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?

Best writing advice ever!

I’m in deep into the sequel to my first novel,  John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.

The working title (and my bet the final title) of the sequel is Cottonwood.

I am dedicated to moving the narrative along at a rapid clip. I hike fast. I play golf fast. I speak fast and I write fast, until I take a break, which I did too often with JJM.

That’s a mistake I will not make again. In fact, I’ve put a serious time limit on writing the narrative to the sequel. I want to finish the narrative by the end of 2019. It’ll take another three to five months to edit and format the dang thing, so it’s really not all that fast compared to other writers.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the best writing advice I ever heard. The advice is in Doug Nichol’s 2016 film, California Typewriter and it came from the late Sam Shepard.

I’ll paraphrase the advice:

Never quit when you’re stuck. When you start up again you’ll still be stuck.

Now the funny thing is that I rarely consider myself to be struck. If I fail to work on my book it’s nearly always because I’ve been distracted by lesser things like work. But, there’s still a lot of wisdom and usefulness to what Shepard said. Since I heard his admonition I try to quit when I’m on a roll I know I can keep it going later. In fact, a lot of times the momentum of the roll is actually enhanced by the renewed energy that comes from taking a break to go on a hike or drink a fine IPA.

When I do nudge up against stuckness (to borrow a word made up by Robert Pirsig) I dedicate myself to the kind of written thrashing about that, if I’m lucky,  gets a few more words and hopefully good ideas onto the page. The small success of getting those kinds of difficult words down blunts the sharpness of feeling a little stuck and replaces it with the confidence that a way forward can be found with a bit more effort.

Anyway, think about what Sam said the next time you find yourself stuck.

 

 

Best writing advice ever!

One is not enough & four is not too many: My SeeMore FGP collection

I bought my first SeeMore FGP on a whim. The aged FGP was sitting forlorn deep in the used putter orphanage at my local golf shop.

I believe I paid $35 for my belovedFGP.

That FGP marked a significant development for my putting. Before I owned that putter, I had played many different styles of putters, never staying with any one design for long and always being disappointed with my putting.

Then came the FGP. That original SeeMore FGP forever changed my outlook on putting. Putts started to look makable and on good days, easy.

Yup, as of today I own four SeeMore FGPs. The original, the one my golf buddy has named, Big Daddy, stays home during most rounds. It will always be my favorite but I usually find myself using my only new FGP, a limited edition putter (mine is number 45 of 100), when I play. I like the all-black shaft a little better than the two-tone shafts of the originals.

All of my FGPs use brass heads. I have used a stainless version of the FGP before but something about the sound is slightly less satisfying to me. It took me forever to find an all-brass model then one day a fine example popped up with its original cover and a somewhat smooth SeeMore grip.

The SeeMore grip is great for originality’s sake but I prefer the superb Rosemark grip. The IOmic grip in the photo is a temporary stand-in while I wait for another Rosemark.

Used SeeMore head covers are hard to come by in good shape. I wish SeeMore would make a move to covers from AM&E but that’s only because I’m a relentlessly picky SOB. In addition to the old and new original SeeMore covers there’s my new UCLA cover and a simple but high quality leather cover from Stitch Golf.

My latest FGP acquisition is another adopted orphan. Its finish was rough but the face and top line were clean so I snapped it up for $30. I am waffling between the idea of refinishing the crinkle-black finish or leaving it rat-rod style. I did take one liberty with the putter. It was originally built to 36″ so I carefully cut it down to 34″ to match its stablemates and installed the IOmic for now.

In my opinion, the design of the SeeMore FGP is as relevant to putting as the Ping Anser and, arguably, the FGP is the better design from the standpoints of ease of use and pure performance. For players who are wise enough to adopt the design and learn to use SeeMore’s simple, logical system better putting is all but assured. You won’t have to buy four SeeMore putters to learn the lesson. Buy one and you’ll be sold forever.

One is not enough & four is not too many: My SeeMore FGP collection

A Quick Review of the Fifine K669B USB Microphone

Fifine

You can buy this little beauty here.

I’m grateful to Fred Greene, head honcho of the GolfSmarter podcast, for a number of things. One that I hadn’t anticipated was how much I enjoyed being interviewed by him for his podcast. Though it was a little out of my experiential-comfort zone, I really enjoyed it. I’m a born talker (as I think most writers are) but speaking formally over the course of 30 minutes is a different kind of talking than most of us are used to doing.

