Apple’s HomePod speakers will be the best-sounding ones you’ve ever owned – Recode (Ha! – Kirk)

Where to begin…? Let’s see; perhaps with that stupid headline? Unless you’ve only ever used an Amazon Echo or a cheap Bluetooth speaker to listen to music, then, no. They won’t. If you have a halfway decent stereo, with halfway decent speakers, you’ve already got stereo, not a single speaker, which is how most people will use the HomePod.

HomePod has what can only be explained by the most balanced audio, not just of any smart speaker but of any speaker I currently own, which includes a number of Sonos speakers and a Bose Home Theatre system.

Right. He’s comparing the HomePod to standalone speakers; which is the fair comparison. But “the best-sounding” speakers? Not by a long shot.

The other thing that really impressed me about HomePod was how great it sounded at nearly every volume level. If you have any experience with speakers, you know that there is also a sweet spot for volume. Too low and you lose almost all bass; too high, you blow out the high end/treble and often your ears hurt as the high-end parts of the audio start to distort and lose clarity

This is one of the more interesting DSP (digital signal processing) elements of the HomePod, and something that will certainly set it apart. I have a Yamaha R-N803D receiver in my office, which features their “continuously variable loudness” feature. This changes the adjustment to bass and treble as you change volume. The loudness control on a received doesn’t just make it louder; it makes certain frequencies louder, the lows and the highs, which we don’t hear as well at lower volumes. But if you use this all the time, then the music doesn’t sound right at different volumes. Yamaha, and some other manufacturers, use this continuously variable loudness to fix those discrepancies in the way we perceive audio. And it works.

I have no doubt that HomePod will compete with the best speakers in your house even if you have an expensive/high-end setup.

Uh, no. Sorry. I don’t think you know what that means if you think a single standalone speaker will “compete” with a real stereo with good speakers. Unless by “compete” you mean, well, I don’t know…

When it came to music, Siri knocked it out of the park. In fact, because Siri is learning about its owner when you ask to play music, when I said, “Play Jack Johnson radio,” she would say, “Sure, here is a personalized playlist for you.” What’s happening is Siri is acting as a “mixologist,” as Apple likes to say, but essentially she is playing DJ according to my music preferences.

No, Apple calls it a “musicologist,” which is a shameful way of appropriating a word that has a real meaning.

I have no doubt, based on reviews by people I know, that the HomePod will sound excellent, in comparison with standalone speakers. But it’s not a replacement for true stereo sound. It will be interesting to hear how two HomePods sound in a stereo pair; because for that amount of money – $700 – you can get a good amplifier and a very good pair of speakers.

Source: Apple’s HomePod speakers will be the best-sounding ones you’ve ever owned – Recode

44 thoughts on “Apple’s HomePod speakers will be the best-sounding ones you’ve ever owned – Recode (Ha! – Kirk)

  1. What do you expect from a guy who only knows Echo, Sonos and Bose? I’m sure he never heard a decent stereo or even a small professional setup.

    From the “About the author” section: “He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer.”
    – Yep, that’s exactly what I’d consider an audio expert 😉

  2. What do you expect from a guy who only knows Echo, Sonos and Bose? I’m sure he never heard a decent stereo or even a small professional setup.

    From the “About the author” section: “He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer.”
    – Yep, that’s exactly what I’d consider an audio expert 😉

  3. Yea, right. No matter the sophisticated sound systems and audio gear, for a carry-around high quality speaker, you cannot beat Bose Soundlink or Soundlink Revolve.

    Besides … who wants Apple (or Google, or Amazon for that matter) listening in on your every word.

    We tested the concept by intentionally selecting products we would NEVER buy or even talk about … and mention them several specific times, with scripts and time marks … and sure enough — the next day those ads showed up on Facebook feeds as well as Google and web surfing.

    So if you are not bright enough to keep those people OUT of your homes, then you probably not bright enough to recognize quality sound reproduction.

