What Will Be The Beat In HTC?

Like it or not, Monster has done more for the recent success of headphones than any one else. They've moved headphones from just another audio accessory, to a major stand-alone audio category in the mind of the popular culture. Headphone sales have climbed strongly over the past three years in the face of economic turmoil, and Monster has played the major roll in that success.

I'd say it's mostly been an exersize in marketing and supply chain acumen so far, but the deal with HTC may change all that.

The Technical Pitch Can Win
In a recent InnerFidelity poll I asked the question, "HTC pays $300mil for control Beats Electronics. What will consumers get out of it?" The answer, "Just the rapper's logo is enough ... people are sheeple. Money spent on actual improvements will eat into profits" is winning almost two to one over all other answers combined.

I'd like to say you guys are a bunch of pessimists, but I'm afraid it is the realistic answer in a world run by MBAs and motivated by quarterly profits. However, I'd like to offer an alternative: in a world where believing the sheeple will get shorn is the norm, actually putting some good stuff in the product may win.

Take Dyson, for example, this guy enters the extraordinarily mature market for vacuums, and cleans up. How? Simply by making a better vacuum and telling people about how it's better. No celebrities ... no dancing girls ... just a simple pitch describing a better technology.

Now, the pitch doesn't go on at length about how it works, it just drops a few crumbs of technospeak, and then sucks you in with its truthiness. You leave sub-consciously convinced that it's a better vacuum. The technical pitch to sheeple might work just as well as the celebrity pitch. The important thing to note with the present article is that with this type of marketing Dyson actually has to have made a better vacuum. Once they do, though, they can sell it simply and powerfully on the basis of being better.


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.