But, again, I liked it. I soon had the idea of doing an audio version of my golf short story, Kingdom of Dreams. I saw the effort as a study that would help me determine whether I could successfully narrate my novel, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.

I think I can.

Though I’m not bowled over by the quality of my narration so far the results seem workable and I’m hoping to get better as I gain experience and learn from my inevitable mistakes.

It didn’t take long to figure out I needed a microphone that was better than the built-in mics in any of my Macs or my iPhone. I asked around and did (very) little research.

A trusted podcaster I know recommended the Blue Yeti but I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about dropping $125 on something that could soon end up collecting dust on a shelf.

So, I decided on the Fifine K669B. I’m mean, it’s only $29 at Amazon and it’s Prime-eligible so there’s very little to lose.

Some of you may know I worked in high end audio for decades and have reviewed well over a hundred high end products. I’ve also been formally and informally involved of scores of recording sessions from pop to classical.

But, I’ve never actually reviewed a microphone. The more I thought about it the more I realized that something really critical to proper audio reviewing was missing.

There’s no reference.

Nearly all of the web and youtube reviews of mics compare one mic to another. I understand this temptation but the better or worse game that’s pretty much useless in evaluating playback gear is even more useless in evaluating source gear.

Why?

Let’s say it again…there’s no reference.

A given reviewer may like the way his voice sounds on Mic A instead of Mic B but that is no predictor of whether anyone else will like the sound of their voice when captured by Mic A.

A significant part of mic performance can be evaluated objectively but most reviewers confine their objective comments to describing features which is fine as far as that goes, but features do not relate directly to quality when you’re talking about audio fidelity.

So, what can I say about the Fifine? I can say it’s fine…for me. It has a fixed cardioid pattern that’s well suited to my simple needs and is truly plug & play (at least on a Mac).

Also, the little fellow is nicely put together, seemingly solid, yet not overly heavy. Some will surely complain about the captive USB cable but at least you know that if you remembered to bring the mic you also remembered the cable!

The only adjustment on the mic is for volume and I found the sensitivity to be plenty wide for my needs and is quite smooth. The volume knob has a reassuringly heavy feel and is easy to position precisely and consistently.

I found set up to be as simple as plugging the mic in and hitting record and I designate the sound quality as just dandy (I know; far too many technical terms).

For $29 there’s just nothing for me to complain about.

Lastly, the Fifine Folks appear to be very responsive at least related to their Amazon sales. This is especially impressive for such an inexpensive product and shows the company understands that early efforts related to customer service will help them build their brand over time.

Well done, Fifine. You’ve done a fantastic job with K669B.

 

A Quick Review of the Fifine K669B USB Microphone

How to (and how NOT to) discuss a friend’s new novel.

I’m going to take a few minutes to explain how to discuss a friend (or loved one’s) new novel.

Please consider & accept my premise:

The novel was a royal pain in the ass to write. It was a wholly unreasonable thing to try to create while holding down a day job.

It started out hard & got harder.

Then, as if by magic, it was done.

In the end, the writer failed in ways he never imagined.

In the end, the writer succeeded in ways he never believed possible.

A book should be read, it must be reacted to, so the writer gives it to the audience he imagines will be the most kind and receptive and responsive.

You’re that audience and I’m going to tell you what the writer wants you to say and ask (and also what he hopes you won’t).

First, be aware the writer knows his novel is flawed.

He didn’t write the novel to get rich.

He didn’t write the novel to become famous.

He wrote the novel in an effort to convey an idea or series of ideas in the best and most engaging way he could.

Let’s cover those pesky don’ts first.

The writer doesn’t want to hear what you’re reading right now and that you’ll get to his book when you’re done. The writer doesn’t care when you read his book, only how.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked how he intends to promote his book.

The writer doesn’t want to be reminded how nice it is that it’s become so easy for anyone to write a book and sell it on Amazon.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked how many copies have sold so far.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked if he he’s going to send the book to any real publishers.

Let’s move along to what the writer does want you to ask about.

The writer wants to know if you liked the book. He wants to know if you found any of the characters to be likable or loathsome or fun or frightening.

He wants to ask him how he went about writing the characters the way he did.

He wants you to ask if any of the characters were based on people he actually knew or knows.

He wants you to ask what it was about the real person that made him want to form the person into a character in a fictional book.

The writer wants to know if you didn’t like the book.

He really does. Trust me on this.

He wants to know if you simply didn’t find the story intriguing or the characters engaging. If he fell short, you’re his best chance of figuring out he did and, just maybe, why.