    🙂

    (Except you, Kirk — I realize it’s your job to review this stuff. )

    • You can turn off Siri access to the speaker. I know that limits its functionality, and I am looking forward to seeing the settings to know if it’s easy enough to do so you can choose to only turn it on when you want to listen to music.

      I’m curious about your test; was this with Siri? Because I do believe Apple when they say that the security around Siri is very solid.

  4. Yea, right. No matter the sophisticated sound systems and audio gear, for a carry-around high quality speaker, you cannot beat Bose Soundlink or Soundlink Revolve.

    Besides … who wants Apple (or Google, or Amazon for that matter) listening in on your every word.

    We tested the concept by intentionally selecting products we would NEVER buy or even talk about … and mention them several specific times, with scripts and time marks … and sure enough — the next day those ads showed up on Facebook feeds as well as Google and web surfing.

    So if you are not bright enough to keep those people OUT of your homes, then you probably not bright enough to recognize quality sound reproduction.

    🙂

    (Except you, Kirk — I realize it’s your job to review this stuff. )

    • You can turn off Siri access to the speaker. I know that limits its functionality, and I am looking forward to seeing the settings to know if it’s easy enough to do so you can choose to only turn it on when you want to listen to music.

      I’m curious about your test; was this with Siri? Because I do believe Apple when they say that the security around Siri is very solid.

  5. You do realize there are 7 independently-driven tweeters in the HomePod in addition to the woofer? And that it has an array of microphones listening to audio characteristics of the room it finds itself in? And that it pulls apart the recording that it receives and, apparently, adjusts the volume, EQ and delay to each of the drivers in order to project a soundstage in the room? AIUI, that’s why the reviewers are all saying “the whole room is a sweet spot”. The “stereo” concern shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what HomePod is doing with music.

    At least one reviewer said a single HomePod “slaughters” most audio systems under $1,000.

    I’d think you should at least hear one–I sure want to–before dismissing it.

    • I’m aware of that. It’s still a mono speaker.

      One review I read contested the “whole room is a sweet spot” thing, saying that the reviewer could hear when he was between the tweeters.

      I’m only dismissing the obviously uninformed statements in this review. I’m aware that this is not a high-end stereo system, and comparing it to one is simply ludicrous. I’m prepared to find that it sounds better than most standalone speakers, and would not be surprised if that were the case. But it shouldn’t be compared to “an expensive/high-end setup.”

      • “Mono” generally refers to single channel output. HomePod outputs 7 (tweeter) channels.

        The idea of stereo was to create a soundstage. Your ears hear the left and right channels and your brain creates placement of the ‘sources’.

        HomePod is manipulating the source material to derive 7 channels from 2 channel input and using timing/volume of the tweeters to manufacture a sound stage.

        Using “mono” and “stereo” labels with HomePod seems to be…unhelpful.

        BTW, it astonishes me that no one has complained about this audio manipulation! We all have favourite songs that we know and love intimately. HomePod is pulling apart these recordings, manipulating and reassembling the output in near-real-time. That seems like a minefield of opportunities to maim a song. Yet none of the reviewers have complained about anything like this.

        Further, I think this may be why using 2 HomePods in a single room is delayed. Each HomePod would have to map the acoustic characteristics of the room as they see it and then somehow share that information and decide on how to render the playback across 14 tweeters. And maintain exact synchronization while doing all this audio-processing magic. Makes my brain hurt to contemplate how this could be achieved. Of course, the interactions go up exponentially as more HomePods are introduced to the playback space.

        • As I understand it, all seven tweeters are emitting a mono signal. This said, each one may emit it with slightly different processing. But unless you have two units, it’s not stereo.

          I think the only differences in what the tweeters emit is in the timing. The ones at the back may not sound much at all, and the others will have some timing differences to make the music sound more “surround-ish.”

          As for changing the music, well, every device changes the music in some way. I do look forward to listening to it with music that I am very familiar with, tunes I’ve used to test my audio stuff for many years.

