HP's Beats Audio explained in retro video | webOS Nation
 
 

HP's Beats Audio explained in retro video 58

by Riz Parvez Sat, 26 Feb 2011 2:19 pm EST

Ever since Think Beyond, we here at PreCentral have been posting about screen resolution, battery life, Touch To Share technology, along with the host of other details we’re used to focusing on with mobile technology. But times have changed over at the Palm Global Business Unit. HP’s famed scale has brought wonderful new possibilities to the platform, along with a host of interesting tech from their own roster. One great example of this is the migration of Beats Audio to the TouchPad. So far, this feature has been little more than a footnote in most of our coverage, but Beats Audio may actually be a significant product differentiator for HP’s very first webOS tablet. Why? Read on after the break to find out.

So let’s suspend disbelief for a minute. Yes, Beats headphones are manufactured by Monster Cable Products Inc., and come in Dr. Dre, Lady Gaga, Bono, and even Justin Beiber branded varieties. Yes, the Beats brand is fueled at least in part by a hype engine that lives for product placement anywhere from music videos to feature-length Hollywood releases. Does this mean 'Beats Audio Technology' is nothing more than marketing? Fortunately for us, the answer is no.

Beats was originally a collaborative effort between famed Interscope Records producer Jimmy Iovine and rap superstar Dr. Dre. As people keenly focused on the production of music, they saw a big opportunity to to make an impact in the mainstream consumer market by focusing on something manufacturers barely considered as an afterthought: Audio quality on computers.

During his speech on February 9th, Iovine cited a long line of medocrity in the music supply chain; Everything from poor bitrate music files on iTunes to chintzy speakers on laptop computers. He noted this was particularly egregious because more and more, computers are our home stereos, and no one is hearing music the way the artists were hearing it in the recording studio.

So how does Beats Audio actually address this? While details are slim in the case of the TouchPad (frankly, were were a little busy asking some other tough questions), we have a clever video from HP that explains what it means to have Beats Audio on an HP laptop.

The big theme here is trying to preserve the audio signal from interference as it moves it’s way down the chain to your ears. This includes attempts to isolate the audio hardware on the motherboard, having a discrete headphone amplifier, separated right, left, and ground audio wires, and even a headphone jack with “no metal parts” to reduce grounding noise. There’s also a Beats Audio-specific sound profile that can be enabled to take advantage of the particular hardware that Beats Audio provides.

So how has this setup on HP’s laptops fared with the critics? Largely quite well. Big names like Engadget, Laptop Magazine, and PC World have had plenty of good things to say about Beats Audio when reviewing laptops like HP’s award-winning Envy series. Even the audiophile community at HeadFi generally seem to have found Beats laptops to provide one of the better out-of-the-box audio experiences.

So ‘Beats Audio Technology’ actually does have some substance. Could it still amount to one gigantic gimmick on the TouchPad? Sure. Will Beats be the end-all-be-all in home audio for tablet consumers? Probably not. Still, it is reassuring to know that Beats Audio has been more than just clever branding, because it means that audio performance on the TouchPad has a chance of being more than just an afterthought. If nothing else, the hype engine surrounding Beats Audio Technology alone is something our friends at Palm could certainly use when trying to get a foothold in the increasingly competitive tablet market.

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58 Comments

I'm all for better sound on laptops. I've never owned one that had decent sound.

I'll be skipping the headphones, though. No way am I feeding the "Monster". (can I type that word without getting sued)?

I'm replying to the first comment so everyone can read this...

I have a Envy 14 Beats Edition and I want to clear some things (or one thing I guess).

The "Beats" technology does not really affect the laptop speakers (my Envy sounds as loud as a Macbook Pro speakers). The magic only happens when you plug in your headphones (doesn't have to be a "Beats" headphone).

You will only hear superior sound when you plug in your headphones or external speakers. Then, you will hear things you have never heard the artist say before, you will hear background tunes, much clearer music. etc...

I got down ranked for my post? Must have been by someone that bought an $80 hdmi cable :D

haha I bet it was because you put "Monter" instead of "Monster" before you edited it (btw, it was not me, I don't care for correcting other people online).

yes definitely do not go for the beats headphones unless you are an extreme basshead.