The writer wants you to ask how you decided on the book’s sequence. He wants you to ask how you were able to handle the different times and places while maintaining the book’s coherence and flow.

The writer wants to be asked why he decided to write a book at all?

Why make an effort to do something that took literally thousands of hours and, in many cases, years to complete with a vanishing a chance of financial compensation?

It’s a valid question every aspiring writer has asked himself not only when he set out to write the book, but very likely every single time he sat down to work on it.

The way you ask that question may help the writer draw a closer to his own answer when he asks the question of himself.

He wants you to ask him about other subjects he may be interested in, or may already be working on.

He wants to be asked what he learned from writing the book.

He wants to be asked what you regard as the best part of his book & believe it or not, the worst.

Lastly, the writer wants to know what his book made you think and feel. Were you happy to be done with it, to be relieved of the obligation of reading it, or did its ending leave you wanting more? Did reading it make you think differently about the writer? Did it change the way you thought about what he might accomplish in the future, based on what you might see as the promise or lack of promise brought forth by the book you just read?

The writer is asking himself each of these questions as he lays his head on his pillow every night.

Is the writer is an honest soul, looking to achieve beyond his prior achievements?

Though obvious to me, I should say that every word I write here assumes the writer in question is an honest soul. I assume the writer was trying to achieve something bigger and more importantly than bigger or longer, a work beyond anything he may have written before.

Thinking of a novel as leap of faith.

A novel represents a leap of faith for a writer and I believe a writer simply wants to be asked what made him want to take the leap.

 

How to (and how NOT to) discuss a friend’s new novel.

Do apps like iA Writer and Ulysses really help you write?

I promised myself six months respite between finishing my first novel and starting on my second. The idea was to take some time to research and test drive various writing apps.

Having a mechanism that facilitated the organization of my writing was of primary importance.

Having a writing environment that facilitated the writing process was a plus.

I mean, who doesn’t hate Microsoft Word?

On the other hand, who doesn’t use Microsoft Word?

When it comes to writing, it’s easy to come to see Word as the devil you know which is nearly always preferable to the devil you don’t. Word is not anathema to the creative process. If it was, no one would get anything done with it and there are plenty of writers who do the majority of their work within its environment.

I’m one of them.

But, Word is distracting. Word is inscrutable. Word is ugly.

I narrowed down the initial candidates to iA Writer and Ulysses.

I’m prone to breaking promises I make to myself so rather than a six month respite I’m already working on my next novel. The fun part is that I’m alternating its among Word, iA Writer and Ulysses. You’re right…fun’s not the right word.

I compose for a while and then I cut and paste the copy into Word as a back-up. I also email the copy and dump another copy into A Google Doc but now I’m giving you a bit too much insight into how much I hate the idea of losing my work.

So far, I’m not sure if iA Writer or Ulysses will be of much help to me, anyway. I do like the stripped down nature of the interface but, at least so far, I’m not seeing it as transformational of either my writing process or of my ability to maintain organization of elements of plot, characters, scenes and timeframe.

Initial nit picks about Ulysses include the use of jargon like sheets rather than text or copy. I mean, I know about a sheet of paper and about rain falling in sheets but why use the word to describe something that a sheet isn’t? But, I’m not giving up on it yet.

iA Writer takes the stripped down feel a step further. This can lead to wondering about what, exactly, the app is supposed to be doing for the writer?

I’m going to give both apps more time and copy before I decide which of them (if either) to use.

Today, I am unconvinced about iA Writer and Ulysses but I’m still open to using something other than Word. If any of you use either of them (or any other writing app) I would love to hear your views and experiences.

Do apps like iA Writer and Ulysses really help you write?

My novel is done, done, done.

My novel is done. No, you can’t go buy it yet.

I’m preparing it for submission to a handful of publishers and it turns out they don’t fancy looking at books that are already in the throes of a self-publishing campaign.

I’m quite certain that’s where my book will end up and that’s OK by me. I’m glad I wrote it. It took a lot longer than I had hoped but I learned so much about the kind of long-form writing thought that a novel requires that I now regard the span of time as something of a necessity. That’s another way of saying I’m a slow learner.

I had written a great deal over a very long period of time before I decided to write a novel. Now that I’ve done it, I want to do another and to do a better job of it. I can look back on my book and can see it clearly for its good and bad. Something about writing it broke away a kind of resistance that had set in to that kind of writing ambition. Suddenly, writing a book seemed like something I could do and do with meaningful results.

