Professional-grade audio testing gears proves Apple’s biggest claim about HomePod is legit

“One of the claims Apple makes about its new HomePod smart speaker is that music played through it sounds pretty much the same, no matter where in the room you happen to be standing or sitting. Apple also says that the HomePod will create pretty much the same sound in the room regardless of where it is placed,” Mark Sullivan reports for Fast Company. “We’ve heard plenty of opinions on the HomePod’s general sound quality, so it’s a good time to measure the consistency of the HomePod’s sound distribution using some professional-grade acoustic analysis tools.”

“For that we turned to NTi Audio AG, the Liechtenstein-based company that makes all kinds of acoustics testing gear and software,” Sullivan reports. “The company was kind enough to loan us a testing device, software, and a special microphone so that we could test the HomePod in a real-life natural habitat–my living room. The company’s Brian MacMillan coached me on how to do the tests, then he and some other NTi people analyzed (and helped me understand) the results.”

“After measuring the the full frequency spectrum (6.3Hz through 20,000Hz) of the HomePod’s sound output from each location, we compared each sound profile to see how much they changed from location to location in the room,” Sullivan reports. “The HomePod’s profile changed very little. The average variance for all audible frequency bands was less than a decibel–0.95 decibel. My NTi friends said humans can’t really detect changes in sound below a decibel.”

“How does the HomePod pull off such magic?” Sullivan reports. “Through some very sophisticated audio processing algorithms.”

Read more in the full article – recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: Plus, dogs can’t stop cocking their heads – tilt left, tilt right – and staring while listening to HomePods.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke

SEE ALSO:
Magazine dedicated to comparing vacuum cleaners for geriatrics can’t hear Apple’s HomePod’s quality sound – February 13, 2018
Steve Crandall: Apple’s HomePod is the next big step in home audio – February 13, 2018
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

38 Comments

  1. I never put too much emphasis on standard steady state frequency response plots for loudspeakers, but it has to be conceded that these results are certainly impressive for such a small speaker.

    I’d be fascinated to see a waterfall graph of a HomePod. A waterfall graph can offer a much better impression of what a speaker is actually likely to sound like because it works with transients and can therefore reveal resonances or flaws with the drivers. However I wouldn’t expect a shock there either, I would expect a waterfall graph to be pretty impressive too.

  2. “Professional-grade audio testing…”

    …as opposed to the ‘Amateur-grade audio testing” done by Consumer Report, who says they don’t sound that great.

    I disagree with them on so many things. Not everything, just most things technology-related.

    : )

  3. The depressing thing is one critique of the HomePod I read yesterday dismissed this function because to their ears it sounded the same wherever it was placed in their room so such technology wasn’t really doing much. I took a few seconds to analyse if I misunderstood and read it again and thought but surely that is the point of it isn’t it? Thank you for this article that confirms it isn’t me going mad (well at least on this issue) but one does wonder at times why people bother to go to such technological lengths to produce such sophistication in a product when even people who should know better don’t understand even the most basic concept behind it. As they say you often only notice the value of things once they have gone.

    1. Some of the reviews of HomePod reveal more about the ignorance of the reviewer than about HomePod itself.

      It’s quite an achievement to create a loudspeaker which sounds pretty much the same whether it’s placed on a table in the middle of a room, on a shelf against a wall or in a corner. Conventional loudspeakers exhibit an additional bass boost when placed close to a wall, double that boost when placed at the junction of two walls, with a further boost if placed in a corner by the ceiling too.

      I saw one hostile reviewer complaining that when he asked Siri to set the level to 12.5%, it rounded it up to 13% instead. If you refer to levels of 50%, unless you define what units you’re working with and whether they are linear or logarithmic ( as decibels are ), talking about 50% or 12 % is as meaningless as two bars or three bars on your WiFi signal level indicator. Obviously two bars is less than three, just as 20% is less than 50%, but that’s all we can deduce. When Apple refers to 50% or 30%, it’s a simple to understand comparative indication, not a scientific measurement.