          • Multiple reviewers disagree with you directly, stating that this is not mono and that tweeters are playing different data, reflecting it in different directions. I can’t imagine that Apple would throw out distinct right and left data and use only analysis of power to focus vocals to the center and background to the walls. Sure, you will not get the same separation that 2 of them will produce but it is more than mono even with one. Also, room tuning can make a HUGE difference in how good a speaker sounds. So to say for most people that this might be the best sounding speaker they have ever owned is not as crazy as it might sound. I’m not saying that if properly setup the systems many people have paid thousands of dollars for can’t sound better, just that in many cases they don’t.
            I guess my big question is what is your point? Before the reviewers everyone just said how stupid Apple was for making an over priced echo competitor, when Apple said it was making a Great Speaker! Now the reviewers are in and it turns out that Apple made a Great Speaker! Arguably the best in this class at anywhere near this price point. Apple has again delivered Excellent performance that ANYONE can take advantage of at a reasonable price, and it will just get better from here.
            HomePod vindicated!

  6. You do realize there are 7 independently-driven tweeters in the HomePod in addition to the woofer? And that it has an array of microphones listening to audio characteristics of the room it finds itself in? And that it pulls apart the recording that it receives and, apparently, adjusts the volume, EQ and delay to each of the drivers in order to project a soundstage in the room? AIUI, that’s why the reviewers are all saying “the whole room is a sweet spot”. The “stereo” concern shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what HomePod is doing with music.

    At least one reviewer said a single HomePod “slaughters” most audio systems under $1,000.

    I’d think you should at least hear one–I sure want to–before dismissing it.

    • I’m aware of that. It’s still a mono speaker.

      One review I read contested the “whole room is a sweet spot” thing, saying that the reviewer could hear when he was between the tweeters.

      I’m only dismissing the obviously uninformed statements in this review. I’m aware that this is not a high-end stereo system, and comparing it to one is simply ludicrous. I’m prepared to find that it sounds better than most standalone speakers, and would not be surprised if that were the case. But it shouldn’t be compared to “an expensive/high-end setup.”

      • “Mono” generally refers to single channel output. HomePod outputs 7 (tweeter) channels.

        The idea of stereo was to create a soundstage. Your ears hear the left and right channels and your brain creates placement of the ‘sources’.

        HomePod is manipulating the source material to derive 7 channels from 2 channel input and using timing/volume of the tweeters to manufacture a sound stage.

        Using “mono” and “stereo” labels with HomePod seems to be…unhelpful.

        BTW, it astonishes me that no one has complained about this audio manipulation! We all have favourite songs that we know and love intimately. HomePod is pulling apart these recordings, manipulating and reassembling the output in near-real-time. That seems like a minefield of opportunities to maim a song. Yet none of the reviewers have complained about anything like this.

        Further, I think this may be why using 2 HomePods in a single room is delayed. Each HomePod would have to map the acoustic characteristics of the room as they see it and then somehow share that information and decide on how to render the playback across 14 tweeters. And maintain exact synchronization while doing all this audio-processing magic. Makes my brain hurt to contemplate how this could be achieved. Of course, the interactions go up exponentially as more HomePods are introduced to the playback space.

        • As I understand it, all seven tweeters are emitting a mono signal. This said, each one may emit it with slightly different processing. But unless you have two units, it’s not stereo.

          I think the only differences in what the tweeters emit is in the timing. The ones at the back may not sound much at all, and the others will have some timing differences to make the music sound more “surround-ish.”

          As for changing the music, well, every device changes the music in some way. I do look forward to listening to it with music that I am very familiar with, tunes I’ve used to test my audio stuff for many years.

