HTC U11 review

A unique phone with great audio performance

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  • Excellent audio performance
  • Great in-box headphones
  • Dedicated DAC to make your current headphones sound better

The audio performance is one of the best reasons to pick up the HTC U11, with it offering strong clarity and all the tools you could want right out of the box – including Hi-Re Audio playback, if you’ve got any high-quality files kicking around.

The first thing that HTC is offering is its USonic headphones, which bring decent sound for a set that come bundled with a phone. 

Some have noted that they're a bit bass-heavy, but for earbuds that feels like a good thing to have achieved, given the smaller space for the drivers.

Secondly, they offer noise cancellation... apparently. They pack microphones in to read the ambient noise and provide a more isolated audio experience, although they’re nowhere near as good as a pair of noise-cancelling over-the-ear cans.

It’s probably partly down to the noise isolation offered by bigger headphones, but using the USonic headphones on a plane was only a little bit better than using a decent pair of buds without power-sapping noise cancelling.

Either way, the sound is more encompassing, and feels more direct. You also use the bundled headphones to scan the inside of your ear and create a personal audio profile, which is pretty cool, and the resulting effect does sound more impressive.

You can make things even more defined by listening to a set of noises in a quiet room to work out the level of frequency your ears are able to discern, which also seems to work well and is worth doing.

While it’s annoying that HTC has dropped the headphone jack on the U11 (we’re still not in a place where forcing this decision on consumers is a good idea – and it’s not like this phone is massively thin) the bundled adaptor is excellent.

It’s not only more robust than the one Apple offers, but it’s also got a digital amplifier inside, so whichever headphones you plug in they’re going to sound better. It does draw power, but not a lot, and it really improves the sound quality.

The final element is the HTC U11’s Boomsound speaker setup. There are two speakers, but HTC has stuck with the plan of splitting the sound between high-end and mid/bass levels, with the former coming out the earpiece and the latter firing downwards at the bottom of the phone.

This means it’s easy to cover the loudest speaker, and when holding the phone in the hand the sound quality doesn’t work as well.

However, HTC has added a clever trick into the U11: place the phone down on a flat surface and the resonance chambers expand, with the improvement in sound quality marked. However, this is only any good if you’re playing music, as for video you want the phone propped up, so you’ll lose the impressive quality.

We still wish there were two speakers firing forward on the HTC U11, like on the One series of old. They worked well and looked iconic… but those days have passed. 

If you like listening to music on a phone, then the HTC U11 has got it all: excellent bundled buds, clever audio algorithms, a strong headphone adaptor and good external playback.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.