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Sprint teams up with Harman Kardon to launch an HTC One for audiophiles

Above: Left to right: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek; Sprint CEO Dan Hesse; Harman Kardon CEO Dinesh Paliwal; HTC CEO Peter Chou

NEW YORK — Sprint is declaring war on crappy sounding music.

The carrier today announced that it’s joining forces with audio technology company Harman Kardon and HTC to deliver an exclusive version of the new HTC One targeted at audiophiles.

The “HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition” can play uncompressed FLAC audio files (which music lovers typically prefer to compressed MP3s). Harman Kardon has also developed a technology called “Clarify” that will use algorithms to bring out the rich sound typically lost in compressed music. The phone sports an exclusive black and gold finish, and it will come with a pair of Harman Kardon earbuds valued at $150.

“Perhaps no field of technology has advanced more in recent years than wireless,” said Sprint CEO Dan Hesse at an intimate media gathering this morning. But while today’s smartphones have embraced high-definition video, Hesse pointed out that we’re still relying on overly compressed music files.

While I don’t think Sprint will be able to convince many normal consumers to choose its HTC One over other carriers, it may be able to tempt the few who care about the quality of their music. (Then again, those music lovers are likely using other portable media players that already support uncompressed files.)

Sprint also trotted out Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, who announced a significant new partnership between the companies. Spotify will now offer extended trial periods for all Sprint customers — a free six month trial for “Framily Plan” customers (Sprint’s shared mobile plan), and a free three month trial for other Sprint subscribers.

Framily Plan customers with five or fewer members on their service can continue Spotify service after the trial for $6.99 a month, while those with more members only have to pay $4.99. Non-Framily Plan customers still have to pay the typical $9.99 a month Spotify fee.

Of course, the irony of highlighting Spotify, a music service that streams heavily compressed music, wasn’t mentioned during today’s proceedings. Sprint also could have bolstered its commitment to high-quality music by selling uncompressed, high-resolution files on its music store — but the company isn’t committing to that yet.

I briefly tested out the phone’s Clarify feature with a few songs, and I noticed a slight improvement in audio quality. But the difference wasn’t nearly enough for most consumers to notice, and it also didn’t sound discernibly different from other software methods for boosting music quality.

This particular HTC One is also an interesting move for HTC, which bought a $300 million stake in Beats Audio a few years ago, only to sell it back to Beats for $265 million last year. When it comes to audiophile cred, Harman Kardon stands miles ahead of Beats. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two companies work together closely for next year’s flagship HTC phone.


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