          • Multiple reviewers disagree with you directly, stating that this is not mono and that tweeters are playing different data, reflecting it in different directions. I can’t imagine that Apple would throw out distinct right and left data and use only analysis of power to focus vocals to the center and background to the walls. Sure, you will not get the same separation that 2 of them will produce but it is more than mono even with one. Also, room tuning can make a HUGE difference in how good a speaker sounds. So to say for most people that this might be the best sounding speaker they have ever owned is not as crazy as it might sound. I’m not saying that if properly setup the systems many people have paid thousands of dollars for can’t sound better, just that in many cases they don’t.
            I guess my big question is what is your point? Before the reviewers everyone just said how stupid Apple was for making an over priced echo competitor, when Apple said it was making a Great Speaker! Now the reviewers are in and it turns out that Apple made a Great Speaker! Arguably the best in this class at anywhere near this price point. Apple has again delivered Excellent performance that ANYONE can take advantage of at a reasonable price, and it will just get better from here.
            HomePod vindicated!

  7. One HomePod? For all the reasons you state, nope!
    Two? That might be more interesting. My main room, for a variety of reasons (a lot of window for one), does not lend itself to a traditional amp and two wired leakers setup. Two smallish, self-powered, DSP modulated units that get fed wirelessly could work very well for me. I’m watching with interest.

    • There are plenty of small, self-amplified studio monitors you could get. You could connect them to an AirPort Express and use AirPlay, if all you want is music.

      And Yamaha has an interesting set of speakers that have built-in AirPlay:

      http://amzn.to/2C59ZeE

      They’re a bit expensive, but I’m told they sound good. But they’re a lot bigger than the HomePod.

  8. One HomePod? For all the reasons you state, nope!
    Two? That might be more interesting. My main room, for a variety of reasons (a lot of window for one), does not lend itself to a traditional amp and two wired leakers setup. Two smallish, self-powered, DSP modulated units that get fed wirelessly could work very well for me. I’m watching with interest.

    • There are plenty of small, self-amplified studio monitors you could get. You could connect them to an AirPort Express and use AirPlay, if all you want is music.

      And Yamaha has an interesting set of speakers that have built-in AirPlay:

      http://amzn.to/2C59ZeE

      They’re a bit expensive, but I’m told they sound good. But they’re a lot bigger than the HomePod.

  9. “But it’s not a replacement for true stereo sound.”

    From the reviews I’ve read… Yes, the HomePod is a stereo audio system. The left channel is beamed and reflected to the left, the right channel is beamed and reflected to the right, and the center channel (audio that is centered in the mix) is beamed forward.

    The reviews have been saying that the stereo soundstage is wide and natural sounding, no matter where you are in the room (due to the HomePod’s ability to sense the room size and walls, and adjust output from the 7 horn tweeters accordingly).

    • Can you point me to a review that says that? I certainly haven’t read it. And I’ve been looking for that, because Apple doesn’t make it clear in their info. They do talk about a stereo pair with two HomePods, which suggests that it is mono.

      For example, What HiFi doesn’t say anything about that:

      https://www.whathifi.com/apple/homepod/review

      • Rene Ritchie:

        “With A8, Apple adds to the raw speaker hardware with real-time modeling for the woofer, faster than real-time buffering, direct and ambient audio up-mixing, beamforming, machine learning — all the buzzwords! — echo cancellation, and the ability to analyze and place center vocals in the middle of the room and bounce or otherwise project ambient reverb, backup vocals, and left and right channel data to fill the room.”

        https://www.imore.com/homepod
        (sorry, not sure how to get a permalink from their site.)

  10. “But it’s not a replacement for true stereo sound.”

    From the reviews I’ve read… Yes, the HomePod is a stereo audio system. The left channel is beamed and reflected to the left, the right channel is beamed and reflected to the right, and the center channel (audio that is centered in the mix) is beamed forward.

    The reviews have been saying that the stereo soundstage is wide and natural sounding, no matter where you are in the room (due to the HomePod’s ability to sense the room size and walls, and adjust output from the 7 horn tweeters accordingly).

    • Can you point me to a review that says that? I certainly haven’t read it. And I’ve been looking for that, because Apple doesn’t make it clear in their info. They do talk about a stereo pair with two HomePods, which suggests that it is mono.

