Jean-Louis Gassée on HomePod Reviews

Jean-Louis Gassée, former Apple executive and created of BeOS, doesn’t like the way HomePod reviews have been done.

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

He criticizes most tests, as not being scientific, and highlights David Pogue’s “blind” test of four speakers with give people.

He discusses the “computational audio” used by the HomePod, and notes:

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

I think he’s missing the point. When one reviews something subjectively, the goal is to find out how it sounds to each listener. You can double-blind all you want, but that’s not how people perceive music. There is certainly room for measurements – but not when they’re done wrong – but the true test of a device like this, especially one where the surroundings change the sound, is to have listeners judge it.

Yes, when you have four speakers, and their volume isn’t perfectly balanced, that is an issue, but the main takeaway in Pogue’s review was that a) no one liked the Amazon Echo, because it’s a cheap, tinny speaker, and b) the HomePod may not be the best. It is notably very bass heavy, which means that some music will sound good, and some won’t sound very good at all. Compared to the other speakers – which have a flatter sound signature – the HomePod makes the mistake of imposing a tone on all the music it plays, and not allowing for individual user adjustments. (I’m not sure if all the better speakers that David Pogue tested allow for EQ tweaking; the Amazon Echo probably doesn’t, because it’s not that much of a speaker; the Sonos One definitely does, via the Sonos app.)

Finally, I find it almost risible to see the graphic that Mr. Gassée has included in has article as proof that the test was rigged. He points out that a louder speaker generally sounds better – which is well known – so the people who preferred one speaker must have been closer to that speaker.

Gassee

This is a clear example of bias. Persons one and five were certainly closer to the speakers on the end, but persons two, three, and four were closer to speakers B and C. But none of them like it. Mr Gassée’s lines are ludicrous; he’s talking about the distance, yet ignoring the fact that, for example, person three is notably further from speakers A and D, and much closer to speakers B and C.

This is a glaring error in logic, and it’s a shame to see it included in an article that gets so technical about computational audio, electro-acoustc music at IRCAM, and so one.

Apple HomePod Review: Superior Sound, but Limited by Siri

Apple’s HomePod has finally shipped, boasting a $350 price tag and marking the company’s foray into the “smart speaker” sector with a device that is more speaker than smart. This small, sleek device, clearly a product of Apple’s design team, is meant to offer high-quality sound and serve as a gateway to Siri, Apple’s personal assistant. In spite of the high price, it’s a very nice device, but it has a lot of weaknesses.

Should you buy a HomePod? Is it worth the price? Read on for our full review of Apple’s HomePod speaker to help you decide if it’s worth buying for your home.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog

What to Do When Your HomePod Stops Responding

It had only been five days, but I already had a problem with the HomePod not responding. I wanted to listen to some music in the bedroom yesterday, while I was reading, and I started playing something on my iPhone, then went to stream it to the HomePod. It was playing, but no music was coming out of the device. I tried adjusting the volume by tapping the + on the top; no change.

The Home app, it showed that it was not responding.

Home app

After a bunch of attempts to fix it – restarting my iPhone, unplugging and replugging the HomePod – it still didn’t work. So I had to reset the device.

To do this, go to the Home app and find the tile for the HomePod. Press and hold its icon, then tap Details. You’ll see this:

Homepod settings1

Scroll down to the bottom and you’ll see Remove Accessory.

Homepod settings2

Tap Remove Accessory, and the HomePod’s settings will be deleted.

Unplug the HomePod, then plug it in again. Wait a minute for it to start up. Back on the main screen of the Home app, tap the + icon, and hold your iOS device near the HomePod to initiate the setup procedure again. After that, it should work (at least until the next time).

HomePod-on-Table-Gate

Apple does some dumb things at time, but this is probably the dumbest. Some of you may remember “antenna gate,” when the iPhone 4’s antenna was placed in a non-optimal location, and Steve Jobs famously told people “don’t hold it that way.” That was in incredibly arrogant way of refusing to accept responsibility for a design choice.

