Tuesday, February 20, 2018

HomePod Review

My wife and I are casual musicians and both grew up with a love for music. Ever since we moved in together, we always have had a speaker in the kitchen — it’s the place we most commonly play music without headphones. The JBL OnBeat Venue LT speaker we’ve had in there has served us well, but has officially been usurped by HomePod. Here’s why.

Read on

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reddit audiophile largely impressed with HomePod →

Judging from my analytics, this post on HomePod’s technology is proving particularly popular over the last week as launch nears. In similar vein, WinterCharm from Reddit’s audiophile community had an hour with HomePod and has great things to say. Here’s a few of his notable thoughts.

On the HomePod’s size:

Fucking hell this thing is TINY. It’s really surprising to see it in person. Hefting it is odd, too. The fabric is soft but firm. It was also lighter than I was expecting. It’s also very pretty. Aside from the single cord coming out the back, there is no idication that it has a particular side/front. It’s built to blend into whatever space it’s in, rather than stand out.

On the sound:

Having heard it side by side with The Sonos Play One and Google Home Max, A single HomePod is already much better than both in terms of sound quality. I would say the Sonos Play One was 80% of the way there, but it just lacked the clarity of bass and wide soundstage. The Home Max was consistent with the Sonos Play One.

And:

I started out with “Hotel California” by The Eagles. The first impression was the neutrality of the speaker. The HomePods are tuned for an as-true-to-recording sound. When the song calls for it, there is bass. When the song turns to crystal clear highs, they are reproduced faithfully. What really was interesting is the instrument separation in the room. At about 45% volume, the HomePod FILLED the room I was in with some great sound. When you walked away from it, the sound gets quieter, but not as quickly as you’d expect. All the details were still there, just softer. there was no feeling of walking out of the sweet spot that you get with a normal speaker. And that’s when it hit me… Apple really has done it.

Conclusions:

  1. Significantly better audio than Sonos Play One or Google Home Max.

  2. Walk around in the room you never feel like you’re leaving the sweet spot. An impressive feat.

  3. Volume is more than adequate. The speakers sound accurate, never introducing extra bass when the song didn’t call for it. 40% was fine for me. Pushing them to 80% was really fun.

  4. Highs are great, but I expect that they’ll become crystal clear with a second HomePod.

  5. For a speaker so TINY, these are fucking AMAZING.

  6. The bass is really clean, and well controlled. Build is solid.

There are other reviews out there, but this is the feedback that matters to me most — a real audiophile’s review. I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile per se, but I really value high-quality audio. This makes me even more excited to fire up my HomePod on February 9.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Apple pushes HomePod release to early 2018 →

Brian Heater for TechCrunch:

A spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple’s breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers. We’ll start shipping in the US, UK and Australia in early 2018.”

On the last two Fatherboard episodes, I speculated this might be the case since we hadn’t heard anything more from Apple on a release date.

This isn’t one of those must-have-on-day-one products, so I doubt there will be any backlash in Apple taking the time to get it right. Furthermore, delaying past the holiday shopping season speaks volumes on how much they care about their products. They don’t want to rush something out that is unfinished.

Still crickets on that iMac Pro, though…

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Google will ‘permanently remove’ Home Mini feature that led to constant recording →

Jacob Kastrenakes for The Verge:

Google has decided to “permanently remove” the feature that led to a “small number” of Home Mini units accidentally recording thousands of times a day, instead of just when a user triggers it. In a statement released today, the company said that it made the decision because “we want people to have complete peace of mind while using Google Home Mini.”

Google had seemingly hoped to return the top button functionality to the Home Mini at a later date, but now the company seems to have given up on that — either because it couldn’t figure out a way to do it, or simply out of an abundance of caution. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s both; the potential for the Mini to turn into a constant surveillance device would be a huge liability.) Either way, it’s not the biggest loss, but it’s not great to see such a major issue come up right as a product is about to ship.

With the top button gone, the Home Mini now has to be activated entirely by voice, which isn’t really a huge limitation since it’s designed to be a voice assistant. The Mini’s left and right buttons will continue to work for adjusting the volume.

I’m guessing most people rarely use a similar button on the full-size Google Home or Echo devices, but the fact that this basic functionality had to be completely disabled is a monumental screw up. Google is learning the hard way that making your own hardware isn’t as easy as it seems.

As Jacob alludes to, the optics of this aren’t great either, as Google is a company that profits mainly off user data.

All in all, this really is an unfortunate misstep — the smart home market’s maturity will depend on increased competition as a result of successful products. I quite like the fabric top, too. To me, it’s more aesthetically pleasing than the all-business-looking Echo Dot.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

HomePod technology analyzed by audiophiles on Reddit →

Update 1/30/18: since this post has become popular over the last week, be sure to see what another member of Reddit’s audiophile community thinks of HomePod after spending an hour with it.

The linked Reddit post is an interesting read from Reddit’s picky1 audiophile community. They seem largely impressed with HomePod’s underlying technology, bringing highly advanced audio engineering to a consumer device. HomePod is starting to sound like a bargain after you read this.

Here’s one specific analysis in the thread from user Arve:

They’re using some form of dynamic modeling, and likely also current sensing that allows them to have a p-p excursion of 20 mm in a 4″ driver. This is completely unheard of in the home market. You can read an introduction to the topic here. The practical upshot is that that 4″ driver can go louder than larger drivers, and with significantly less distortion. It’s also stuff you typically find in speakers with five-figure price tags (The Beolab 90 does this, and I also suspect that the Kii Three does). It’s a quantum leap over what a typical passive speaker does, and you don’t really even find it in higher-end powered speakers

Sounds like classic Apple. Bringing high-end, unheard of performance to the masses.

The speaker uses six integrated beamforming microphones to probe the room dimensions, and alter its output so it sounds its best wherever it is placed in the room. It’ll know how large the room is, and where in the room it is placed.

This is the coolest feature of the HomePod to me. Typically, you’d want a speaker of this size to be placed about one foot from a wall in order for the sound to project better towards you. With HomePod, you should be able to put it anywhere in the home and have it sound good.

The room correction applied after probing its own position isn’t simplistic DSP of frequency response, as the speaker has seven drivers that are used to create a beamforming speaker array, so they can direct specific sound in specific directions. The only other speakers that do this is the Beolab 90, and Lexicon SL-1. The Beolab 90 is $85,000/pair, and no price tag is set for the Lexicon, but the expectation in the industry is “astronomical”.

This is truly amazing and goes hand-in-hand with room sensing. The HomePod will be able to direct specific frequencies to different parts of the room in order to produce better sound.

I wouldn’t call myself an audiophile per se, but I definitely appreciate better quality music. Audio quality is a largely subjective thing. What may sound good to me might sound bad to you and vice versa. Either way, there definitely is a threshold where people can agree here is where audio quality starts to sound like shit. It’s whether or not they care that determines what they purchase. Apple has got to get people to care about their audio quality in order to buy HomePod. They did a great job with the AirPods, which sound noticeably better than EarPods, in addition to offering a great experience.

We’ll see if they can go 2 for 2.


  1. Redundant, I know. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The best of Apple's WWDC 2017 announcements

Amazing and inspiring words from the world’s biggest company. I usually can remember all the top features after an Apple keynote, but this one was SO packed, I had to go back and check things.

Apple was flying through their keynote at a blistering pace, and needingly so. They presented a ton of new features (and new hardware) across their line. Here is the top stuff that caught my attention. You can also replay the keynote.

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