      For example, What HiFi doesn’t say anything about that:

      https://www.whathifi.com/apple/homepod/review

      • Rene Ritchie:

        “With A8, Apple adds to the raw speaker hardware with real-time modeling for the woofer, faster than real-time buffering, direct and ambient audio up-mixing, beamforming, machine learning — all the buzzwords! — echo cancellation, and the ability to analyze and place center vocals in the middle of the room and bounce or otherwise project ambient reverb, backup vocals, and left and right channel data to fill the room.”

        https://www.imore.com/homepod
        (sorry, not sure how to get a permalink from their site.)

  11. Wow, I didn’t want one until I read how much people think this is the best thing since sliced bread. I still don’t want one because of the sound quality, but I want one so I can review it in context with other equipment that I know for a fact sounds great. Sure I can compare it to Sonos, Bose, Echo, and Google Home, but based on the reviews so far I want to put this thing into perspective. Maybe it is as good as they say.

  12. Wow, I didn’t want one until I read how much people think this is the best thing since sliced bread. I still don’t want one because of the sound quality, but I want one so I can review it in context with other equipment that I know for a fact sounds great. Sure I can compare it to Sonos, Bose, Echo, and Google Home, but based on the reviews so far I want to put this thing into perspective. Maybe it is as good as they say.

  13. “This is one of the more interesting DSP (digital signal processing) elements of the HomePod, and something that will certainly set it apart. I have a Yamaha R-N803D receiver in my office, which features their “continuously variable loudness” feature. This changes the adjustment to bass and treble as you change volume. The loudness control on a received doesn’t just make it louder; it makes certain frequencies louder, the lows and the highs, which we don’t hear as well at lower volumes. But if you use this all the time, then the music doesn’t sound right at different volumes. Yamaha, and some other manufacturers, use this continuously variable loudness to fix those discrepancies in the way we perceive audio. And it works.”

    This is an incomplete and inaccurate explanation. Loudness (as opposed to volume) controls are among the most misunderstood and misused features on audio equipment.

    The purpose of a loudness control is to compensate for music being played back below (or above) the level it’s “supposed” to be heard at. Too low, and bass is lightweight or thin. Too high, and the bass is excessive. (We’ll get to treble later.)

    The loudness control (such as the one on an Advent 300 receiver) makes assumptions about speaker efficiency and how loud the listener plays the music. Because listeners rarely play music at real-world (high) levels, the result is at least some bass boost, which most of us find pleasing, even when it isn’t required.

    The implementation of loudness compensation is almost always botched. It’s supposed to follow the //difference// between the equal-loudness curves, but it more-often follows the absolute curve (which causes too much boost). As for the treble, there’s little, if any, difference in the equal-loudness curves, so treble boost is unneeded. For these and other reasons, loudness controls have generally disappeared from audio equipment.

    But it’s possible to get good loudness contourlng, using separate volume and loudness controls. (Yamaha and Knight used these, neither of which I’ve heard.) Crown had an outstanding implementation on its DL-2 control center. With the loudness knob all the way up (full gain, zero compensation), you set the volume knob to the level you wanted in the loudest passages. Then you turned the loudness knob down to set the listening volume. It was amazing — there was no subjective loss of bass!

    Audio systems — including HT systems — increasingly use DSP to flatten response in the primary listening area. A bass tone control isn’t needed to provide such correction. It would therefore make sense for it to implement the correct equal-loudness contours, as that’s what most listeners would need.

  14. “This is one of the more interesting DSP (digital signal processing) elements of the HomePod, and something that will certainly set it apart. I have a Yamaha R-N803D receiver in my office, which features their “continuously variable loudness” feature. This changes the adjustment to bass and treble as you change volume. The loudness control on a received doesn’t just make it louder; it makes certain frequencies louder, the lows and the highs, which we don’t hear as well at lower volumes. But if you use this all the time, then the music doesn’t sound right at different volumes. Yamaha, and some other manufacturers, use this continuously variable loudness to fix those discrepancies in the way we perceive audio. And it works.”

