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HomePod first impressions


kirkmc
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From everything I know, including a visit this morning to the Apple Store, the HomePod is yet another pathetic attempt on Apple's part to push their customer base back in the direction of DRM.  This time though, the DRM isn't a specific code embedded in each music track that protects the music companies and their stable of artists, it's the system itself and it serves Apple's interests only.

 

BTW, this HomePod has Bluetooth 5.0, but cannot be used as a Bluetooth speaker.

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Here are my thoughts on this Home Pod unit. I believe that Apple will eventually expand and improve Siri but being Apple do it with PRIVACY at the utmost consideration. I for one do not want a listening device in my home from anyone. Apple is the only company I would consider trusting. 

Another thought is that with the sound technology that is built in to this speaker  can be expanded (to include possibly the EQ flexibility Kurt mentions among other technologies  this speaker broaches that other like type speakers are lacking) and further enlarged (size wise) so that a home could have speaker(s) for every room sans amplifiers/cables/various room treatments. I don't know about everyone else but having the potential for VERY good sounding speakers without the need for amps wires cables music players DAC's acoustical room treatments etc etc etc is very appealing. There will ALWAYS be a very few who fancy themselves "audiophiles" that will never be satisfied with this speaker or the concept. No argument there.  However I have all ideas that Apple is on to something  for the great majority of the public if only those who are in the Apple "ecosystem"

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4 hours ago, kirkmc said:

What does this have to do with DRM? I have been streaming music from my iTunes library since I got it. 

 

DRM is fundamentally about not allowing users to possess music files that they can potentially give to other users.

 

Apple for a fact sold DRM files at one time, and if the market permitted, they would like to resume doing so.

 

However, the better solution for Apple in this modern "officially non-DRM" world is to razzle-dazzle their customers with devices they (Apple) have enough control over that they accomplish essentially the same thing.

 

Apple pushes hard on "the Cloud" - i.e. they possess the tracks, and you pay for the Internet service to play them.  Although the new speaker has Bluetooth 5.0, you can't use it to play your music.  You have to play from a "network" that Apple has remarkable control over.  For example, Apple continually forces near-gigabyte size "update" files through my Wifi network, which they cannot do (so far) through my cellphone account.

 

I have Apple products, which I feel (at this time!) to be more convenient and a better value than the competitors.  But Apple are control freaks on steroids, and if you challenge them on their policies (such as the large forced downloads), their senior supervisors at support will lie and deny that they do such things, right as I'm holding the proof in my hands.  Proof BTW that was certified by the manager at the Apple Store locally.

 

I've worked with Apple products on and off since 1980, so I do have a history....

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1 minute ago, kirkmc said:

Huh? As I said, I was playing music from iTunes. You don't need to use the cloud, and you don't need to use Apple Music. 

 

As for Bluetooth, it's used for controlling the device, as it is for other Apple services (Handoff, Continuity, AirDrop), and since Bluetooth requires that the music be compressed  - even, I think with BT 5 - it's not as good. 

 

I know that some of the Bluetooth products and codecs aren't as good as a CD, but I did have a Bluetooth headphone that had AptX, and it was close enough for all but the most critical listening, and in that case, I just connected the cable and plugged in the DAC.

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3 hours ago, LCC0256 said:

Here are my thoughts on this Home Pod unit. I believe that Apple will eventually expand and improve Siri but being Apple do it with PRIVACY at the utmost consideration. I for one do not want a listening device in my home from anyone. Apple is the only company I would consider trusting. 

Another thought is that with the sound technology that is built in to this speaker  can be expanded (to include possibly the EQ flexibility Kurt mentions among other technologies  this speaker broaches that other like type speakers are lacking) and further enlarged (size wise) so that a home could have speaker(s) for every room sans amplifiers/cables/various room treatments. I don't know about everyone else but having the potential for VERY good sounding speakers without the need for amps wires cables music players DAC's acoustical room treatments etc etc etc is very appealing. There will ALWAYS be a very few who fancy themselves "audiophiles" that will never be satisfied with this speaker or the concept. No argument there.  However I have all ideas that Apple is on to something  for the great majority of the public if only those who are in the Apple "ecosystem"

 

I did quite a bit of research over the past two days, mostly on the HomePod, but also on the competitors.  Firstly, Apple cares not a whit about your privacy, and that can be seen in how they turn ON all of the privacy-killing settings on new devices.  

