Jean-Louis Gassée: The trouble with Apple HomePod reviews

“As a testament to Apple’s place in the pantheon of electronics, reviews for a new product from Cupertino come fast and — often — furious. HomePod, Apple’s contribution to the ‘smart speaker’ genre, exacerbates the venomenon, pardon, phenomenon,” Jean-Louis Gassée writes for Monday Note. “Tempting as it is to call out reviewers’ contradictions, ignorance of basics, and reflexive opinions passed as authoritative facts, one might try a more empathetic view of the basic challenges in evaluating speakers, including the not-so-new computational audio category now entering the consumer space.”

“With its HomePod speaker, Apple has once again reshuffled existing genres,” Gassée writes. “As an almost singular representative of the new consumer computational audio devices, HomePod’s slippery algorithms defeat quick and easy reviews.”

“This is where we find a new type of difficulty when evaluating this new breed of smart speakers,” Gassée writes, “and why we must be kind to the early HomePod reviewers: The technical complexity and environmental subjectivity leads to contradictory statements and inconsistent results.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: It will take reviewers quite some time to adapt because:

Apple has redefined stereo… About “stereo,” it’s time to Think Different. — MacDailyNews, 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
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


      1. Facts. You don’t you know the meaning of the word. Let me, explain, grasshopper. Examine all the data regarding frequency, pitch, noise, balance, flutter, etc. Use any terminology that you want. But it not the sound produced by the device that is important it tis he sound heard by the individual. Given that human hearing is neither equal or homogenous all sound is subjective, and each person makes their own individual assessment of what is heard by them.

        Just because all fanboys think alike it cannot be said that all people hear alike. Do you understand now?

        1. Your post would be taken more seriously without the egotism and attitude. Yes, it’s all subjective. That’s why we read as many “reviews” as possible. Even wider range of opinions than usual on this device…

          1. Attitude? Egotism? Interesting, how you select my posts for criticism. Maybe I would consider your inputs seriously if you weren’t so patently biased and prejudicial.

            1. …therefore, your opinion means nothing to me. Stop the knee-jerk, ad hominem attacks and the use of the pejorative, fanboy, and I might start giving your posts more attention (which, I will admit, occasionally contain worthy material).

              Besides, I believe that you missed the point. While an evaluation of speakers inevitably includes a great deal of subjectiveness, those “opinions” are not necessarily valid if the reviewer does not understand and properly utilize the product.

              You have lots of invalid opinions, Fred. That does not mean that all opinions are bad, or good. Just that yours tend to be bad.

    1. Fcuk you, Fake Fred! Stop imitating me!

      Your fakery shows you are so insecure and devoid of any intelligence, thoughtfulness, and rationality that you can’t debate me directly; but can only pirate my moniker.

      Fcuk you, Fake Fred! Stop imitating me!

  1. The Homepod has spent four to five years in development only to be postponed for months from it’s original release date. When it finally shipped the HomePod was missing a key advertised feature which will be released via a software update sometime in the future. It costs almost twice that of Sonos but the sound quality is only little better. It is a good speaker but not a smart speaker which is what it was meant to compete against. Now its base marks up wood furniture.

    Apple has lost focus on it core business, the Mac. The iPhone, Homepod and iWatch is what Apple has been spending it’s time and money.

    1. I’m guessing you haven’t used one? It’s better than what the “reviews” claim. I can be in my kitchen, 30 yards away…and say “hey Siri”. Same distance..when using as a speaker while on a call, I can talk and listen and it’s as if I’m right there. Person on the other end has no idea I’m in the next room. Sound is so clear you can have volume at 2 and hear voices nicely while watching TV when paired with Apple TV as a speaker.

        1. Article is about HomePod reviews. Internet banter about products the “reviewer” or forum commenter hasn’t even used….is the issue. I’m geussing you forgot the sarcasm tag?

    2. It’s funny you’d say the Mac is Apple’s core business. It’s so clearly not. That’s not a bad thing. The iPhone and what comes next is tremendously important to Apple as a business, and to us as users of technology.

  2. The expected ill-informed Consumer Reports review came with their first mistake in the article photo. They had the HomePod set up in a sonically muffled room with sound absorption panels lining the entire space they presumably did the testing. So apparently they were unaware that the HomePod was responding to the completely non-real world situation of a acoustically dead room and trying to adapt it’s output. Apple clearly designed this device to work in real world living situations with odd acoustic reflections and dead areas not rarified test labs. That’s not to say that the HomePod works everywhere, nothing does. Just as Apple changed the idea of video editing with FCPX (you don’t have to like it), it’s changing the idea of a speaker. Now if only the HomePod could integrate with my TV system without an Apple TV box I would get one.

