Review: HTC Rezound for Verizon Wireless
I fully admit that the following is an over-the-top and ridiculous way to test the audio quality of a cell phone's music player, but hey, I had fun doing it and HTC thinks you should buy the Rezound for this feature. I didn't use any fancy graphs, or microphones, or test equipment, just consumer-grade stuff that anyone can buy, and my own two ears. So, here goes...
Hi, my name is Eric, and I am an audiophile. I am addicted to sound. I have more stereo equipment in my house right now than I care to admit, but I made use of it to put the Rezound to some rigorous audio quality tests.
Part of the magic that HTC wants you to believe in is that the Rezound comes with special Beats Audio software. True to HTC's word, in the HTC music player application, you can toggle two sound shapes: Beats Audio and HTC Sound Enhancer. Each has its own sound; they are definitely different, though whether or not one is better than the other is the question.
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I used four songs to test this software: Lady Gaga's "Judas," Chris Cornell's "Blackhole Sun (acoustic)," Metallica's "One," and Coldplay's "Hurts Like Heaven." I chose these songs because they cover the range of what most people will listen to: club-style dance, acoustic/natural instrument and voice, hard rock/heavy metal, and modern pop/rock.
I queued up each song in HTC's media player as well as Google Music. Thanks to the multitasking nature of Android, I was able to jump back and forth between the two different media players to see if there was a difference in sound.
Using the included Beats headphones, the sound quality with the Beats software activated was definitely better than the HTC Enhancer and the Google Music app. It's evident that the included headphones are tuned really well to the software and the Rezound in particular, but the results aren't even.
To my ears, the Beats software is doing a few tricky things. First, the HTC Sound Enhancer profile is rather flat, giving roughly even clout to the low, mid, and high frequencies. The Beats software is boosting the bass (by a lot), dialing down the mids, and boosting the highs. It is also compressing the signal (reduces peaks and troughs), and upping the sound level a bit.
To the untrained ear, switching on the Beats Audio software means your music will be more bass-heavy, bright-sounding, and louder than the HTC Sound Enhancer. HTC's software sounds dull by comparison, as does the new Google Music application.
This means that Lady Gaga and Metallica sound really good with the Beats software, but Coldplay and Chris Cornell didn't sound as good. Where Lady Gaga and Metallica lean towards bass and treble mixes to begin with, Chris Cornell's naked voice and Coldplay's lush soundscapes have a lot more mid-range tones in them. With the mid-range dialed down by Beats, I felt that Chris Cornell and Coldplay's songs didn't sound as good as with the flat EQ of the HTC software and Google Music software.
I then repeated these same A-then-B listening tests with my own Shure SE310s and Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones. Now, both of these sets of headphones costs $300 each, which is thrice the off-the-shelf price of the URBeats headphones that the Rezound comes with. No offense to Beats engineering, but both the Shures and the Bose completely spanked the Beats in terms of overall audio quality in all four songs, with the Beats software turned on, turned off, and through the Google Music app. There is still a difference, however, with the Beats audio software turned on. You can head the EQ change, boosting the bass and treble, while compressing the signal and raising the volume.
Just to be a jerk, I decided to test the Rezound with it plugged into three different stereo systems. The first system included a $200 receiver and $200 bookshelf speakers. I noticed the same difference in terms of how the Beats Audio software works. Then I pumped it through my main home theater, which has a $400 receiver and about $1200 worth of high-end speakers, including floor-standing mains. With this system, I was able to more clearly hear how the Beats software had an effect on the four different songs. Through my main home theater, Chris Cornell and Coldplay sounded downright crummy with the Beats turned on. There was no warmth, and the lack of mids really hurt what Chris and the Coldplay gang were trying to achieve with their recordings. The Lady Gaga and Metallica, however, sounded a lot better.
Then, simply because I had to take it to the Nth degree, I hooked the Rezound up to my Public Address system (PA), which features two 550-watt active speakers, each with 15-inch woofers. These speakers are loud enough to fill a dance club with enough sound to make people's ears bleed. With the Beats Audio software turned on, Lady Gaga sounded amazing at club-like volumes, while Metallica sounded raw and gnarly at stadium-level volumes (my ears are still ringing). I still preferred the regular mode of listening for Chris Cornell, but Coldplay sounded good through my PA with Beats enabled.
As a control, I performed all the same tests with an iPhone. Instead of using Beats Audio software (which the iPhone does not have), I switched the EQ on and off while listening to the same set of songs. I used the "Rock" EQ setting on the iPhone, which pumps up the bass and treble and dials down the mids a bit. It doesn't compress the signal nor boost the volume, as the Beats does. Using this method, I was able to reproduce approximately the same results without spending $300 million on Beats Audio.
The bottom line here is that Beats Audio is using its own equalizer settings and a few other audio tricks and fine-tuning it to sound as good as possible with its own headphones. You can accomplish pretty much the same thing with any 5-band EQ if you don't mind taking the time to tweak things for a while.
Last, remember that sound quality is highly subjective. What one person likes, another may hate. I'd be more impressed with Beats Audio's software if it gave us a few choices, such as Beats Audio Bass Enhancer, or Voice Enhancer, etc.