*(frankly, were were a little busy...)

Im craving some beats audio action min my car! Seriously my speakers need some help!

So I have a pair of power beats headphones with control talk, all i want to know is will I ever be able to use all of the functions of these expensive headphones on the new line of phones because the pre (-) can't use them... like the mic for example?

That's a weird thing. I've tried my wife's iP-headset on my plain Pre, and since it worked, I reckoned I could use any iP-compatible plugs.

To my dismay the mic on the NOCS (NS200B) I bought, didn't work. I didn't expect the volume buttons to work, but the mic not working puzzled me ...

My plan is to replace my car radio with the tablet so I hope it's as good as it seems. Imagine having the tablet as you radio... Keep picturing it... AWESOME right!? Yes this is a major selling point for me.
Goal: Tether my TouchPad through my Pre3 to have Pandora as my radio, as well as use the GPS!
Hope it becomes reality!!

I am craving some Fallout from that video. Very well done.

I'd be willing to jump ship to HP (IBM/Lenovo fanboy since 1994) if Beats is a full-fledged cloud service and not just nicer components under the hood. Audio quality was one of the big reasons I've avoided iTunes, so it's nice to see a competitor that sees it as a weakness.

koreckted. thanks.

HP don't forget to create a car touchstone for the Touchpad! Or a car kit for the current TouchPad Touchstone!

I don't know about that, it might encourage even more drivers to not pay attention to the road..

That said, maybe the iPad accessories will fit the touchpad.

The iPad is 2.8mm taller, and the Touchpad is 0.3 mm wider. That 2.8mm could be filled in by glueing some alliplast/pelite foam.
Heres the comparison:

Touchpad deminsions (hmm, I think the specs on Palm's website is reversed. Shouldn't height and width be switched?):
Height: 190mm (7.48 inches)
Width: 240mm (9.45 inches)
Thickness: 13.7mm (0.54 inches)
iPad deminsions:
Height: 9.56 inches (242.8 mm)
Width: 7.47 inches (189.7 mm)
Depth: 0.5 inch (13.4 mm)

Come on man, I agree the Beats headphones are not what some people expect it to be but referring to Dr. Dre, who is a great producer ("Still Dre" still has the best beat even after 10 years) , as Dr. Deaf doesn't seem right.

exactly....yes. That is why no one complains when apple charges absurdly more than pc makers, because macs are PRETTY!!! *squealy girly voice*

Attenuating interference in an analog sound source that's in close proximity to a CPU (or fluorescent lighting) has been a battle that's been fought for a long time. It hasn't been fought very hard outside the professional recording industry. It's a battle I'd love for the manufacturers to wage in the consumer marketplace and the only way it's going to become affordable. I'm stating the obvious here but you know how much the manufacturers care (not much) and how much they know of the average consumer sense of quality (a lot) simply by the quality of the speakers they build in (crap).

Forgive me but I'm going to speak for the whole world here. We want low noise, better bit rate I/O, better sampling rate I/O and (if you're going to build them in) matched speakers. I'm confident if everyone knew what they were missing they would demand it. For the listener it'll be as if they suddenly went from cassette to compact disk but with the dynamic range of vinyl. Wow moments like that can sell gear.

Another problem with digital audio is the lack of information for representing the bandwidth properly in that a minimum of 66khz sampling rate is needed to put it on par with analog records.

I got this figure from talking to Dolby engineers in San Francisco.

What the Beats folks have done is basically treated the analog domain bits in a high quality manner that it really deserved to be in the first place with low distortion amplifiers and analog circuit isolation.

My MacBook is crappy about it as well since it can, very loudly, conduct ground noise to the headphone output when I have a relatively high impedance source, like a cassette adapter, attached to it. Power inverter noise comes through pretty clearly which really blows when I use my MacBook as the main audio source in my car.

"Attenuating interference in an analog sound source that's in close proximity to a CPU (or fluorescent lighting) has been a battle that's been fought for a long time."

You kiss your mother with that mouth?!

I think I would rather have a good front facing camera which would be a great resource for apps like evernote. don't see using a touchpad as my main music player. the pre3 yes, but not the touchpad.

I agree about the music. I wouldn't use it for that either.

