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The Computer Audiophile

Article: Apple HomePod Review - An Audiophile Perspective

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Switching to Eddie Vedder's track Society from the Into The Wild soundtrack, I heard what could be the worst sound from the HomePod that I've yet experienced. 

 

Ouch.  

 

And, how could they ruin that song?

 

Thanks for doing this review. Sounds like you saved us all some agony and expense.  I was trying to figure out if I could use it as a voice remote control, but why bother?

 

I think Apple gives you 14 days right of return for a full refund, FWIW.


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14 minutes ago, DuckToller said:

Chris,

that was fun to read .... RESPECT !

I am quite uncomfortable with voice assistant products since ... here in France even France Telecom does not accept me paying my bills for the landline over their voice system, due to my accent ;-) ... but far more because these products seem to me so much Orwellian.
 

Selling them on the audiophile bill might dazzle the I-crowds, that were waiting on such a product and on the other hand "justify" the price tag.


Thank you, Tom

 

Orwellian is a very good description!

 

Apples 1984 Super Bowl Macintosh commercial has turned 360, Apple is now Big Brother


Jim

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So I got excited about HomePod because of this review...

 

i think the challenge though is that with the Fletcher-Munson curve, it’s an average and not everyone loves it. My dealer tried to setup my subwoofer with his RTA based on that principle and I found it to have too much bass. So I ended up getting my own RTA to re-integrate my subwoofers. Devialet Expert obviously has a similar feature but they let users tune the bass. Perhaps Apple would do the same? 

I still think it’s super cool that Apple DSP their speaker to optimize its performance. And for the price...


ultraRendu > Chord Blu Mk. 2 > Chord DAVE > Chord Etude > Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature + Sunfire TS-EQ10 subwoofers

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Very interesting to hear someone we respect review the device.  I have disagreed with all of the reviews I have seen to date.  I cannot fathom what Apple is trying to do with the speaker system as far as their direction.  I have read a couple of articles that try to articulate that but nothing rings true.  Apple appears to be creating a “house sound” that may be similar to the Beats brand?  I am not sure, but that will influence everything.  Sort of like what is happening to the B&W D3 speakers that have gotten so forward and harsh.  

 

Now I actually bought three HomePod devices to replace the Amazon Echo devices that were around my home.  Part of that is for a bit better sound quality, part is due to information security or my perceptions that Apple is doing a better job here and has different motivations that Amazon.  

 

I do not find the speaker to be so unpleasant that I would sell it at a loss after two or three days.  (Apple does have 14 day return policy).   I am 5 days into my “trial” and I am still intrigued.  The HomePod is not a “performace listening” system.  It does some really interesting/weird/fun/crazy things with sound and from that aspect I find it fascinating.  This is sort of like DIRAC or other room correction system boxed up in one place and gone wild!.  Apple has chosen a sound signature just like B&W to match their market segment and direction.

 

For background music “playing in the other room” it is interesting.  For quite wind down listening in the evening it is also “ok” I would call the sound signature for this kind of listening THROATY.  It is not about placement of instruments or accuracy it is the simplicity of having music accessible when I want it.  

 

The voice response system is actually well executed, it really hears me well.  Now the domains that are supported are lacking vs some of the competition in that space.   That limitation is somewhat problematic for many.  We are very early days on this. 

 

If I had to fish or cut bait today I would take the HomePods back.  They are too expensive and do not deliver as well as I would like them to on several fronts.  The real question is will I put the Amazon Echos back in place.  I thought that I could live with some of the voice control limits that Apple has vs some of the complexity that Amazon has.

 

Today is not decision day.  That day should be this Friday.....  We will see.

 

—RJF

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19 hours ago, sdolezalek said:

Somehow I don't think Steve Jobs would be in favor of the direction so many of these products are taking us in.  The original Apple platform was designed as a way to unlock our creativity and provide us greater means to express ourselves, whether in writing or artistically.  Even Job's careful choice of fonts was about artistic discretion and careful choice.

 

Most of what we now face, and not just from Apple, is a series of products that make us better couch potatoes.  Ideally we would just sit there focused on a screen, headphones or EIMs on, a gamestick in our hand, a voice controlled box at our side, a drone to deliver things (and a big wallet to pay for all that stuff and what we order with it) and an ever declining level of physical and intellectual engagement, discernment, creativity, individuality, active participation, mental challenge, etc. (as all that stuff gets in the way of simple consumption -- don't question, just keep buying).  

