Not all audio is created equal. The Beats audio implementations on HP PCs just sound better than the competition. It’s not just me saying stuff like that. So, while I have beaten that drum time and time again, I wanted to actually talk to the REAL experts about the subject. I mean, I’m a bit of a nerd, but Victor Lee is the kind of guy that I turn to when I need the straight scoop on audio.
Victor Lee is one of those guys that has a “Golden Ear” – that is, he can hear when something doesn’t sound absolutely perfect. (In fact, he’s caught sound irregularities in prototype units caused by crossed wires.) He also happens to work within HP’s desktop group, helping make sure that you get the purest possible sound and the best experience when listening to music on – or through – your PC (His official title: PC, Audio and Video Technologist). So, while I have a pretty decent grasp of the basics, I asked him to take me down the inception hole to the next layer. To help me – and you – be a better audio nerd. Here’s goes nothing.
Step one is to provide the Beats sound profile. It’s a sonic signature that HP together with Beats AOC has established. Of course, the sonic signature changes from very large machines (like a 27-inch all-in-one) to a laptop. The difference in sound in Beats audio is that we adjust the settings in a very specific way (for example, even the music content above 10 KHz is tweaked).
The next step is the use of digital audio processing to optimize the audio hardware. Now, by audio hardware, we’re talking about the combination of the codec, the amplifier and the speaker.
So the sound gets optimized to deliver music more clearly than what is offered on most other PCs. We want to increase the dynamics and rich, fullness of the music as if you were listening to it live. This does wonders for those songs that have been dynamically compressed during mastering.
Back in the day, before Beats came on the scene, I used to notice that jacking up the bass was a cheap way to conceal weak treble reproduction. There is no cover-up going on here.
PC audio can sound so flat – because there is so much digital noise inside a computer. That affects both the low end and the high end (the stuff that Victor just mentioned matters the most). The Beats people figured out how to compensate for the problems. Usually, the first thing you lose in digital audio is the bass. The sound just isn’t as meaty.
Victor actually evaluated many audio codecs, amplifiers and speakers. He picked the ones sounding the best. He also made sure that the circuit design and their implementation were properly laid out to remove sources of interference.
Using that sound signature…and the right hardware are two of the ways you can side-step audio issues.
The typical problem with the amplifier is cost constraints. Take a larger all-in-one PC from HP, for example. It has four speakers on it – two left channel, two right channel. Each one driven by 2 Watts. That doesn’t sound like a lot of wattage (Hint: It isn’t!), but what we succeed in doing in loudness and quality is equal to or better than that of a 27-inch all-in-one computer that has two 20 Watts speakers. Our tech makes HP speakers WAY more efficient (in addition to being more
precise), Victor tells me, referring to some sound meter level tests he’s been conducting.
Turns out using 2 Watts to power an amplifier is pretty darn good. Since those 2 watt components don’t cost nearly as much, we’re able to reach way better prices on our PCs. “My speakers are way more efficient…and they get loud. The ENVY 23 is great for dorm room parties,” Victor says as a point of pride. Of course, if you opt for the extra, external Pulse subwoofer, you get an extra bit of bump.
We try pushing the speakers as hot as we dare, but we protect them by using a compressor and a limiter. Beyond a certain input, the output doesn’t increase anymore – reducing the risk of blowing out your speakers. (Or your eardrums. Or both.) Victor tells me that, “We have a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) that has multiple bands in the bass….and we actually reproduce virtual bass. It’s pretty convincing and you might not even realize that there is no subwoofer in our AiOs but they sounded like they do.”
Another thing that remains important is circuit grounding and avoiding line coupled electrical noise. If you have several wires crisscrossing each other inside the system, you’re introducing a LOT of interference into the equation. It might be cheaper and easier to bundle cables through a machine, but it won’t produce the best audio output – and that is exactly the sort of design issues that Victor keeps his eyes…sorry, EARS…tuned for during product development.
Inevitably, some people will want to plug in their headphones. Victor tells me that… “We take the same care in providing superior sound with headphones. Our Beats desktop PCs, for example, have dedicated high performance headphone amplifiers for best in class performance with headphones, especially with Beats headphones.” That’s right, we’re not re-purposing the amplifier that pipes out to your speakers, we’re talking about separate, dedicated amplifier that goes straight to your headphones. Sure it costs a little more to build it in, but we think you’re worth it.
So, it’s obviously built to get you the best out of your music. Our Beats AiOs and towers also have a movie mode for sound. It is optimized to let you experience the full dynamics in movie sound effects while maintaining the clarity of the conversation.
Did all this help? Or, if you need me to break out the ol’ projector reel, may I direct your attention to this recently unearthed video that succinctly explains what Beats audio means…
…and you thought it was just a matter of hitting fn+B to flip on the Beats audio to rock out.