    This is an incomplete and inaccurate explanation. Loudness (as opposed to volume) controls are among the most misunderstood and misused features on audio equipment.

    The purpose of a loudness control is to compensate for music being played back below (or above) the level it’s “supposed” to be heard at. Too low, and bass is lightweight or thin. Too high, and the bass is excessive. (We’ll get to treble later.)

    The loudness control (such as the one on an Advent 300 receiver) makes assumptions about speaker efficiency and how loud the listener plays the music. Because listeners rarely play music at real-world (high) levels, the result is at least some bass boost, which most of us find pleasing, even when it isn’t required.

    The implementation of loudness compensation is almost always botched. It’s supposed to follow the //difference// between the equal-loudness curves, but it more-often follows the absolute curve (which causes too much boost). As for the treble, there’s little, if any, difference in the equal-loudness curves, so treble boost is unneeded. For these and other reasons, loudness controls have generally disappeared from audio equipment.

    But it’s possible to get good loudness contourlng, using separate volume and loudness controls. (Yamaha and Knight used these, neither of which I’ve heard.) Crown had an outstanding implementation on its DL-2 control center. With the loudness knob all the way up (full gain, zero compensation), you set the volume knob to the level you wanted in the loudest passages. Then you turned the loudness knob down to set the listening volume. It was amazing — there was no subjective loss of bass!

    Audio systems — including HT systems — increasingly use DSP to flatten response in the primary listening area. A bass tone control isn’t needed to provide such correction. It would therefore make sense for it to implement the correct equal-loudness contours, as that’s what most listeners would need.

  15. It’s a silly headline. I have a HomePod on order, and I fully expect to enjoy it, for it’s designed to do. I also have a very nice sound system (Gallo Strada 2 satellites and TR-3D subwoofer, Peachtree Nova integrated amp). There is no way that the HomePod will be the best speaker I own.

    • LoopInsight has a good summary of a Reddit posting:

      “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”.

      And:

      Lots of people online are calling it overpriced because they think Apple just slapped a bunch of speakers in a circular configuration and added Siri, but the engineering behind it is extremely audiophile niche stuff. And it does this all automatically with no acoustical set up or technical know how.”

      http://www.loopinsight.com/2018/01/24/on-homepod-and-audio-quality/

      So it appears Apple has indeed created a “smart” speaker–it is just that the smarts are really focused on music output rather than answering bar-trivia-questions.

      • I’ve seen the Loopinsight post. I’m not calling it over-priced, and as I say I’m looking forward to enjoying it. I’ll post how I think it compares with my Gallos.

  16. It’s a silly headline. I have a HomePod on order, and I fully expect to enjoy it, for it’s designed to do. I also have a very nice sound system (Gallo Strada 2 satellites and TR-3D subwoofer, Peachtree Nova integrated amp). There is no way that the HomePod will be the best speaker I own.

    • LoopInsight has a good summary of a Reddit posting:

      “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”.

      And:

      Lots of people online are calling it overpriced because they think Apple just slapped a bunch of speakers in a circular configuration and added Siri, but the engineering behind it is extremely audiophile niche stuff. And it does this all automatically with no acoustical set up or technical know how.”

      http://www.loopinsight.com/2018/01/24/on-homepod-and-audio-quality/

      So it appears Apple has indeed created a “smart” speaker–it is just that the smarts are really focused on music output rather than answering bar-trivia-questions.

      • I’ve seen the Loopinsight post. I’m not calling it over-priced, and as I say I’m looking forward to enjoying it. I’ll post how I think it compares with my Gallos.

  17. Everyone has an opinion; no-one has heard it yet. Ain’t the internet wonderful?

    Whatever happened to forming judgements by actually listening?

  18. Everyone has an opinion; no-one has heard it yet. Ain’t the internet wonderful?

    Whatever happened to forming judgements by actually listening?