  4. listened in a properly treated room (read mix room in a studio) and they sounded no better then every other small form mono box, in fact the bass felt fake, and the mid range was lost.. its a shame there is no way to manually adjust the eq curve.. sonos sounds better.. this is a fake Beats “stereo” in a left over mac trash can chassis.

      1. is being reviewed as impressive, it’s also being noted it’s leaving undesirable white “rings” on wood. How can this sort of basic “signature” not be realized/perceived/imagined/tested before product release? Heavy-ish object on an impressionable surface with heat & vibration in the mix. Hello Designer?

        1. Let’s first see what these rings are before blasting Apple. Could be something about the user’s setup. Is it dry wax buildup on the surface that is being vibrated into a white dustring? We’ll wait and see.

    1. Wow, you totally missed the point. Like most Apple products, HomePod makes it dead simple for anybody to achieve sound that would take an audiophile lots of money and time with treatments to setup. It won’t sound better than what an audiophile can achieve just like the iPhone won’t match a DSLR in a pro’s hands, but it’ll make it cheap and easy to achieve great results.

  5. Apple Homepod has a self calibrating processor / algorithm to calibrate sound from all speakers and subwoofer. What other brand of products, not just “intelligent” speaker, but big names like Bose, Mark Levinson, Harman (and JBL that now belongs to samsung, sadly). Who among them have Constan self calibration systems onboard?

      1. Yeah I’ve got an expensive Atmos receiver that does it, but it’s not dynamic and constantly sampling. And if I move one of the 9 speakers I’ve got to do the test routine again and that’s a mind numbing task with loud white noise going from one speaker to the next. And when I see the settings that it comes up with, the increments are not all that precise. +\- 0.5db isn’t that precise.

          1. It’s not just moving the speaker which makes a difference. The sound of the speaker is modified by reflections from nearby surfaces and objects. If you move objects near the speaker, the acoustic reflections will change. If you adjust curtains and blinds or open a window, the acoustic reflections will change. If you move a large item of furniture such as a sofa or change the floor covering, it could make a huge difference to the reflections. If the room is full of people the acoustics of that room will change drastically.

            There is a massive difference between having a one time setup procedure and having dynamic audio processing which continually monitors the surrounding acoustics and music in order to optimise what the user hears.

            1. While I like the idea of experiencing the best audio by having the HomePod constantly adjust itself, I think it is unrealistic to think that in a room full of people milling about (like at a party) every person will receive a similar audio experience in all parts of the room.

  6. After about sixty years of promoting stereophonic audio reproduction as the only means of achieving high fidelity (and even regulating the “Hi-Fi” labeling, on national level, to require a stereophonic, two-channel audio reproduction), we have now finally arrived at a point where the whole concept of stereophonic space has become moot (in the context of listening to music in high fidelity). While vast majority of today’s audio devices still propose and support the traditional two-channel audio space, about the only time we actually get to listen to, and notice, spacial picture of a stereophonic mix is when we put on headphones. Long gone are times when people strove to get high-quality stereo gear, set it up in their room, and have listening sessions, where they could actually enjoy the sonic spatial image that such a system could provide. Today, gear of such sonic quality can be had for very little money, so no longer is this an investment, and therefore it no longer warrants the ritual of music listening. We have cheap Bluetooth portable speakers (on one end), or (still cheap) home theatre receivers and surround speakers, and we simply don’t bother setting aside time in our lives to play music in our homes for the pure joy of listening, without any distractions.

    Then point is, the whole concept of two-channel stereophonic sonic image is all but forgotten, and the Homepod is demonstrating how unnecessary it is for enjoyment of our music.

    1. I agree with what you say.

      I’ve been involved with stereo reproduction and recording since the early 1960s and think it’s great, but I don’t think that many of the general public are particularly aware of, or attach much importance to stereo. I think that a really good single speaker with a spacious and natural sound could be all that many people will need.

      1. 64 mb of memory should be all anyone will ever need.

        Sorry, I don’t need a travel speaker that calibrates itself whenever the dog is done fetching it.

        Audiophiles set up their speakers properly and leave them where they belong. Non-audiophiles don’t care and will ask why they should pay the Apple premium to get the dumbest audio assistant inthe world.

