Steve Crandall: Apple’s HomePod is the next big step in home audio

“At Bell Labs it became apparent that music might be a significant driver for Internet use and I found myself walking several paths. One was sound field reconstruction,” Steve Crandall writes for Omenti. “Sound field reconstruction is just the fancy way of recreating the sound where it was recorded or engineered in your home. In theory you record the acoustic signatures of the recording studio and your living room and create a mathematical operation that makes your living room sound like the recording space. In practice it’s approximately hard. Sound waves are fairly large and get reflected, absorbed and transmitted by and through everything in your room. Making matters worse the sound field at different spots in the room is usually very different and things in the room move between and during listening sessions. We made serious progress, but it took exotic microphone and speaker arrays as well as state of the art (for the time) computing to make it sort of work.”

Place HomePod anywhere in the room. It automatically analyzes the acoustics, adjusts the sound based on the speaker’s location, and separates the music into direct and ambient sound. Direct sound is beamed to the middle of the room, while ambient sound is diffused into left and right channels and bounced off the wall. So your music sounds amazing, wherever you are in the room.
Place HomePod anywhere in the room. It automatically analyzes the acoustics, adjusts the sound based on the speaker’s location, and separates the music into direct and ambient sound. Direct sound is beamed to the middle of the room, while ambient sound is diffused into left and right channels and bounced off the wall. So your music sounds amazing, wherever you are in the room.

 
“The HomePod uses seven small speakers arranged in a ring,” Crandall writes. “The HomePod also has a ring shaped array of six microphones. They listen to the room (sample it) at a fairly high rate and decide what parts of the music, from its stereo signature, need to go where and how it needs be modified to interact with the room and everything in it. An Apple A8 processor, the same two billion transistor processor used in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, handles the computational chores. This is much more power than we had back in the day. Although I don’t know exactly what they’re working on, several people I know who are real experts at this have been at Apple for years.”

“The HomePod didn’t match the reference speakers when I was sitting at the sweet spot, but was better when I moved around the room. That is astounding,” Crandall writes. “It was creating stereo – a term has nothing to do with a pair of anything, but rather three dimensional. Moving beams of audio around it was painting a sound field in my living room.”

MacDailyNews Take: Apple has redefined stereo.

Read more in the full article – very highly recommended – (don’t miss the bits about other “smart speakers,” privacy and more) here.

MacDailyNews Take: About “stereo,” it’s time to Think Different.

Listening to something like this on just a single HomePod truly is astounding!

We cannot wait for “stereo pairing” to come to our HomePods for even more immersive sound experiences.

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”.

SEE ALSO:
Apple HomePod: The audiophile perspective plus 8 1/2 hours of measurements; HomePod is 100% an audiophile-grade speaker – February 12, 2018
Apple’s HomePod is actually a steal at $349 – January 26, 2018
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 “Dan K.” for the heads up.]

20 Comments

    1. After reading too many of your comments on various articles, it’s plain that you are a fscking moron.

      Steve Crandall is a genius, by the way, so opposing his educated views with your moronic, baseless idiocy only serves to highlight your hopeless retardation and general assholishness.

      1. Ad hominem attack under a made up name. I think that fits the term trolling.

        The HomePod is overpriced, incomplete in features and subject to the usual Apple hype- complete with a chorus of fanbois all too happy to echo whatever fits.

        Some of us expect better from Apple and more than this for $350.

          1. DavGreg has offered infinitely better insight on these forums than you or “Brutal” assholes do. Perhaps it is you who have drunk too much Apple flavored kool aid.

            MDN now has more attack trolls than any other tech site by far. Way to go, not moderating your stupid site, MDN.

        1. With great insight, DavGreg and his kind also let us know…

          The iPhone is overpriced, incomplete in features and subject to the usual Apple hype-

          The MacBook Air is overpriced, incomplete in features and subject to the usual Apple hype-

          The iMac is overpriced, incomplete in features and subject to the usual Apple hype-

          The Apple Watch is overpriced, incomplete in features and subject to the usual Apple hype-

          and on, and on…

          1. John: Nice broad brush you have. So let me play devil’s advocate.

            From a feature perspective, the iPhone X is overpriced. If you care about bragging rights and fashion, then feel free to pay a premium to have your notch. The iPhone 8 does everything important the X will, at a lower price.

            There is no question the MacBook Air, and the 12″ MacBook, are horridly overpriced. The hardware for these machines are an embarrassment, easily outclassed by the competition. The MacBook Pro is the only laptop worth recommending, and even those are hobbled by Ive’s stupidity and artificial feature restrictions.

            The iMac, in some configurations, is a very good bargain if you can tolerate the limitations. If you already own superior (larger) monitors or incompatible accessories, then the iMac quickly becomes less attractive. Competitive headless Macs, still AWOL for the last decade of Cook’s mismanagement, would offer a better value if only they used current technologies.

            The Watch is definitely one of the most overhyped underwhelming accessories Apple sells. It is jewelry that does absolutely nothing that your ever-present iPhone doesn’t already do better. Enjoy your pretentious jewelry, the rest of us will put the money toward more important functional goods.

