Apple’s HomePod is actually a steal at $349

“Don’t make the mistake of comparing HomePod to rival smart speakers and lamenting its $349 price tag,” Killian Bell writes for Cult of Mac. “There are good reasons why the device costs more than three times as much as an Amazon Echo — and yet is still an absolute steal.”

“The technology packed into HomePod is what makes it so special — and unlike anything else in its price range. Its seven tweeters, six microphones, and a high-excursion woofer come together to deliver high-fidelity sound that’s tailored to your room,” Bell writes. “This creates ‘an all-encompassing sense of space — and consistent, high-fidelity audio everywhere in the room.'”

Apple's HomePod
Apple’s HomePod

 
“Audiophiles have been discussing this technology on Reddit,” Bell writes. “They’re blown away by what Apple has achieved, and they point out that for a similar audio experience, you’d have to pay in excess of $85,000. You can’t get this kind of technology cheaper.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we wrote last May:

Once they finally get something shipping in quantity, it’ll be fun to watch how quickly Apple takes the top end of the market away since Apple’s solution will certainly have unique advantages within Apple’s ecosystem that makes it the obvious choice for Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch users.

As Reddit user Arve stated after HomePod’s unveiling:

1. 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

2. 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.

3. 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”.

So yes, compared to the typical sub-$2000 speaker, the technology they apply may just as well be considered “magic”.

When it finally ships, HomePod will take the high end of the smart speaker market, however large or small that may be. Its seamless integration into the Apple ecosystem will make it the go-to smart speaker for the very best customers – those with strong, coveted demographics (disposable income and the proven will to spend it).MacDailyNews, January 9, 2017

SEE ALSO:
Digital Trends previews Apple’s HomePod: Impressive sound coupled with strong privacy – January 26, 2018
Hands on with Apple’s HomePod: Attractive, ultra-high-quality speaker, an excellent Siri ambassador – January 26, 2018
Apple’s HomePod, the iPod for your home – January 25, 2018
One hour with Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker – January 25, 2018
Apple’s iOS 11.3 beta delivers AirPlay 2 with multi-room playback – January 25, 2018
How Apple is positioning the HomePod and why – January 24, 2018
How I got talked into buying an Apple HomePod despite my reservations – January 24, 2018
Tim Cook says audio quality puts HomePod ahead of ‘squeaky-sounding’ competition – January 24, 2018
Apple’s HomePod arrives February 9th, available to order this Friday, January 26th – January 23, 2018
Apple delays HomePod release to early 2018 – November 17, 2017
Apple reveals HomePod smart home music speaker – June 5, 2017

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Ara G” for the heads up.]

35 Comments

  1. “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.”

    That’s interesting -Rumba the auto vacuum collects data of your rooms as it vacuums all in an attempt to be efficient. The company says this info is not being sold.

    Something to think about.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/technology/roomba-irobot-data-privacy.html

  2. This may be a dumb question — but if you want stereo, do you need two of these? Or will the single speaker create the same effect by pushing the two channels out using different elements of the tweeter array?

    1. We can only speculate at this point, but conventionally you require two speakers spaced a reasonable distance apart in order to get a good stereo image. However, with the multiple speakers and digital signal processing, it might be possible to generate a fairly convincing emulation of stereo by beaming different signals in different directions. I don’t know if this is what Apple is planning, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

      However simulated stereo from a single source is never going to compare with genuine stereo from good quality spaced speakers and while that isn’t supported right now, it will be supported by the new software to be released very soon.

      Two HomePods spaced a few feet apart would produce awesome stereo.

      1. There are references in the press release to a “wide sound field” from a single HomePod, and a “wider sound field” with two. So, it seems likely that the sound from a one-speaker setup is not monophonic, but stereo.

        It would not be “simulated stereo” because different tweeters would be projecting the left and right channels. The DSP could use its knowledge of the room to optimize the reflections so that their time of arrival and phasing could keep the channels distinct.