I think often of Steve Earle’s dark years in Amsterdam when he was addicted to heroin. When he had finally clawed his way back into the light, he had a creative boom of sorts, making records and writing books and plays with a speed and intensity he never showed before. He attributed the burst of work to his release from smack.

Even though I wrote for both pay and fun I avoided the idea of writing a book until I hit my 50s. Rather than being addicted to heroin I had instead succumbed to the belief that I didn’t have anything to offer; that I wasn’t that kind of writer. It turns out that I am…

So, I’m grateful that I simply had the idea to write my book. Obviously and as always, it is the idea that made everything possible.

Now I have another idea and it’s led me start writing my second next novel.

Here’s hoping it moves along faster than the first one.

 

My novel is done, done, done.

Horizontal Banding in Untitled 29

Someone at Flickr was kind enough to point out that Untitled 29 suffered from horizontal banding. I hadn’t noticed it, to be honest, but there it was staring me in the face.

Kind of…

Actually, even after the banding’s presence was called to my attention its presence didn’t really matter to me. Still, I fooled around with the photo for a while in an attempt minimize the banding’s impact.

Untitled 29 Small

Nope, it’s still not close to perfect but I really don’t have a preference between the original version and this one. The photo still means what it means to me. It would be the same if it had been shot on film and the negative was scratched. Absent its qualities and faults I still like the photo and, to me, the photos of an amateur photographer only need to please one person and I think you know who that is.

Obviously, I’m not one to hide work that might be less than my best. I believe we learn from our successes but often much more from our failures. I try my best with each photo I take in the very same way I try to use words to precisely convey my thoughts and feelings, yet knowing my efforts will often fall short.

I once heard a writing coach say something that I think about often.

I’m paraphrasing here but this is the essence of what he said:

Let’s say that in your career as a writer you will write seven novels, three of which you will eventually regard as good. There’s a natural temptation to ask, why did I even bother to write the four novels that turned out badly? That’s missing the point: The bad novels had to be written so that the lessons that created the three good novels could be learned. Try as you might, you cannot decide or decree to only do good work. You can only work and hope for some success.

I take writing seriously. As much as I love photography, I know somewhere in my bones that I will never reward it with the kind of devotion needed to create genuinely good work. Still, that’s what is so cool about photography. You don’t always need to be that good to take enjoyable and sometimes beautiful photographs. And, sometimes, the rewards for a humble photograph come as a happy surprise long after it was taken.

And, so it is with Untitled 29, horizontal banding or not

Horizontal Banding in Untitled 29

What’s Special About This?

Sage Park survived…

The Woolsey Fire is now all but out. The evacuation area got as close as a mile from my home. I got out toward the end of last week and saw some of the devastation along the north-bound 101.

Most of the oak trees I have photographed on many of the trails I hike have burned. They stand now like charred skeletons on the fire-darkened slopes. Compared to many of who live not very far from where I do, I was very lucky.

The fire started to the south and west of Sage Park. For days, I wondered if the prevailing winds would allow the dried grasses and oaks of the park survive the inferno and they did.

There’s always something to be thankful for and today I’m thankful for all of the oaks and all of the wildlife and all of the rare open space of Southern California that came through the Woolsey Fire unscathed.

Snapseed (1)

What’s Special About This?

Tragedy has struck my Sinn 103

Tragedy has struck my 103…

While setting my beloved Sinn 103’s date wheel this evening it got stuck between numbers.

If I was still the man I was 15 years ago I would not be bothered much at all. I would simply box it up and send it off to its makers in Germany. While it was being repaired I would simply wear any one of my other watches.

I wonder if I would have missed it at all back then?

But now, today, I am very dismayed. It’s not just that I’ve been a one-watch-man since I’ve owned it. Over the course of those seven years my 103 has been quite nearly bonded to my wrist and to the rest of me. I have worn  it everywhere…during all activities save for sleep and bathing.

The truth is that it’s been due for service (and a new crystal) for quite some time, having been made back in 2008. Still, I have grown accustomed to resetting it once a week, owing to its loss of 8 seconds a day. I enjoy and look forward to being involved with it, even in that small way. In other words, I have come to appreciate its weaknesses, to be endeared by its age, at the very same time as I so often try to push away the effects of my own advancing years. My guess is there’s a lesson buried somewhere in all of this.

I trust the good folks at Sinn will take good care of it.

Tragedy has struck my Sinn 103