            The HomePod is nothing but a soundbar for Apple Music subscribers. It is not worth buying for the other 90% of the world.

            1. If you think that the contentless negativity from DavGreg – who has never listened to a Homepod – constitutes “infinitely better insight”, I don’t think much of your ability to evaluate this topic or others.

              And your use of overly emotional laden words in your reply pretty much invalidates your post. “horridly”, “overhyped”, “bragging”, “embarrassment” and much more does NOT constitue a rational critique.

          2. The normal patters in consumer electronics is for prices to go down over time. This pattern has repeated itself with the exception of the business lines Apple is actively involved in.

            Apple has largely tapped out the market for high end phones so as unit sales plateau- they are moving unit prices higher and higher to maintain growth in profitability. That is also why Apple Keyboards and Trackpads are now “Magic” and over $100 each despite being made in the sweatshops of China.

            Apple used to be about value- you paid more and got more. Now you can buy a $100 speaker for 3.5x that much that costs $275 to repair for any reason. They have also sealed up every product they make and are actively fighting Right to Repair nationwide.

            I do not hate Apple, but this shareholder is not happy with the direction the company has taken and is taking.

            If that offends your fanboi sensitivities then so be it. Go find yourself a safe space.

  1. I am definitely looking forward to having great sound at a low cost with HomePod. It’s just another Apple product I have held out for, for years. The Hi-Fi intrigued me, but it clearly didn’t move forward beyond 2006 when I was considering something. I’m no power-user, bleeding-edge type person that invests $$$ into electronics. I’m a family guy without a lot of toys that likes excellent products for the money.

  2. Even if the HomePod has excellent music quality, Apple absolutely has to improve on Siri’s intelligence. Why is this so difficult for Apple to do? Apple certainly has connections with IBM so why can’t they license some Watson AI technology? Is it really that difficult to make Siri smarter or is it all about being able to license certain tech? All these years Siri has been around and Apple just allowed Siri to stagnate. That’s very unfortunate considering all the devices Apple could have put Siri to use on.

    1. Oh wow! I didn’t realize we had an acoustician here who’s on par with the likes of Steve Crandall. Whew – glad you’re here to set us straight on how beam forming (not form beaming dummy) is B.S. I almost had bought into the plethora of articles out there written by acoustic and scientific experts.

      Thank you for saving us all!

  3. If Apple can design and build such an acoustic marvel as so many reviews suggest HomePod is, why can’t they improve Siri? For years now it’s been generally accepted as just fact that Siri is a nice first attempt but basically it just sucks. Do Pipeline Timmy and his trail of minions use a different version that actually works? Do they live in so much of a bubble that they don’t see pretty much EVERY reviewer touting how much better Alexa and Google’s assistant work than Siri does – do they not hear or see the world at large decrying Siri as a bad joke?

    Are they REALLY that clueless?

  4. The HomePod hype completely underscores the sad reality that many people are more brand oriented than anything else. It is disgusting that those who know superior audio are being personally attacked for speaking the truth. Stop the overhyping of all things Apple, people.

    There was a time when Apple enthusiasts praised new releases by what Apple products _enabled_ us to do, rather than parroting sales pitches about how affordable Apple’s newest thing is, even though each new release forces people to adapt to the limitations of the current Apple rental-model iOS wireless Siri hell in order to keep Apple well funded.

    Let’s regain some sensibility. Filling the room with sound is basically what every sound bar has done for years. All Apple did was add dumbass Siri to the soundbar and remove all wired inputs. It’s not a great leap forward, and it’s no more audiophile than any other soundbar touting synthetic surround sound.

    Back in the day, Apple HiFi wasn’t oversold, it was just put out as a convenient accessory as one option to enhance the iPod user experience. Nobody back then claimed Apple was dethroning audiophile systems that had decades of engineering to perfect them Today if Apple had simply released the HomePod as a handy accessory that offers pretty good room filling sound with zero consumer setup effort, a very nice accessory for Apple Music subscribers, all would be fine. But no, the Apple fanboy community is so riled up that they need to _attack_ other audio brands. With little or no direct listening, the fanboy press is out to claim audiophile quality status, directly attacking those who aren’t ditching their existing audio systems in order to conform to the Apple business model. I am here to tell you to tamper your expectations.

    The HomePod is a price point product that raises the bar above Bluetooth boxes, but only to the level of $1k soundbars already on the market. Audiophile it is not. Like all soundbars, it sounds artificial — tolerable for uncritical overproduced material, not for great immersive audio. It does not fix shitty room acoustics. The levels are not right, there is no sweet spot at all. You still need to position the thing in your room and it still sounds vague. The mid range is tight, but like all small cheap units, the low and high frequencies suffer.

    Bottom line: don’t replace your audiophile home theater or stereo system. Don’t even pretend that you will add the HomePod to existing setups, clearly Apple has no interest in intercompatibility. If you are itching for something new to spend your money on for more audio, invest in more uncompressed source material instead.

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