In the latest installment, the plastic on the bottom of the HomePod can leave white rings on some furniture. Apparently this occurs with wood that has been oiled or waxed, and is caused by chemical interactions with the wood.

It’s hard to understand how Apple, a company that touts its understanding of materials and design, could have release a product that, well, damages furniture. Presumably, if you only leave the HomePod on furniture for a few days, then notice it, it might be easy to repair, but you may need to do some heavy work if it’s any longer than that.

Apple’s Cleaning and taking care of HomePod support document now includes a “Where to place HomePod” section, which says:

It is not unusual for any speaker with a vibration-damping silicone base to leave mild marks when placed on some wooden surfaces. The marks can be caused by oils diffusing between the silicone base and the table surface, and will often go away after several days when the speaker is removed from the wooden surface. If not, wiping the surface gently with a soft damp or dry cloth may remove the marks. If marks persist, clean the surface with the furniture manufacturer’s recommended cleaning process. If you’re concerned about this, we recommend placing your HomePod on a different surface.

Not unusual? Seriously? It’s highly unusual for any product of this type, used as it is intended, to damage furniture.

This is much worse than the recent iPhone battery issue, and ranks up there with antenna gate as dumb Apple problems. There should be no limitation to where you can put the HomePod; I’ve never heard of any other device of this type where there are limitations as to what type of surface you can put it on. Why hasn’t Apple used a material that doesn’t mark wooden surfaces?

Audiophile HomePod Reviewer Turns Out to Not Know Much about Measuring Audio

The much touted review of the HomePod posted by an “audiophile” on Reddit last week – and gleefully tweeted by Apple’s Phil Schiller – turns out to be a long mess of uninformed and poorly made measurements.

This reply on Reddit highlights many of the problems, notably the fact that the HomePod wasn’t measured in an anechoic room, but mainly the fact that the “reviewer” fudged the display of his graphs, making them look better than they were.

Here’s one of the original graphs:

LmAel7t

The experimenter seems obsessed with that graph which they claim shows a very flat frequency response. They even say, further down the review, that it’s an “almost perfectly flat speaker”. Mmm. I opened that same measurement in REW and here’s what I get (with the same 1/12 octave smoothing as the above image):

3nHZimq

Doesn’t look as nice doesn’t it? That’s because of the scale, you see. It’s the ages-old trick of messing with the vertical scale to make things look flatter than they really are. In the screenshot that the experimenter posted, the interval between ticks is 10 dB. That’s enormous. Almost anything will look almost flat at that scale.

This is why it’s wrong to assume that some random guy who writes 5,000 words and includes a bunch of numbers and graphs knows what he’s doing. Another comment from the comment I linked to above:

I find it absolutely hilarious that the experimenter is specifying conditions like “Room temperature was 72ºF (22.2ºC) and the humidity outside was 97%. Air Pressure was 30.1 inHg (764.54 mmHg)”. It sounds like they’ve done very rigorous measurements in highly controlled conditions, but that’s rendered moot by the overwhelming influence of the specific room in which they made the measurements.

Finally:

Conclusion: no, these measurements don’t show that “The HomePod is 100% an Audiophile grade Speaker”, far from it. Because the measurements were made in a reverberant room without windowing, the data is mostly meaningless. The linearity, SPL and distortion measurements are usable to some extent, but these are not the most important criteria when assessing the audio quality of a loudspeaker (unless loud bass is really important for you). Many parts of the “review” are misleading, at times egregiously so, leaving the impression that the experimenter is interpreting the data through Apple-colored glasses.

I wonder if Phil Schiller had anyone from Apple’s audio team look at the original “review” before tweeting it. My guess is no; they would have spotted the incorrect measurements, and warned him not to share it. It makes Apple look bad, because of Schiller’s sharing it, now that it has turned out to be quite wrong.