How about watching movies? Would you like a touchpad to have better audio while watching a movie? I travel a bit, so I think it would be cool on an airplane.

So, that commercial proves it. HP takes over 50 years to release products after they announce them.

lol

This would be a selling point on the Touchpad for me. I love my iPad, but the audio is incredibly weak, especially for someone like me with old ears. If you want to set it on a table and watch a video with other people you have to connect external speakers.

Hopefully they'll focus on improved sound quality through the entire line. I'm a bit disappointed in the sound quality when playing music through my Pre2 with headphones. It will be nice for keeping Music available when I'm not carrying my Fuze but I wouldn't use it as my primary portable player.

Whoa!

When they started using the term "headphone amplifier", I was grabbed. Headphone amps are audiophile-level devices that cost anywhere from $40 to $4000, and that are used by people with headphones of similar cost.

A couple of open questions which (of course) won't be answered immediately since it's a marketing piece:

The power supply for the Beats Audio headphone amp is really important. You want low noise, low ripple, performance under current draw, all these good things. They didn't talk about this.

The DAC is really important. You want an accurate conversion from digital ("D") to analog ("A"). There's a lot of literature on this. It's easy (but costly) to get awesome results from pricey parts. They didn't talk about this...

The "isolated ground" channel.

I said, "!"

Deja vu here. One of the most recent advances in headphone amp technology is the "virtual ground" channel topology, which uses active electronics to reduce the impedance of the ground. Benefits are exactly what was described: vastly reduced crosstalk for better stereo separation and clarity.

The deja vu comes from this: the "virtual ground" circuit was popularised from the audio homebrew community! HP may have borrowed this and commercialised it (we'd have to open it up and take a look, or at least, stick a multimeter or oscilloscope in there)... Sound familiar? :-)

Why would I care about "Beats"...? I bought a Pre expecting to eventually get a decent use of Google maps, synergy/two-way snyc with other services (like Yahoo) besides Google, sync'd notes without workarounds, a decent choice in apps (not just 2-3 mediocre options per category, regular & meaningful updates, improving battery life and a phone with real usable features (voice dialing - hello?)

While we're at it - who cares about "touch-to-share.) What another load of crap. Is this what the HP engineers who were supposed to be bring us new & innovative apps have been doing.

Its clear what ever faults exist at the beginning, you'll just have to live with. I've lived too long. I'm bailing after my contract is up...

"Why would I care about "Beats"...?" Why would I care about what you care? Anyone that uses their phone/pad as a multimedia device is going to care. Despite what your needs are, there is a significant portion of the population that uses their mobile devices for music, video, entertainment, etc. Apparently you haven't lived long enough to realize that.

you're dumb... that's what I care about

Lots of people will care about the quality of the audio. Especially on a tablet device that is used for watching multi-media.

"Touch-to-Share". Who will care? LOTS of people. Everyone who I have sent info to about the new devices have cited that as the most intriguing capability.

When you say, "i've lived to long".....I am guessing you mean 12 years.

When people of this mettle talk the crap they do..and then say 'I've lived too long'...I just picture a large rock falling splat on them...and promptly forget their nonsense...

Beats is actually quite good.

Shame only ten people will buy it, and then return it for a XOOM within their thirty days when they find out there are no apps and the hardware sucks.

Comparing a Xoom to the TouchPad?
Trolling and trying to make yourself feel better about a purchase you made?

lol...everytime I see something good about the new HP products (and isn't everything good about them?)...I see the paid employees of the competition trying their darndest to be an idiot...

Has anyone actually heard and reported on the Beats sound from a TouchPad?

I think this is some kind of message to audio cradles manufacturers, like Bosé and others, saying: make products for our tablet, as the technology for a good sound generator is here. Now a good audio hearing is needed, and good speakers are the way to.

Eh...I'll stick to the, admittedly, "prosumer" Digidesign 003 for my audio listening. Monster are notoriously known for overpricing subpar audio equipment.

yes!! I would definitely use this as a main music device.. I was already hoping beats audio put out some car speakers and sub woofers.. Especially around the time dr. Dre album drops..that would b awesome..