 

Which consumer products companies are today challenging us to be more?  Speaking to our true individuality?  Allowing for not just differences in taste but expectations of higher quality, better fidelity, more intense engagement? 

 

 

Steve Jobs made plenty of mistakes large and small as well as many brilliant things.  Nobody knows what he would do.

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3 minutes ago, DarwinOSX said:

You pretty much said in the beginning you planned to slam the HomePod before you had one or heard it.

Incredibly obvious and I wonder why because it sounds very much like you have an axe to grind.  I've never seen any of your other articles like this.

Comparing it to your reference system speaks for itself.

Consumer Reports has little credibility any more especially on Apple stuff.  They are looking for the same thing as many publications these days which is controversy leading to hits and page views.

The Google Max is terrible and nowhere near a HomePod.  Poor detail, boomy bass, not a hint of an attempt at stereo separation. This can be found in many reviews before anyone even heard a HomePod.  Not to mention no way am I having a Google microphone at home.

My HomePod replaced two stereo paired Sonos Ones.  Alexa is garbage on those and they sound OK until you turn the volume past 30 or 40 percent then they fall apart.

My main speakers are Kef LS50W and I welcome moving on from the traditional audiophile setups.  I think a lot of audiophiles are enraged by the HomePod because they don't feel special anymore knowing all the arcana.  Or because it's from Apple.  Or because it's new.  Get off my lawn is pretty prevalent in this hobby.  

I'm looking forward to two HomePods in a stereo pair and that capability is imminent.  They are bedroom speakers to me.  I did have two Vanatoo 1's with an Apple TV connected by optical for airplay, then two Sonos One's.  There was a detail drop off going from the Vanatoo's to the Sonos but I was trying to minimize.  The Songs One's were sold on CL the day after I got the HomePod.

My HomePod opinion right now is they have great clear detail, the bass is a little boomier than I would like, and Siri is working well with HomeKit for lights etc.  Better than Alexa in fact as it's faster and more reliable.  The HomePod microphones are incredibly sensitive to commands as many people have noted.  You can be playing at max volume and barely whisper Hey Siri and it hears you.

The HomePod and Siri are going to improve by a lot as they add features.  There will be some announcements at WWDC this year that reflect this.

I pay for Tidal, Pandora, and Apple Music.  I dumped Spotify awhile ago.   I never liked it's interface or all the junk tribute band content.  Apple Music interface was completely overhauled and is much better now plus I can use it with my years of iTunes music from various sources in one interface.

I've been using Roon and grouping the Kefs and HomePod and also directly from the Tidal and Pandora apps using airplay.  Once you have it playing then you can control Tidal, Pandora or whatever with voice.  It's not the end of the world to open the app and tap the Airplay icon.

 

Airplay 2 docs are here;

https://developer.apple.com/videos/play/wwdc2017/509/

I would summarize Airplay 2 this way;

1.  Software only so no longer requires a chip which is why so many devices only need a software update.

2.  Streams faster than real time to minimize lag.

3.  Much larger cache than Airplay 1to minimize lag.

4.  Can pull directly from the cloud similar to Spotify Connect.

 

I'm a big airplay fan and have used it for years in a 5200 sq foot two story house with many different devices at once using Airfoil.  Never had an issue but then I have a well optimized wifi network.

 

Thanks for the honest comments, but I'm not sure where you got the idea that I planned to slam it before I had heard one. Especially because I said, "I really wanted to like the HomePod and I wanted to to sound fantastic." I had no intention of buying one because the last thing I need to purchase is another all-in-one loudspeaker. If you could see my house you'd understand. 

 

I use an iPad Pro, iPhone 8, iMac 5K, and MacBook Pro. I have no axe to grind with Apple. I love its products. 

 

Without comparing the sound from a reference system, how can one expect to gage what the HomePod sounds like? Without this, it would be like measuring one's height starting a few inches off the ground or a few feet off the ground. There has to be a reference with which comparisons can be made. 