        1. Anybody who professes to know anything about audio should understand that loudspeakers are part of a complex interactive system and that the environment which they are operating within makes a huge difference. In a domestic setting, that environment is unlikely to remain constant. Most will leave the speaker exactly in the same location where they calibrated it, but if anything changes near that speaker, it could then be working within a different acoustic environment and any previous calibration will no longer be valid. Hard surfaces like TV screens and furniture create acoustic reflection changes, while things like open windows or doors, curtains and soft furnishings make changes to acoustic absorption. Dynamic signal processing can compensate for those factors automatically.

          I thought that it was pretty obvious that my comment about a single decent speaker was not suggesting that it would suit audiophiles, which is why I deliberately referred to “the general public” and “many people”. I can think of multiple reasons for not using HomePods for myself, but my requirements are unique and I don’t expect others to have similar requirements.

          Audiophiles will have specific requirements and won’t agree with each other about what is best anyway. An iPhone camera would not suit most professional photographers who will disagree about which pro camera is the best camera anyway, but a single HomePod or better still a stereo pair will provide a very high quality sound which will please the vast majority of the population, in exactly the same way that an iPhone camera is a high quality camera which suits most people pretty well.

          Some self proclaimed audiophiles buy expensive systems which can be precisely calibrated, but they sometimes misunderstand what they are doing and make things worse than if they had simply used the factory settings. You only need to read a few comments made by enthusiasts to spot people revealing their poor understanding of fundamental concepts such as decibels, the characteristics of human hearing, the mechanics of transducers or acoustics.

    2. What Jobs, Cook, and others from Apple have said repeatedly is that both on a individual level and a corporate level they DO spend a lot of time enjoying their music and they spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring high quality music enjoyment conveniently to customers.

      The resurgence of Apple was basically built on the iPod, before the iPod portable music SUCKED. The iPod was built because of music lovers. Without the iPod, there would be no iPhone and, quite possibly, no Apple.

      1. From your link:

        “Executive Summary: Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is an audiophile product. It’s a me too voice control product that happens to play audio.”

        That is a good synopsis.

  7. Interesting. Hmm, wonder if this could, when syncing and such are dealt with, a way better sound experience for Apple devices? Like, watching Netflix with Apple TV or Mac? I’m not sure how they’d get the audio and video synced perfectly, but for a blind person like me, it wouldn’t matter much because of descriptive services. Devin Prater Assistive Technology Instructor

    , Microsoft Outlook, Excel, Word, and Powerpoint instructor certified by World Services for the Blind

    >

  8. Guys – it ain’t all that… Hate to bust your bubble. I have one…
    I also have a few really sweet systems. CR is correct on so many levels it hurts to admit, but its true.

    While it does a very good job at sending sound all around the room, as a single speaker source of ‘audiophile’ music – not so much.

    I will say its nice to have it playing while i do other things. If i have my main system going im spending too much time listening and not enough doing.

    it doesn’t play well loud.. 50% is about right. in a bedroom, it sounds great. small office, great. my living room, not so great.

    i imagine it will do wonders with 2, but until then…………

  9. Oh God, where to begin. I took one look at the testing setup, with the mic a mere inches from the speaker…. and stopped reading.

    Of COURSE at that distance, it’ll test well.. At that distance, the speaker on the iPhone would probably test well too… but NOT from across the room. The only way to fill a room with sound is to move a LOT of air. These speakers can’t. Period. Sound good up close? on your desktop? Absolutely… But compare to a really nice stereo system? Absolutely no way.

      1. Ever heard of the Sunfire subwoofer?

        Some of us have heard the claims that high excursion drivers can be powerful and also tightly controlled.

        Yeah, I didn’t think you had heard of Sunfire. The company doesn’t exist anymore.

        The little woofer on the Homepod hasn’t a fraction of the power it needs for deep bass, and the clarity is comprised like plastic Beats headphones. It’s obvious to anyone who knows. No point arguing against the new Apple fanboys “good enough” sales pitch though.

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