I'm amused by the hyper-analysis of the audo quality. The reality is it doesn't need to be great. If it's the best sound processing technology on the planet, that's wonderful, but that's only, in and of itself, going to sell a handfull of Touchpads. Audiophiles and tech-geeks are a niche market. It doesn't need to be great, only good (if it IS great, that's a bonus), combined with quality marketing, to succeed, which is why Dr. Dre being part of the marketing campaign is exciting - I mean, I'm a 42 year-old white guy, and I know him, as does my 14 year-old son. It's making it cool - really, we can all talk about productivity, but that's rationalizing buying a $700 product we can live without. Apple products aren't the best; they're not even great. But they became number one because their products are at least good, sometimes very good, combined with the perception of being cool.

bjmacke wrote: "(couple small typos, BTW - it's the headphone amp would be 'discrete' and the laptops have 'fared' better with critics.)"

To that I'll add:

"He noted this was particularly egregious because more and more, computers are our home stereos, and noone is hearing music the way the artists were hearing it in the recording studio."

"noone"?! Tsk, tsk...

But thanks for the heads up on Beats Audio. Sounds cool! And it helps me tease my teenage son, the Macbook snob.

give up on him, man. You'll never successfully turn a macbook snob.

At the WebOS meetup on Thursday night in NYC I stood up and asked Josh Marinacci (head of dev relations) point blank, "What exactly is Beats Audio, how does it manifest itself on the TouchPad, and will it be a true differentiator for WebOS devices?".

The next day this video got tweeted.

Coincidence? I don't know, but either way this was a great marketing move.

That video was not conceived and executed in a 24 hour period.

Of course it wasn't made in the last 24 hours -- I wasn't implying that.

I was implying that their head of relations listened to the developers, forwarded the feedback to marketing, and they reached into their bag of existing materials and tweeted about it.

-or-

it was a coincidence.

beats by dre sound decent but they have a rep for being way overpriced. i know it's an in headset with some djs too. I'm curious what the response will be. like if they get any semblance of that reaction. like people saying, "ah it's just an overpriced add on."

I predict that this tablet is going to be the next big thing for making beats and with a portable sound card and the right apps the future for kids on the streets making music...

I think they are a long way off for that cause there's no apps for this and already tons for the ipad. I think it's an uphill climb.

beatmaker http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBcQFjAA&url=http%3A...
groovemaker http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/groovemaker-free-for-ipad/id363516638?mt=8
easy beat
electrictribe
AKAI SynthStation
Fruity loops is coming if it's not out yet for ipad. http://createdigitalmusic.com/2011/02/fl-studio-for-fruity-mobiles-iphon...

and ableton live is supposed to be coming too. and that's just scratching the surface of the audio production apps available or coming for ipad. so i think they'll have a tough time comp

want to see just how much crap there is for ipads/iphones already check this out that someone posted in the forums http://www.promusicapps.com/category/music-apps/ note it's 33 pages long.

as a side note if they really wanted to go after this market it would help to get some decent software made for webos and put Dre in a commercial making a beat. like that coors light commercial he had where he was making beats on the plane http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMVDrXpSSbo

but it also help to have a bunch of other respected producers in commericals. Cats like 9th Wonder, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, RZA, Neptunes, etc. That would be some juice there. People would copy that.

All the people talking about the headphones - I am definitely very fussy about headphones, I wouldn't go for the beats ones they seem gimmicky, but...

To me the biggest sell is the low-noise interference. That is such a bugger on laptops and small devices! (nexus one, for instance... I had to buy lower quality headphones just to not hear the cpu interference. irony!).

Wish other manufacturers could realise how important it is not to have the cpu and other stuff audible through your music.

they sound good but for the price an audiophile would probably want something else. i think they'd feel their money was better spent on something else. i don't they are designed for people to sit in a room and listen to LP's of smooth jazz. I think the target audience is the guy riding the subway train listening to Shook Ones.

I'd also like to see some discussion of the audio quality of the phones. The original Pre were easy to have your mouth cover the mics. I know the new ones have dual noise cancellation.

Is it any better? Many designers seem to forget the primary purpose of these PHONES.

I hate to say this but all of these changes are motherhood to any respectable analog designer. It just goes to show that analog design is an afterthought for this kind of consumer electronics.

