Is the Apple HomePod a genuine threat to high end audio?

Yes, it is.

No, it’s not a real high end product.

No, you won’t be replacing your real system, assuming you still have one, with a HomePod.

Yes, you will be impressed by how fundamentally musical it is.

HomePod

The Apple HomePod is the first mass-market product, designed by a company with real engineering wallop, that was actually designed by people who wanted it to sound good and that fact should put existential fear into every high end company that’s still on the right side of the grass.

Let’s talk about setup. It’s OK, but like all new Apple products it entails a few more steps than it should and Apple’s Home app is kludgy. Bummer, that, but once you’re done with it you’re done with it, or so it seems so far.

On the operational front I’ve observed that Pandora skips momentarily about every ten to fifteen minutes. The funny thing is that it never skips on my iPhone or when I’m using my Air Pods.

What the?

That problem gave me the chance to test Spotify.

Odd, no skipping whatsoever.

Who knows what’s up there but I’m willing to blame Pandora until and unless it starts to happen with other sources. Not surprisingly, playback from iTunes / Music is just dandy.

What the folks at Apple have done here is to swing a big, heavy hammer at what should be an easy target, and for them it was. The HomePod is a technically and acoustically complex product. They’ve crammed a bunch of drivers into that little pod. If a high end company, or a lesser tech company, tried to do what Apple has done the result would have been a sonic or functional mess and probably both.

The HomePod sounds remarkable coherent from top to bottom. Even though I’m using it as what would be regarded as a monophonic speaker the result is quite natural from a spatial perspective. Remember, stereo is a trick. This kind of mono is simply another kind of trick, and it works because Apple figured out how to make it work.

But wait, let me talk about why I felt I needed a better speaker in my office than my beloved Soundfreaq Sound Spot Wood + White. There are two reasons, really. The first is that I need a speaker in my bedroom, and the Sound Spot is perfect for that. The second and more important reason flows from the damn book I’m writing. This whole book-writing thing entails seemingly endless hours of ass sitting, which I already hate. I’m actually thinking of hiring a personal trainer so that all this extra time sitting doesn’t knock too much time off my life expectancy.

The HomePod’s fundamental listenability and (comparatively) full range presentation brings just enough music into my office that I’m not constantly driven to get up and change the record or put in another CD or whatever. I can turn it up to annoyingly high levels when the music or mood calls for it or turn it down to the edge of silence when I’m trying desperately to think and it stays musically convincing.

The Pod simply sounds good. Yes, it takes some liberties and creates a sould-warming upper-bass hump so you won’t notice the lack of mid and lower bass. And, yes, all those drivers lead to an occasional if surprisingly minor megaphone effect that’s especially noticeable on female vocals.

But then, something will come on that will catch your attention. Right now that’s Telegraph Road from Dire Straits. The cut has a lot of electronically generated space and a fairly high dynamic range for a rock recording. But, the Pod pulls it off. Somehow, especially at rational volumes, the musical presentation holds together is the exact way you need to draw your attention into the music.

Wow.

$250?

I cannot think of a $500 pair of stereo speakers from any high end manufacturer of any era that can match the Apple HomePod’s essential musicality.

That fact, all by itself, is why I regard the HomePod and all of the amazing stuff that will surely come after it such a threat to what’s left of the high end.

In closing, I’m trying to imagine what would be involved in streaming to the HomePod from an analog turntable. Obviously, a really good phono preamp (got one) and a really good DAC (ditto). Then, all I have to do is trick AirPlay2 into streaming the resulting data at full resolution to the HomePod.

Hmmm…

Who knows? Maybe this will be possible by the time I’m working on the sequel to the sequel.

All you high end audio folks should have heard this kind of product coming and from this kind of company because it’s already too late for you to get out of the way.

The Apple HomePod is simply good.

 

Is the Apple HomePod a genuine threat to high end audio?

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