 

Did you know that iOS 11 now has over a thousand settings, if you drill down to the last level?  Very few users will get to all of those.

 

Anyway, the critical reviews described how the HomePod and most of its competitors will be a spy's wet dream, in putting a listening device into those homes that's accessible by hackers, criminals, corrupt government, etc.

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Yamaha has a pair that costs - I think - around $500 or $600, and includes AirPlay. Mackie studio monitors are excellent, and they have a full range of models and prices. There are other brands that are also very good. 

I write about Macs, music, and more at Kirkville.

Author of Take Control of macOS Media Apps

Co-host of The Next Track podcast.

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19 hours ago, dalethorn said:

 

I did quite a bit of research over the past two days, mostly on the HomePod, but also on the competitors.  Firstly, Apple cares not a whit about your privacy, and that can be seen in how they turn ON all of the privacy-killing settings on new devices.  

 

Did you know that iOS 11 now has over a thousand settings, if you drill down to the last level?  Very few users will get to all of those.

 

Anyway, the critical reviews described how the HomePod and most of its competitors will be a spy's wet dream, in putting a listening device into those homes that's accessible by hackers, criminals, corrupt government, etc.

Thank you Dale for passing along this information to me.  

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I plan to visit the Apple store again, Monday or Tuesday, with my Senn/Apogee AMBEO binaural recording headset, and get some recordings of the HomePod, so people who want a general idea of how it might sound on a shelf - close to a wall and further away, can get a sense of that from my video.

 

I might be the first person to do that with a binaural recorder.

 

Understand that I can have fun and do something educational at the same time, being objective about the product, but retaining the knowledge of the dangers of having Big Brother in the house.  Enjoy!

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Here's a video (audio only) that I made of the HomePod in the Apple store.  It opens as I'm recording with cupped hands behind the earpiece mics, to screen out some of the customer/store noise, then I back off from there and remove the earphones from my ears so the sound is no longer binaural (i.e. the soundstage collapses).

 

Unfortunately because of the store's background noise, I had to be closer to the speaker than what I would have liked, and thus much of the power and projection of the speaker's sound isn't captured well here.

 

I don't know that I could adequately describe the sound (or sound potential) of the HomePod in a couple of sentences, but I do find it to be quite remarkable, compared to any other $350 small table-top speaker.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuOYdtW3sJ0

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3 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

I don't know enough about loudspeaker measurements and those with internal DSP, to know if these are good measurements.

 

@esldude any idea?

It is hard to tell.  Graphs for the KEF are 1/12th octave smoothed. Those for the Homepod 1/2 octave or in one case 1/3 octave smoothed.  1/2 smoothing can make pretty atrocious things look okay.  I find 1/6th smoothing to be a good compromise for general character of the response and 1/12 th smoothing good for seeing deeper into problems.  

 

I've not looked into this review at more than a quick scan.  I'll see if he included the REW data in his download (when it gets done via my pokeynet internet connection.)

 

Looking at the LSR 305 and 308 measures done with REW  you can see they look  better than the Homepod.   As quoted in this post. 

 

 

The fellow with the 308's uses them with DSP via miniDSP gear and can get even better results.  Those I linked to are without the DSP unless my memory is bad. 

 

The big thing with the Homepod with my cursory reading of it is the speaker can adjust itself without intervention wherever it finds itself in the room.  It can do that with music played a couple minutes over it.  So for many people who aren't savvy about such things it might provide surprisingly good performance.  I do wish the loudness curve (Fletcher Munson compensation could be turned on or off).  It also is handy for a speaker you might use in one location sometimes and move it elsewhere for a party or whatever reason.  It will largely fix itself in a couple minutes. 