 

I was a fan of AirPlay when it first came out as AirTunes, but the technology is so far behind now that I can't take it. It makes zero sense. Using Roon with a HomePod via AirPlay is problematic because of volume control issues. There isn't a two-way sync between the Pod and Roon. 

 

I'm looking at the AirPlay 2 specs now. 


Founder of Audiophile Style

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4 hours ago, DarwinOSX said:

Consumer Reports has little credibility any more especially on Apple stuff.  They are looking for the same thing as many publications these days which is controversy leading to hits and page views.

 

 

That is absolute  and utter nonsense. They are a non-commercial organization whose only source of income is subscriptions and selling access to their content, most of which is behind a paywall. They have nothing to gain from hits and page views.


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4 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

Thanks for the honest comments, but I'm not sure where you got the idea that I planned to slam it before I had heard one. Especially because I said, "I really wanted to like the HomePod and I wanted to to sound fantastic." I had no intention of buying one because the last thing I need to purchase is another all-in-one loudspeaker. If you could see my house you'd understand. 

 

I use an iPad Pro, iPhone 8, iMac 5K, and MacBook Pro. I have no axe to grind with Apple. I love its products. 

 

Without comparing the sound from a reference system, how can one expect to gage what the HomePod sounds like? Without this, it would be like measuring one's height starting a few inches off the ground or a few feet off the ground. There has to be a reference with which comparisons can be made. 

 

I was a fan of AirPlay when it first came out as AirTunes, but the technology is so far behind now that I can't take it. It makes zero sense. Using Roon with a HomePod via AirPlay is problematic because of volume control issues. There isn't a two-way sync between the Pod and Roon. 

 

I'm looking at the AirPlay 2 specs now. 

 

Here's the problem.  Your executive summary was "Don't fool yourself into thinking this is an audiophile product. "

 

Apple isn't marketing this as an "audiophile" product.  They are marketing it as a high quality home speaker.  And then you listed the "reference" speakers you would compare it to...the TAD Compact reference One CR1 which a pair cost more than all of the equipment in my three different music rooms put together.  Not exactly a fair fight or an appropriate comparison.  A better tactic would have been just to compare it to the Klipsch The Three which makes more sense for this audience and is a product most major publications aren't comparing it to.

 

And then there's the really big problem...you speculated that Apple might be cheating by changing it's output if it detected the user playing known test tones.  It's not that your hypothesis is impossible.  It's that it's a very damaging charge by a reviewer to level without any evidence.

 

And it's not in Apple's nature for a few reasons.  First, Apple is the biggest target in business for lawsuits by class action trial lawyers.  There are literally dozens of these firms waiting for a smidge of a chance to sue Apple for a piece of that $250 billion war chest of theirs.  Need evidence?  Remember the recent iPhone battery issue?  In that case, Apple was trying to prevent users' older iPhones from inexplicably dying prematurely when internal voltages got too high.  So they determined that slowing the CPUs in those old phones would solve the problem.  Everything good, right?

 

Well they slipped in the feature without telling anyone and Apple is the only company who has people who regularly speed test old hardware.  And it was noticed and then the trial lawyers pounced, accusing Apple of intentionally obsoleting people's phones which is the last thing they wanted to do....and never mind the fact that every new iPhone has about 4 years of software upgrades in its lifespan, way more than the industry.

 

But the whole fiasco is costing Apple millions to make it go away.  Or what about AntennaGate years ago?  What was a design flaw ended up costing Apple a lot of money and damaged reputation as the issue ended up in national news broadcasts.

 

But there was an incident where cheating did occur on phone performance, except the perpetrators were a number of major Android manufacturers that disabled their phone battery management features if they detected that known speed tests were running.  And those same trial lawyers made them pay.  The company that wasn't doing this?  Apple.

 

Finally, Apple does has experience delivering high quality sound to their products over several years.  Remember the iPod Hifi?  Steve Jobs himself introduced that over a decade ago to do better than the boomboxes of the day or more expensive Bose systems.  And there have been other examples over the years.  Again, they aren't looking to be an audiophile product, but a product with higher quality than the competition.  Did they succeed here from a sound standpoint?  The jury is out but most reviewers say yes.