Remove the metal from the plug... Basically, it prevents the jack from acting like an antenna to pick up stray EMI. The problem is that the benefit can totally disappear when you plug in a non-shielded cable.

Isolate the analog channels from the digital ones. This is very cool. Too bad HP didn't augment this with an EMI shield over the analog section to completely eliminate crosstalk.

More powerful amplifier. This is a major win to improve "headroom" to prevent clipping and I highly commend HP for this effort. It should not cause a degradation of battery life for other amplifiers at the same RMS output.

The questions that come to mind are:

1) What class is the amplifier. Class D is typically used for it's power savings, but it can also add significant distortion unless it's done very meticulously.

2) What are the basic specs? Bandwidth, THD, IMD, slew rates would help identify this as a professional design, rather than just a bunch of hype.

3) Is the design single-ended (SE) or push-pull? SE designs sound much more natural and and cleaner at the expense of power consumption.

4) What is the level of feedback in the design? Some feedback is necessary but most designs over-do to get the THD numbers down on mediocre designs.

I would have preferred a "real" analog designer like Nelson Pass who has a long track record of superior design rather than the good intentions of Dr Dre.

I think it's nice to have a "wishlist" of things (I certainly have mine), but the fact is, this was a marketing presentation, and you can't make many inferences either way. Beats Audio could sound like a tin can, or it could be canned eargasm. We need someone to do a teardown and report back.

That said, I was thinking about mobile use and added a dose of reality:

Board space budget: Last I checked, there wasn't much room on your average laptop/tablet main board. Not enough room for "discrete" electronics.

Cost budget: These things are built to a price (we might be happy to stuff $200 of parts into a mid-high end headphone amp; HP isn't).

Power budget: Built for mobile use, so every milliamp must be accounted for. Still, this could be more generous than other laptops.

The conclusions I've drawn from the above are:

They're using an off-the-shelf IC. They can't design their own IC (cost) and they can't use discrete parts (board space).

The rest is tinkering around the edges, like re-designing the main board to reduce EMI.

The expectation is, of course, that their off-the-shelf IC is better than your run-of-the-mill crappy sounding audio codec. Maybe HP has discovered the mobile variant of the Gainclone chip?

(Years ago, there was an amp called the Gaincard, that cost thousands of dollars and sounded like it. People opened it up and were stunned to see, not the usual boggling array of electronics, but a single $10 chip surrounded by a few circuits. I speculate that HP is doing something like this...)

P.S. If I remember right, either that $10 chip or its descendents had design elements from Nelson Pass - they licensed his patents :-)

I agree that there must be engineering trade-offs when designing these products, I'm an electronics engineer with significant analog background and am naturally skeptical about marketing claims such as this.

But I don't expect the TouchPad to replace my audio setup and shouldn't be held up to audiophile standards, even though that's what they claim.

That they took the time to think about what could be done without adding significantly to the cost and improve the analog chain shouldn't be overlooked.

However, they didn't mention anything about the conversion from the digital domain to the analog one. This is another area that could benefit from careful consideration.

Two thoughts.

1) Beats is promising as a differentiator because I think one of the killer apps for tablets is in music production. A tablet makes for a revolutionary control surface, synthesizer, recorder, sheet music reader, etc. If HP can attract music software developers to the TouchPad with demonstrably better audio, then it's a win-win.

2) Seems to me Beats is bypassed if you use a Bluetooth stereo headset. Most if not all the benefit of Beats is in the analog domain. Is there any benefit in the digital domain, where it might help a BT user?

Bring on the Beats! I like the idea of a device that does not need a separate set of speakers for my tunes. Touch to Share, etc, seems like a great combo. While serious audiophiles may go more high-end with gear, I just want simplicity with reasonable sound, without wires. Sounds like this will do it.

A few months ago I helped my 67 year old mother pick out a laptop. We went with an HP that happened to have Beats speakers.

When we got it back to her house and I showed her how she could watch her favorite shows on Hulu, I couldn't help but notice how amazing the speakers on that thing sounded.

It definitely sounded better than a Macbook Pro, which makes me think the TouchPad will sound better than the iPad.

So, to me having Beats Audio speakers is a definite selling point!