        Bose used to specialize in small speakers with tweeters that faced away from the listeners so that they heard an indirect, rather than direct, sound that was apparently fuller than the direct output of a front-facing speaker.

        It doesn’t matter for stereo purposes that there is only one bass speaker, for the same reason that most home theatre setups only have one subwoofer. Human hearing only directionalizes higher frequencies.

        A one-speaker setup won’t satisfy an audiophile, but they aren’t going to spend just $349 for a matched stereo set of speakers, either. Sadly, most consumers are like my cousin who bought one of the early Quadraphonic systems and put all four speakers side by side in the middle of the front wall!

        1. “Sadly, most consumers are like my cousin who bought one of the early Quadraphonic systems and put all four speakers side by side in the middle of the front wall!”

          Yea, dealt with people like that. Dealt with others that did know what they were doing.

          Years ago an older coworker invited me over to help him redo his hifi setup. He already owned very good speakers that could be setup for a dual amp system and had recently gotten a second amp.

          So we diligently redid the wiring and getting the apms setup for lo and high. Ran the second set of wires to the speakers. The wife kept asking why we were doing this. His response, “so the speakers will be happy”. First sound test was just a radio station so we could be sure all was hooked up and working.

          The first song, even from the radio, we all looked at each other and could not believe the difference. Amazingly clear. Wish I could remember the name of the equipment now.

      2. No need to speculate: stereo and multi-room functionality will work when AirPlay 2 becomes available (AirPlay 2 is currently in iOS 11.3 beta).

        And I do agree with your point that “simulated stereo” from a single audio point source is very poor. Translation: looks like I’ll be buying two HomePods!

        1. HomePod is designed to get its audio via a Mac or another digital device. It’s usefulness for a home studio will depend on how your studio is set up.

          If you use a sound mixing desk, then the monitoring output is likely to be stereo analogue audio and I don’t think HomePods have a line input socket.

          On the other hand, if a Mac is the heart of your control room, then I would expect HomePods to work well with it, but I’d personally still prefer conventional speakers for monitoring.

          1. Thanks for your response, Mr Audio.

            Hmmm… .AU$998 for great sound could be worth considering. They’d certainly be smaller, lighter and easier to handle than my Tapco S5’s.

            1. Having read a little more about HomePods, I’m starting to doubt whether they would be useable in a recording studio.

              Some reviewers are saying that HomePods will only play music via Apple Music and wouldn’t even play MP3 files through iTunes.

              If that turns out to be true, then you and I would not be able to use them for monitoring original material or even to play the sound from my vinyl turntable or act as a sound bar for my television. My conventional HiFi system does all these things and also distributes wireless audio elsewhere in my house, so I can walk through to the kitchen and still listen to the television.

              I initially assumed that HomePods would play any audio sent over BlueTooth or WiFi, but that may not be the case after all.

              Below this post Trondude mentions the delay. I think this is also a possible concern. Digital signal processing does take a finite time to operate and that delay can be noticeable. If you’re replaying recorded music, then a delay is insignificant because you just hear all of it a moment later than you otherwise might, but if you’re monitoring live sound, such as from a live mix, doing video post-production or even using the HomePod when playing video games, any delay could be troublesome. At this point we don’t have any reliable information about the technical aspects, but although the chip used is known to be lightning fast, it has a lot of work to do, so there could be a perceptible delay.

            2. Those reviewers are wrong. The HomePods do not do Bluetooth, but they can connect to any Apple computer or device on the same WiFi network via AirPlay. If an app or peripheral can send sound to the device’s internal speaker, it can send that sound to a HomePod. Once AirPlay 2 is released, they will also do multiple rooms and 2-HomePod stereo.

              Some of the Siri features do require an Apple Music subscription, but the speaker works fine for AirPlay otherwise. Those of us who have resisted Apple Music will either have to pay up or do without the extra features… or simply do without a HomePod because it doesn’t meet our needs.

