It looks like Apple’s iPhone is about to come up against some steep competition, with HTC’s partnership with Beats throwing down the gauntlet and introducing two new smartphones with an emphasis on strong sound quality.

Announced overnight, the new HTC Sensation XE and Sensation XL push Android smartphones into the high-end music scene, with the partnership of Beats by Dr. Dre, a headphone brand geared at making the music sound “the way the artist intended”.

“With superior sound quality never before experienced from a smartphone, HTC is pushing the boundaries once again to deliver optimised audio experience to our consumers,” said Ben Hodgson, Country Manager for HTC Australia and New Zealand. “These devices are a classic example of sound-meets-design, developed to meet the growing demand for a richer audio and video experience.”

Each of the two models are different, but carry the same “Sensation” model name first seen in the model launched by Telstra several months ago.

With the Sensation XE (above), it’s not just the name that’s shared: the body is similar, as is the screen and most of the specs, with an 8 megapixel camera still here, qHD screen, Android 2.3 Gingerbread, microSD slot, Bluetooth, WiFi, and GPS. Some of the design elements have changed, with a Vodafone red speaker grill and a faster processor, clocking in with a 1.5GHz dual-core processor.

That alone makes it one of the fastest phones around, but HTC has gone and added more value with some nice ear-canal phones for use. Packed in with the Sensation XE is a pair of urBeats headphones, a custom made headset with inline audio remote control which works in tandem with Beats software native to the handset, making audio sound better.

Then there’s the Sensation XL (above), a phone with a screen size that’s so big, we’re not even sure we have the pockets for it. This model features a huge 4.7 inch screen but manages to make it into a body that’s 9.9mm thin. The Sensation XL also features an 8 megapixel camera, WiFi, Bluetooth, Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but ditches the microSD slot and instead gives you 16GB of storage.

Under the hood, it’s not quite the speed freak that its sibling is, packing a 1.5GHz single-core processor, more than enough for most things people will throw at it.

Much like the XE, this Sensation arrives with a pair of premium Beats headphones, although these are the Beats Solo headphones, a proper pair of over-the-ear headphones that normally retails for $299.

Vodafone looks to have the exclusivity on both of these for the moment, with the Sensation XE arriving in mid-November for $0 on a $59 plan and the XL hitting for $5 on a $59 plan.