 

Anyway, it's ok to say that you like one product over another.  After all, audio performance is very subjective which is why there is no "best product" for anything.  But I have a real problem of you accusing Apple of cheating without hard proof, and using the "speculation" word isn't enough to protect yourself.

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20 minutes ago, Sevenfeet said:

 

Here's the problem.  Your executive summary was "Don't fool yourself into thinking this is an audiophile product. "

 

Apple isn't marketing this as an "audiophile" product.  They are marketing it as a high quality home speaker.  And then you listed the "reference" speakers you would compare it to...the TAD Compact reference One CR1 which a pair cost more than all of the equipment in my three different music rooms put together.  Not exactly a fair fight or an appropriate comparison.  A better tactic would have been just to compare it to the Klipsch The Three which makes more sense for this audience and is a product most major publications aren't comparing it to.

 

And then there's the really big problem...you speculated that Apple might be cheating by changing it's output if it detected the user playing known test tones.  It's not that your hypothesis is impossible.  It's that it's a very damaging charge by a reviewer to level without any evidence.

 

And it's not in Apple's nature for a few reasons.  First, Apple is the biggest target in business for lawsuits by class action trial lawyers.  There are literally dozens of these firms waiting for a smidge of a chance to sue Apple for a piece of that $250 billion war chest of theirs.  Need evidence?  Remember the recent iPhone battery issue?  In that case, Apple was trying to prevent users' older iPhones from inexplicably dying prematurely when internal voltages got too high.  So they determined that slowing the CPUs in those old phones would solve the problem.  Everything good, right?

 

Well they slipped in the feature without telling anyone and Apple is the only company who has people who regularly speed test old hardware.  And it was noticed and then the trial lawyers pounced, accusing Apple of intentionally obsoleting people's phones which is the last thing they wanted to do....and never mind the fact that every new iPhone has about 4 years of software upgrades in its lifespan, way more than the industry.

 

But the whole fiasco is costing Apple millions to make it go away.  Or what about AntennaGate years ago?  What was a design flaw ended up costing Apple a lot of money and damaged reputation as the issue ended up in national news broadcasts.

 

But there was an incident where cheating did occur on phone performance, except the perpetrators were a number of major Android manufacturers that disabled their phone battery management features if they detected that known speed tests were running.  And those same trial lawyers made them pay.  The company that wasn't doing this?  Apple.

 

Anyway, it's ok to say that you like one product over another.  After all, audio performance is very subjective which is why there is no "best product" for anything.  But I have a real problem of you accusing Apple of cheating without hard proof, and using the "speculation" word isn't enough to protect yourself.

Thanks for the comments. 

 

Why is my executive summary a problem, given that so much of the press had called the HomePod an audiophile product? I received many emails asking if this was true in my opinion and asking if I had one for review. 

 

Question: Without a reference, how does one rate sound quality? How can I determine what the HomePod sounds like if I don't have a reference? I can't. Anyone who claims they can, is kidding themselves. It's impossible to suggest the HomePod has too much bass if I'm comparing it to another speaker that isn't of reference quality. Sure it may have more bass than the Klipsch, but the Klipsch is by no means a reference either. 

 

I included both my reference system and the Klipsch to satisfy people who wanted to learn how the HomePod compares to a reference and how it compares to something in a similar category. I guess I can't please everyone. 

 

I don't see my speculation as a really big problem. Given the previous measurements posted on reddit and retweeted by Phil Schiller, I couldn't help but think something was amiss. It turns out that something was amiss. As of today, it appears the measurements don't really say what author the suggested and they may be suspect. 

 

I'm not really worried about speculating what Apple is doing or worried that someone is going to sue them. I also don't buy into the idea that Apple is holier than thou as a company. As soon as it stops using slave labor, I might be more open to thinking about it. Apple is beholden to shareholders. Given that fact, all bets are off. 


Founder of Audiophile Style

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So if Devialet claims that the Phantom is an audiophile product and CA compares it to TAD CR-1's, I bet there would be zero issue here with the comparison.  If you tell me that your Honda Civic drives like an Italian roadster, you bet I am gonna take one for a spin and compare it to my exotic.

 

Maybe Apple and the broader press are just kind of sloppy with throwing around the term Audiophile?  Or maybe audiophile means different things to different people.

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