              We will have to wait for the reviews to see if the signal processing creates a noticeable delay, but I would be doubtful. Active sound-damping headphones cancel noise in real time with enormously less computing power available.

              The criticism below by Audiophile of the bass response seems misplaced. The massive incursion of the woofer on the HomePod is easily going to match the bass on most bookcase speakers… though obviously not a separate big powered subwoofer. It seems kind of obvious that a single speaker this size (or five times its size) isn’t intended to replace those.

              Audiophile is right: this $349 speaker is never going to compete with an array of 11 $700 speakers driven by a megabuck amplifier. It was never intended to. It won’t even compete with a properly placed pair of $700 speakers (plus subwoofer). It wasn’t intended for that, either.

              The target market here is not audiophiles, but Apple customers who find the sound quality of Apple Music acceptable and want the convenience of an excellent small smart speaker that can be placed anyplace in a room without wiring.

              Those of us who fall outside that target group may be perfectly happy with a HomePod, or we may not, but Apple doesn’t need to sell any speakers to us in order to make money from the mass audience.

    2. I recall reading that it will do its best to provide the best stereo-like experience possible but if you place a 2nd one in a room, they will know about each other and work in unison to create an even better audio / stereo experience. With that speaker array they should certainly do a better job at creating an immersive surround-like environment than a pair of regular speakers.

    3. The HomePod does produce stereophonic sound (encompassing sound). It learns the acoustics of the room and using its array of tweeters it can throw and bounce sound in different directions to “fill the room with the sound. It also has the ability to “see” and follow you in real-time and adjust the direction, so the sound remains the same from any where in the room.

      When paired with a second HomePod, it will have the ability to increase the sound separation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean clearer left/right separation. The HomePods will work together by filling in any weakness one may have because of its location. Thus, producing a fuller, richer sound.

    4. Yes, you need at least two speakers to produce high quality stereo sound. Those speakers have to be properly placed in the room to create good spatial imaging, the room acoustics will always be important. When all is said and done, no matter what equipment you have, there will be only one sweet spot where the acoustics are ideal. Assuming you don’t live in a parabolic theatre, the more speakers you have in the most enveloping placement array will create the most accurate and largest ideal sound stage. Current state of art home stereo systems from leading audio companies like Yamaha and others can drive arrays of 11 speakers or more.

      What Apple adertises is that their pod implements a virtual soundspace, like soundbars, to simulate sound with a single point array shooting sound in multiple directions, altering timing and speaker levels to bounce sound around the room. This approach is marginal at best to create great audio. The only thing it accomplishes is helping cover up bad room design a bit without the user manually placing speakers and acoustic room treatments. But a proper stereo set up, even with just 2 speakers, will blow any small single point speaker out of the water. Yes a new stereo will cost hundreds of dollars but used equipment is plentiful and cheap.

      Cook is on record calling out his competitors for having tin can sound. Guess what, there is no bass from the apple homepod either. The homepod is just an obvious me-too product attempting to lure people into subscribing to rental music. No thanks.

  3. Siri plays Apple Music, no Spotify etc that’s a dealbreaker. No way to connect to cable box, no stereo? Just learned Sonos will have AirPlay 2 and Siri update, considering it

  4. The Homepod does look very good- but as many apple fans have all the IOS devices, and stream happily to SONOS or other excellent speakers already. SONOS will integrate with Apple play air2- soooo Homepod has extra bits and pieces- like Homekit and Voice recognition but they come at a price!! for not a lot else…. Add an extra killer facility like a built in security camera and you have the market cornered! Otherwise I like many may wait.. or just not buy it. Sorry Apple I am a devoted fan.. but just can’t justify the $ for the little “extra’s” my Sonos system is great already.

  5. Technology to tune the speaker is certainly interesting. More important is sound quality that such technology can only partially compensate for. I am holding off buying any smart speaker until the sound quality experts can get extended time on the HomePod. $349 is cheap for a great bookshelf speaker, and I hope these are great since they far exceed being just a speaker.

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