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How Beats Audio Works

How does Beats Audio make music sound different?
Iovine and Dr. Dre speaking about their Beats products
Iovine and Dr. Dre speaking about their Beats products
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Basically, as the digital version of a song is translated back into physical vibrations by the speakers in your computer or your headphones, Beats Audio again tinkers with the frequencies, altering them in a way that's supposed to sound good to your ears. How exactly Beats headphones do that isn't easy to discern, since the Beats Electronics Web site is slim on technical info, and there isn't much in the five U.S. patents that the company owns, all of them actually created by Silicon Valley-based industrial designer Robert Brunner and colleagues. The features cited in the filings are mostly "ornamental" flourishes, and there's little explanation of what would make them produce a more accurate sound [source: Google Patents]. Similarly, in a 2011 lawsuit -- since settled -- between Beats Electronics and Signeo, a rival manufacturer that marketed a headphone endorsed by the rapper Ludicris, most of the dispute seems to be about whether the headphones looked too similar [source: Signeo USA et al vs. Beats Electronics LLC et al].

We do know that Dre and Iovine reportedly spent two years trying different headset prototypes with their own finely-tuned ears until they found a design that, in their judgment, offered the best sound. They also had various music stars -- Jay Z., Mary J. Blige, and Bono and The Edge from U2, among others -- try out the headphones to confirm their verdict. "There is no benchmark reference for what absolute perfect sound is," Kevin Lee of Monster Cable, an audio company that partnered with Beats from 2008 through 2012, told USA Today. "That's where Dr. Dre comes in. We probably ran about 150 prototypes before we got it just right" [source: Jones].

The Beats Audio technology in computers and phones is a bit less of a mystery. HP, which uses it in laptops, was kind enough to post a YouTube video that details its distinctive performance-related design features. The latter includes a redesigned headphone jack that's been grounded to reduce distortion, and a more powerful amplifier with better stereo separation. Also, the audio components on the computer's system board are isolated, away from other parts that might mess with the signals. But the key feature seems to be something called the "Beats Audio profile," which audiophile critics say is a fancy name for the equalizer setting, or EQ, on the computer's software operating system [sources: YouTube, Tunelab].

What that means, basically, is that when the computer plays a song -- specifically, the sort of a bass-heavy hip-hop music that Dre produces -- its software automatically jumps in and tweaks the frequencies a little more, for your benefit.