  19. If I’m remembering my acoustics right, it should be possible for a single smart speaker array to do better than stereo. Probably not the Homepod–it likely needs to be more complex than that. But stereo is a poor representation of live sound. It’s (usually) better than mono, but it’s still quite limited. Benade, in a chapter about concert halls in “Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics”, describes what you’d really need to come close to playing back faithful concert hall sound. Basically, a very large array of model heads with a mike at each ‘ear’, suspended so that they move about as much as real humans move their heads, and about as randomly. Then you have to figure out how to play that back with the same complexity. The doppler effect of sounds bouncing from moving people and objects turns out to be important, and feeds the brain a huge amount of information. (Acoustics, and brains, can very strange.)

    When the book was written in 1976, there was little thought of a computerized speaker array that could adjust things on the fly and even aim sounds. Now that there is, along with the hardware and software to do it in real time, it may well be worth using more complex recording scenarios to get far better data than is done today. For existing music for which the basic recording setup is known (filled arena with huge distributed speakers (I’m not sure why people think that’s ‘live’!), concert hall of a certain size of particular design, large living room with viol ensemble) it might be possible to make enough assumptions to add to what’s already recorded in mere stereo to play it back better. I doubt that apple is doing that, at least yet. But it will fun to watch how it all develops.

    For anyone interested in the acoustics of music, Arthur H. Benade is a great starting point. He has two books, one at high school level, “Horns, Strings, and Harmony”, and one for undergraduate musicians, “Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics”, which he manages to do in a surprising amount of richness without calculus. Both are entertaining and well written, and should still be readily available.

  20. If I’m remembering my acoustics right, it should be possible for a single smart speaker array to do better than stereo. Probably not the Homepod–it likely needs to be more complex than that. But stereo is a poor representation of live sound. It’s (usually) better than mono, but it’s still quite limited. Benade, in a chapter about concert halls in “Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics”, describes what you’d really need to come close to playing back faithful concert hall sound. Basically, a very large array of model heads with a mike at each ‘ear’, suspended so that they move about as much as real humans move their heads, and about as randomly. Then you have to figure out how to play that back with the same complexity. The doppler effect of sounds bouncing from moving people and objects turns out to be important, and feeds the brain a huge amount of information. (Acoustics, and brains, can very strange.)

    When the book was written in 1976, there was little thought of a computerized speaker array that could adjust things on the fly and even aim sounds. Now that there is, along with the hardware and software to do it in real time, it may well be worth using more complex recording scenarios to get far better data than is done today. For existing music for which the basic recording setup is known (filled arena with huge distributed speakers (I’m not sure why people think that’s ‘live’!), concert hall of a certain size of particular design, large living room with viol ensemble) it might be possible to make enough assumptions to add to what’s already recorded in mere stereo to play it back better. I doubt that apple is doing that, at least yet. But it will fun to watch how it all develops.

    For anyone interested in the acoustics of music, Arthur H. Benade is a great starting point. He has two books, one at high school level, “Horns, Strings, and Harmony”, and one for undergraduate musicians, “Fundamentals of Musical Acoustics”, which he manages to do in a surprising amount of richness without calculus. Both are entertaining and well written, and should still be readily available.

  21. [I just read Kirk’s review after composing this; I agree entirely.]

    I said I would post a comparison of my Gallo sound system ($900 per satellite, $900 sub, $1500 Peachtree integrated amp). I should mention that I listen primarily to jazz, world, and classical (mostly opera) music.

    My Gallo speakers like to sit far from the front wall (the one the listener looks at), fairly close to the listener. Mine are 8 feet from the wall, and my listening chair is about 6 feet in front of the speakers (making me 14 feet from that wall). The speakers are about 7 feet apart with side walls of the room around 13 feet apart. That gives me a 13 x 8 “box” measuring from the plane of the speakers to the walls (the rear wall is far behind me).

