Friday, December 8, 2017

TechCrunch: Apple to acquire Shazam →

Ingrid Lunden and Katie Roof for TechCrunch:

As Spotify continues to inch towards a public listing, Apple is making a move of its own to step up its game in music services. Sources tell us that the company is close to acquiring Shazam, the popular app that lets people identify any song, TV show, film or advert in seconds, by listening to an audio clip or (in the case of, say, an ad) a visual fragment, and then takes you to content relevant to that search.

We have heard that the deal is being signed this week, and will be announced on Monday, although that could always change.

One source describes the deal as in the nine figures; another puts it at around £300 million ($401 million). We are still asking around. Notably, though, the numbers we’ve heard are lower than the $1.02 billion (according to PitchBook) post-money valuation the company had in its last funding round, in 2015.

Obvious Apple Music and Siri benefits aside, Apple must be really impressed with Shazam’s underlying technology to make this purchase. I’ve never seen anyone use Shazam on a TV show or in any capacity other than identifying music, but there could be some real benefits to tried and tested audio recognition down the line (e.g. AR, advanced Siri functions, HomePod).

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. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Apple’s Music app still doesn’t have a real equalizer

Ah, the Music app. Probably Apple’s most polarizing iOS app when it comes to design. When it was redesigned for Apple Music’s launch in 2015, there were tons of bugs and missing functionality that has since been restored. Kudos to Apple for addressing those many concerns. I still have one gripe, though.

I know a lot of people probably don’t care about having a real 5-band equalizer, but it’s 2017 and still not an option in Apple’s Music app on iOS.

Does anyone actually like the built-in presets for the EQ provided, heralding all the way back to the iPod days? Almost all of them reduce overall volume in a negative way, not to mention they just make your music sound like crap. A few of them have more utilitarian purposes, and that’s understandable (spoken word, bass/treble reducer, etc.), but at least give us the option to set the EQ exactly how we want it.

Ugh, the EQ presets.

Ugh, the EQ presets.

I can’t think of a single reason Apple shouldn’t include a 5-band EQ—hell, at least give us 3-band and I’ll be happy (Bass, Mids, Treble). Most people who don’t want to touch it won’t. They’ll just leave their preset EQ where it is (or off compeletely). Spotify has had a band EQ for quite a while, and I’m seriously jealous.

Spotify’s band portion of their EQ.

Spotify’s band portion of their EQ settings.

Sure, there are a bunch of 3rd-party music apps that have band EQs and will play songs from your iCloud Music Library, but I don’t want a 3rd-party app. Mainly because I’ll lose the ability to ask Siri to play a song in said app, since that is a function reserved only for the Music app. I’ll also lose the custom EQ when playing a song in my car via CarPlay. There’s too many downsides to having to use another app just to tweak the EQ.

With all the little changes we’re getting in iOS 11, I had hoped this would be one. Maybe next year.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Apple Music needs a force-upload option (or equivalent)

Most people don’t have 40,000+ MP3s anymore, unless you’re my Dad. You see, my Dad is a music enthusiast, and ex-party DJ, so he has amassed quite the collection of music over the years. This collection includes rarities, alternate versions, region-specific masterings of albums, you name it. This presents some challenges when he uses Apple Music. To understand the issue here, let me first break down the three distinct services involved…

Read on