HP and Beats Team Up for Special Edition Digital Music Laptop

Yesterday, I got to head over the Westin in Times Square and check out the upcoming special edition laptop co-branded by Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Beats by Dr. Dre. You’ll remember the Beats by Dre headphones, I’m sure.

This is the deal: It’s a HP Envy 15, the company’s new premier laptop that will drop on Oct. 18. The Beats logo is on the back a la the Apple (AAPL) logo, and it comes bundled with a pair of Beats headphones. It will retail for $2,300.

HP and Beats engineers collaborated to create a laptop that respected music and sound, the spokesman said, instead of treating them as an afterthought. They designed the music architecture from source to line out, writing new digital sound processing code, and arranged the laptop's innards to cut out audible magnetic and digital interference (bleeding).

Running on the laptop is Beats audio software that "tunes" the music for better sound. It's like a souped-up equalizer that works specifically with the Envy. There are special presets for sound systems, earbuds, and earphones (cans), and it lets you save custom settings. The software works independent of what music player is running, so you can use iTunes, Windows Media Player, Winamp, or others. And of course, you can turn it off.

If you follow the NEXT blog, you've probably read one or two of my rants about sound quality and the music industry. Let's just say I was skeptical about what could be done to make music sound better on a laptop, so both HP and Beats had a tough sell.

We did a little sound testing right there in the hotel. First, I listened to a few songs on a Dell (DELL) Adamo, that company's prestige model. Then, I switched over to the HP Beats laptop. The difference was obvious. Indeed, it sounded much better. Jumping back and forth between laptops playing the same song confirmed the difference. The Beats software was left off, for fair comparison's sake. The next test was the Beats laptop alone, but with the Beats software switching on and off. Again, the sound was better with the software on.

To be crystal clear, I was there for a short time. I won't go so far as to claim the music was warmer or more lifelike, but it was remarkably more robust and had more presence.

So did HP and Beats design a better laptop for digital music? Yes. But there are a few catches. Most importantly, the music will only sound as good as the source file. An awful MP3 will still sound terrible to discerning listeners. If you decide to try out a Beats laptop, at least use a CD or a 320kpbs audio file. With the Envy's updated capacity and speed, though, there's incentive to eat up some hard drive space with lossless audio codecs.

The other issue here is price. It's definitely going to be out of reach for a lot of people. And truthfully, there's an even larger group out there that doesn't care about sound quality.

If you're DJ using Serato, a music connoisseur, a sound engineer, or just want a sick laptop, however, it might be worth every penny.

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