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?

The software I’m using to write my new book is…

I’ve been making good progress on my new book, especially considering the hodgepodge of software I’ve been using.

I wrote my first book in Microsoft Word and it was a harrowing and creativity-sapping process. Word is like a huge Swiss Army knife of a word processor. A knife with a shit-ton of tools can be impressive. You look at it wondering how many tools there are and whether you’re likely to use most (or any) of them.

Then you realize the damn thing’s heavy. Then you realize that using any of the tools except the main blade is a fiddly and frustrating experience.

In the end, you leave the knife at home more than you use it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that Word exists. The choices made by the folks who created it result in a benchmark product. I would never refer to Word as a bad piece of software. It’s simply a bit of software that’s unsuited to the creative flow of my writing.

A while back, I was prattling on about Ulysses and iA Writer. Later, I discovered and used Bear for a while. I deemed each of them as interesting but not quite useful enough. Each design is good at pretty much keeping out of the writer’s way.

It’s the issue of sync that settled the matter, and not in favor of iA Writer, Ulysses or even Bear.

Each of those platforms rely on iCloud for sync. That’s OK if the writer uses the same Apple ID across all devices and the iTunes Store. There’s the problem for me. Also, I think the software companies should use their own system and servers for sync rather than relying on iCloud.

I think WorkFlowy does sync right. Their ingeniously simple software is truly web-based, syncing by username, seamlessly.

I encourage those folks to develop WorkFlowy for Writers and let me know when it gets to beta. If they can build on the way WorkFlowy works and apply it to the work of long-form writing it would be a real game changer.

The software I’ve chosen to write my book in is Apple’s very own Notes. File organization is simple and straightforward. You can choose your own font and basic formatting is a snap. I will continue to use Word as the destination software (and archived backup) for the eventual manuscript. Importantly, documents created in Notes paste cleanly into Word without any weird or unexpected formatting problems. Notes also syncs both immediately and perfectly across all devices, as one would expect of one of Apple’s own creations operating in their own ecosystem. The UI is clean and uncluttered and this helps me to focus on what I’m working on. 

I’m glad to be watching that hodgepodge of software vanish into my rearview mirror. I’m also glad there are software folks out there who are trying to make the challenge of writing easier and I’m really happy Apple did such a marvelous job with Notes.

The software I’m using to write my new book is…