    In this arrangement that 13 x 8 box, which also extends 7-8 feet in height, gives me a three-dimensional sound stage. The Gallos fill that stage, and they absolutely disappear. Even though they are only 6 feet in front of the listener, the experience is that NO music is coming from the speakers. Rather, the acoustic sensation is that music is coming from pinpoint sources within that three-dimensional stage. It has been described as spooky, holographic imaging. (There are some exceptions to this, such as on very old stereo recordings where the engineers pumped all of an instrument into one channel with no ambience whatsoever; in this case, the speakers “re-emerge” as a presence in the sound stage.)

    So, how does the HomePod compare? It doesn’t. I didn’t expect it to. These are different acoustic worlds. The HomePod sounds great for what it is, a consumer speaker. It is audible, though, that the HomePod is the source of the sound, unlike the Gallos, which are acoustically invisible yet somehow “project” (backwards, it would seem) that holographic sound stage.

    This is NOT meant to be critical of the HomePod. It’s in my kitchen, and I will enjoy it immensely while I cook, add items to my shopping list, etc. It provides convenient access to my HomeKit-controlled lights. While making breakfast this morning it filled the room with light, airy bossa nova. The sound is full, with pleasant highs, no noticeable coloring (but perhaps a tad weak miss), and solid but not mushy bass. Absolutely 100% enjoyable. The convenience and enjoyment factor is perfect. (Yes, Siri needs to get her act together even with music: when I told her to play some west coast jazz she offered up west coast hiphop.)

    Does the HomePod “slaughter” my Gallos? Nope. Never thought it would, not disappointed that it doesn’t. The Gallo/Peachtree system is for serious listening, for “being there” (I can’t imagine listening to Idomeneo on the HomePod). The HomePod is for fun, having music at the touch of the finger.

  22. [I just read Kirk’s review after composing this; I agree entirely.]

    I said I would post a comparison of my Gallo sound system ($900 per satellite, $900 sub, $1500 Peachtree integrated amp). I should mention that I listen primarily to jazz, world, and classical (mostly opera) music.

    My Gallo speakers like to sit far from the front wall (the one the listener looks at), fairly close to the listener. Mine are 8 feet from the wall, and my listening chair is about 6 feet in front of the speakers (making me 14 feet from that wall). The speakers are about 7 feet apart with side walls of the room around 13 feet apart. That gives me a 13 x 8 “box” measuring from the plane of the speakers to the walls (the rear wall is far behind me).

    In this arrangement that 13 x 8 box, which also extends 7-8 feet in height, gives me a three-dimensional sound stage. The Gallos fill that stage, and they absolutely disappear. Even though they are only 6 feet in front of the listener, the experience is that NO music is coming from the speakers. Rather, the acoustic sensation is that music is coming from pinpoint sources within that three-dimensional stage. It has been described as spooky, holographic imaging. (There are some exceptions to this, such as on very old stereo recordings where the engineers pumped all of an instrument into one channel with no ambience whatsoever; in this case, the speakers “re-emerge” as a presence in the sound stage.)

    So, how does the HomePod compare? It doesn’t. I didn’t expect it to. These are different acoustic worlds. The HomePod sounds great for what it is, a consumer speaker. It is audible, though, that the HomePod is the source of the sound, unlike the Gallos, which are acoustically invisible yet somehow “project” (backwards, it would seem) that holographic sound stage.

    This is NOT meant to be critical of the HomePod. It’s in my kitchen, and I will enjoy it immensely while I cook, add items to my shopping list, etc. It provides convenient access to my HomeKit-controlled lights. While making breakfast this morning it filled the room with light, airy bossa nova. The sound is full, with pleasant highs, no noticeable coloring (but perhaps a tad weak miss), and solid but not mushy bass. Absolutely 100% enjoyable. The convenience and enjoyment factor is perfect. (Yes, Siri needs to get her act together even with music: when I told her to play some west coast jazz she offered up west coast hiphop.)

    Does the HomePod “slaughter” my Gallos? Nope. Never thought it would, not disappointed that it doesn’t. The Gallo/Peachtree system is for serious listening, for “being there” (I can’t imagine listening to Idomeneo on the HomePod). The HomePod is for fun, having music at the touch of the finger.

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