 

 

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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5a82277f64e3e_Homepodkef305.thumb.png.bb3be7ca733e0a06cee65d2c151d09e9.png

 

Okay from the downloaded REW data.  Pink is from my own LSR305s.  Blue-green is the Homepod and bright green the KEF (though I am not sure what was done as it is labled F_M curve).  1/12 octave smoothing for all.  The 305 was measured plopped with no care on a long wall a foot from the wall and middle of that wall when I moved to a new house.  Measured with a miniDSP Umik at roughly 8 feet.  The 305 mostly follows what you see above 300 hz.  Below that careful room placement can improve matters though the basic shape is similar. 

 

Directional measurements in the article appear to indicate the Homepod is remarkably the same over a 90 degree window.  It looks capable of pretty good sound accuracy.  So this looks like a good achievement for the money.  The 305 is controlled directivity.  Off axis measures are very much the same with a slight downward tilt in response.  Said to make room matching easier.  The Homepod might be near omni and maybe that causes some problems for ultimate music.  Yet for a plop it and let it adjust type of speaker that is an understandable trade off.  

 

I forget who, maybe Don Hills, pointed out a few months ago that real research into directional steering of microphones and speakers was being done for tablets, phones and similar gear.  Enough engineering know how to develop some impressive products using DSP based active directional steering.  I would say this speaker is a result of that.  Maybe it is like a poor man's Devialet Phantom.  Seems a lot more impressive than cable of the month or USB cleaner of the month innovation.  

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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All that data is very interesting, but it's just a sine wave. My guess is that the HomePod's DSP acts differently on isolated sounds than it does on more complex music. The fact that it is noticeably bass-heavy for most music is a clue. So, to me, those measurements are pretty much a waste of time. In isolation, it may be accurate, but in practice it's not. If Apple provides an option to turn off the DSP, or choose another EQ, then it might be interesting. Nevertheless, there is still a noticeable weakness an the mid range; my guess is that the DSP compensates when it's playing a sine wave to make it look better. (Not that it's designed to make sine wave measurements look better, but that the DSP normalizes the volume across the spectrum when isolated tones are played.) 

I write about Macs, music, and more at Kirkville.

Author of Take Control of macOS Media Apps

Co-host of The Next Track podcast.

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I keep thinking Apple is doing what Audi did for its diesel cars. When a test is detected, operate one way. When real use is detected, operate another. 

 

I also reached out to a speaker designer I know well. I’m interested to hear what he has to say. 

 

P.S. this this is waaaaay bass heavy. 

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43 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

I keep thinking Apple is doing what Audi did for its diesel cars. When a test is detected, operate one way. When real use is detected, operate another. 

 

I also reached out to a speaker designer I know well. I’m interested to hear what he has to say. 

 

P.S. this this is waaaaay bass heavy. 

 

Yes, I was wondering if it's set up in such a way to be more neutral during certain types of testing. Because you cannot deny that the bass is exaggerated. And, to me, those measurements are useless if they can't highlight the fact that music is altered that much. Just try listening to a song from Apple Music, then the same song streamed from iTunes or an iOS device. 

I write about Macs, music, and more at Kirkville.

Author of Take Control of macOS Media Apps

Co-host of The Next Track podcast.

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38 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

I keep thinking Apple is doing what Audi did for its diesel cars. When a test is detected, operate one way. When real use is detected, operate another. 

 

I also reached out to a speaker designer I know well. I’m interested to hear what he has to say. 

 

P.S. this this is waaaaay bass heavy. 

Chris, I think if you replace the standard power cord with a Nordost Odin2 (yes it is replaceable), Nordost QRT system and an HRT isolation rack and run a dedicated 20amp line with a carbon fiber Furutech receptacle and some ASC bass traps the bass will be improved.   

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I'm waiting for audiophile stands for the HomePod. 

 

(To be honest, it would benefit from being on a stand. I have IsoAcoustic stands on my desk, but they're too big for the HomePod, so I haven't tried them.)

I write about Macs, music, and more at Kirkville.

Author of Take Control of macOS Media Apps

Co-host of The Next Track podcast.

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