to why The Doctor would be at such an event. Surely there was something significant about this device when it comes to Beats audio, right? Unfortunately the most details we got was that the Sensation XL was coming with Beats Solo headphones bundled in and that when you plugged them in you got a superior audio experience. My initial thought was that plugging the Beats headphones in just adjusted a software equalizer that was pre-set to provide optimum audio output for that headset. Lets face it, it’s only been two months since Beats and HTC teamed up so it makes sense for their early models to take the easy way out and just software EQ the audio to fit their bundled headphones.

Boy was I wrong.

I ended up harassing HTC’s PR firms both in the U.S. and in Europe for more information regarding the Beats integration and future developments between Beats and HTC. After I told them that I was from The Noisecast they quickly sent me all the information I wanted they sounded quite confused and didn’t know who the hell I or The Noisecast were and told me to email them my list of questions. I expected a response to come sometime next week. I got one within the hour.

It turns out that HTC and Beats are not cheating their way with a software equalizer to make their headphones sound superb, they completely rebuilt the digital signal processor from the hardware up! The audio you will hear out of your Beats Solo headphones with the Sensation XL is primarily dependent on the actual hardware and DSP of the phone itself; the software involved comes second to the hardware. That’s quite impressive, considering it only has been two months since the two companies teamed up. HTC stayed mum on the collaboration process and how deep the hardware integration and acceleration goes and we have no idea if Dr. Dre had a personal say in any of the decision making process, but we can speculate that the two teams worked closely together to make sure that what you heard in your headphones was a pure, hardware-based digital signal.

When you plug in the Beats Solo headphones in, the Sensation XL recognizes them and launches a specially tuned audio profile that optimizes the sound for the Solo headphones. It doesn’t stop there, though. If you plug in any other Beats headset then “bespoke Beats by Dr. Dre,” the same software and hardware combination found in the HTC Sensation XE will recognize them and then you will be able to choose a sound profile that has been optimized to cater to all other Beats headsets that are not the Solos. Pretty much they took all other Beats headphones into consideration and created a profile that sounded great on their entire Beats line.

What if you don’t want to use Beats headphones? HTC says watch your back cause you might get smoked, loc that you will still be able to get an SRS surround sound signal if your headphones support it, and you can also manually adjust the EQ in your phone’s audio settings.

Unfortunately the “Beats audio experience” doesn’t apply to DLNA or other wireless audio streaming options as the optimization kicks in only when you plug in a set of headphones. HTC wasn’t sure that this also held true for plugging in Beats speakers into the Sensation XL. Unfortunately we don’t have a Sensation XL and some Beats speakers to test this out, so we can only hope a fellow audiophile or the respective companies themselves give this a try to see what happens.

It seems like both HTC and Beats by Dr. Dre are taking their partnership quite seriously and are not pulling off some marketing gimmick. You are, however, encouraged to use Beats hardware with the device (fine, there’s your marketing spin) but that makes sense because the partnership was to benefit both parties, not just HTC. But even if you don’t use Beats headsets you will still get a digitally processed SRS surround sound signal that you can further adjust via your phone to give you a comparable audio experience. Right now Beats branded HTC smartphones probably have the best audio on the smartphone market. Don’t be surprised if Sony follows suit if they manage to get their house in order or if HTC devices of next year seamlessly integrate and control all other Beats hardware that can be found in your living room. If you’re in Europe or Asia, be on the lookout for the HTC Sensation XL this holiday season.

3 thoughts on “HTC and Beats by Dr. Dre: what they didn’t tell you about the Sensation XL

    1. Yes it is, just like the TouchPad. But the difference is that HTC is starting to custom-tailor their DSP with their headsets whereas the HP thing was just a general “one-size-fits-all” enhancement.

  1. i got the sensation XL recently and i plugged in my Klipsch S4 earpieces and the beats profile activated. is this a coincidence or intentional?

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