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

Kingdom of Dreams Part 3

This is Part 3 of Kingdom of Dreams, my 2014 golf short story.

Part 4 will be available soon so please check back.

I hope you enjoy it and thanks for having a listen.

By the way, you can buy the ebook here: Kingdom of Dreams ebook at Amazon.

Kingdom of Dreams Part 3