Is Beats Audio really better?

If you thought we had a tough time explaining how Beats Audio works, it's even tougher for us to say whether or not Beats Audio really produces superior sound. Part of the problem is that people have different opinions about what sounds good. Some people hate distortion for example, while others actually like it -- evidenced by the popularity of the Kinks' 1964 hit "You Really Got Me," for which guitarist Dave Davies mutilated the speaker cone on his amp with knitting needles [source: Buskin].

The tech Web site Endgadget, which in 2011 hired an independent lab to subject an HTC phone equipped with Beats Audio to extensive tests, came up with some intriguing findings. Contrary to its advertising, reviewer Sharif Sakr wrote, Beats Audio doesn't actually make music that's more faithful to what the musicians played in the studio. "For this to be true, the Beats Audio EQ would need to flatten the system's output, to make music sound more faithful to the source recording -- just as studio monitors do," he wrote. Instead, what the technology does is reproduce music the way that Dr. Dre likes it to sound. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It tweaks music to emphasize the bass and vocals, while depressing the "less interesting" middle frequencies. If you like hip-hop, reviewer Sharif Sakr concluded, Beats Audio makes it sound great. For orchestral music, in contrast, "activating Beats Audio does nothing good," he added [source: Sakr].

But since most people who buy equipment with Beats Audio are more concerned about Wiz Khalifa than Yo-Yo Ma, that probably doesn't matter. The Monster Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, released in 2008, garnered a positive review from the techie Web site CNET, which praised the sleek look of the headphones and also was impressed from a listening standpoint. The headphones had "an exceptionally -- one might say shockingly -- crisp" sound that was "balanced in the mids and truly impressive in their delivery of high-end detail" without the muddiness sometimes found in the bass-heavy microphones favored by hip-hop fans, it reported [source: CNET].