    1. What is a “real world living situation” and how does this affect how people hear sound from Home Pod?

      How must owners of Home Pod reconfigure or redesign the room Home Pod is placed for best sound experience?

      1. I think the point he’s trying to make is that any room other than an unechoic chamber is better.

        Consumer Reports apparently tests their audio gear in a special room with acoustic treatment, in order to prevent audio reflections and echo. That may well be optimal for testing standard loudspeakers, but even then, the results of such test, while as objective as possible (and consistent and uniform) are largely useless, since no average living room has such acoustic properties.

        More importantly, HomePod’s primary feature, the most complex piece of AI engineering, is its array of microphones and speakers, coupled with its audio processing software, that analyses the acoustic properties of the room and uses them to deliver the most natural, realistic and pleasing sound quality possible. In an acoustically dead space, such a feature has nothing to do, and doesn’t get a chance to show its strengths.

          1. Fred, try reading the article on “beamforming” on Wikipedia. It’s simplistic, but explains how it is possible to use proper timing of reflections to expand the sweet spot and fill the nulls.

            That can only happen in a real-life room with reflective surfaces. The HomePod is designed to read the room’s echoes and use them to optimize the music, no matter where the device is located.

            An anachoic chamber has no reflective surfaces, so beamforming cannot work. It is the worst possible setting to evaluate the HomePod. That isn’t Apple’s fault; physics works the same for everyone.

            The HomePod isn’t intended to compete with cheap smart speakers, expensive home theater setups, or basic Bluetooth speakers. If you were expecting it to do so, you cannot blame Apple for delivering what it announced and not the completely different product you imagined.

            You might take the trouble to understand the product before you criticise it. Failing to do so not only makes your comments appear ignorant, but willfully ignorant.

      2. Most early Bose speakers had all of the tweeter drivers on the back side. All that the listener heard were the reflections off the surfaces behind the speaker. Testing such a device in front of an anechoic wall would have as ridiculous as testing a conventional speaker with a pillow muffling it.

        The HomePod only has one or two of its drivers pointed towards the listener. All the rest are pointed in a circle around the room to create reflections timed to generate a sound field that emulates that from the original live performance. Again, testing it in an anechoic chamber guarantees that it will sound worse than any speaker with all its drivers pointed towards the listener.

        You might not like the sound of a HomePod in a proper setting. As you say, listener pleasure is subjective. Nobody has a problem with that. I think most of us agree.

        However, you aren’t just saying that. You are claiming that all the bad reviews are objectively more accurate than all the good ones. Anybody who has anything good to say about the HomePod must be a fanboy. That is a problem.

        1. Another homer by TxUser! You post some very clear and concise comments and rebuttals. Fred should be checking for severe ego burns right now. You exposed his logical fallacies.

      3. Dear Mr. Head: How did you come up with this hysterical set of conclusions? Have you read anything about the device? You put it in the room of choice, the HomePod’s internal computer (yes, it contains a computer) analyses the room it is in and adjusts the sound patterns it emits to provide clear acoustics. It’s designed so you don’t have to do anything beyond placing it in a spot you think it looks best in. Of course it’s not going to work as well in odd places in a room and Apple can’t predict every room shape or what sort of items are in the room, but so far the reviews state that it does a very good job of calibrating itself.

  3. The HomePod seems like a great product. Siri works pretty well on the Apple TV, and this space (non-mobile music) looks like an even better use of voice control.

    Still, Apple is going to have to work very hard on Siri to make sure it recovers users’ confidence in the technology. On the phone I’ve already stopped using Siri. I just don’t trust it will work. I can’t reliably create an appointment in my calendar with Siri, let alone doing anything more complicated.

    Having a “smart speaker” form-factor will encourage users to ask Siri for a lot more than artists and albums. If Apple doesn’t deliver, Siri will be done. Not because they can’t eventually make it better, but because Apple’s customers will have given up on that interaction model.

  4. Oh Jean-Louis …. do you mean to say you think there may be considerable issues with those troubling positive claims about the Apple Homepod? My my my … always so many issues, aren’t there?

    I say, weren’t you the one I recall bad mouthing Apple Watch when it first came out? Seems to me that you had all kinds of problems there too!

    And, yet, now we find out that Apple Watch, despite all those issues you had with it, pulled in greater revenue last year than the entire Swiss watch industry. Amazing …. isn´t it, Jean-Louis?

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