On HomePod and audio quality

From a Reddit thread on /r/audiophile, discussing HomePod:

They’re using some form of dynamic modeling, and likely also current sensing that allows them to have a p-p excursion of 20 mm in a 4″ driver. This is completely unheard of in the home market.


The practical upshot is that that 4″ driver can go louder than larger drivers, and with significantly less distortion. It’s also stuff you typically find in speakers with five-figure price tags (The Beolab 90 does this, and I also suspect that the Kii Three does). It’s a quantum leap over what a typical passive speaker does, and you don’t really even find it in higher-end powered speakers


The speaker uses six integrated beamforming microphones to probe the room dimensions, and alter its output so it sounds its best wherever it is placed in the room. It’ll know how large the room is, and where in the room it is placed.


The room correction applied after probing its own position isn’t simplistic DSP of frequency response, as the speaker has seven drivers that are used to create a beamforming speaker array,. so they can direct specific sound in specific directions. The only other speakers that do this is the Beolab 90, and Lexicon SL-1. The Beolab 90 is $85,000/pair, and no price tag is set for the Lexicon, but the expectation in the industry is “astronomical”.


Lots of people online are calling it overpriced because they think Apple just slapped a bunch of speakers in a circular configuration and added Siri, but the engineering behind it is extremely audiophile niche stuff. And it does this all automatically with no acoustical set up or technical know how.

One comment I’ve seen over and over is the fact that the HomePod is not stereo. From Apple’s official HomePod page:

Place HomePod anywhere in the room. It automatically analyzes the acoustics, adjusts the sound based on the speaker’s location, and separates the music into direct and ambient sound. Direct sound is beamed to the middle of the room, while ambient sound is diffused into left and right channels and bounced off the wall.

While you can add a second HomePod to get true stereo, there’s more going on here than simple mono sound. And I’ve long been used to Bluetooth speakers from high end companies such as Bose that fill a room with sound using a single speaker, frequently priced around $300.

To me, HomePod is a step up in audio quality and in functionality. Looking forward to February 9th. I’ll definitely let you know if it was money well spent.

  • very interesting. intriguing even. i hope it turns out to be true so all the “But this is too expensive!” people will look like idiots.

    • James Hughes ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ”

      They’re too dumb to know. Ignorance is bliss don’t forget.

      I can’t wait to hear the HomePod.

    • Mo

      People who’ve always believed Apple should sell commodity products will still be saying that when Apple’s newest OS is running our interstellar starships.

  • Heos Phorus

    sounds great, really looking forward to this. but does it really make sense to build and sell this as an “audiophile” speaker, when it’ll mostly be playing back compressed streaming music? It doesn’t have any wired input does it? is airplay 2 uncompressed or lossless ?

    anyway, I don’t think $350 is much for a quality speaker, even if it’s only for wireless streaming, and lots of people who buy better quality audio gear don’t think so either. it’s far less absurd than trying to sell an €1200 smartphone.

    • 1) i don’t know of any $350 speakers being referred to as audiophile.

      2) $1000 US for the X isn’t absurd at all, as sales have shown. it’s my most used computing device and a joy to use.

      • Heos Phorus

        1) we‘re posting under an article referencing to an audiophile reddit, comparing the homepod with speakers for audiophiles. 2) that was a joke. although, €1200 for a smartphone is still far less common than $350 for a speaker.

        • it doesn’t matter what reddit groups are talking about HP, it’s still not being sold as an audiophile specialist niche speaker. see price.

        • diezfmly

          One Sonos 3 speaker is $399. And would you like to see multiple headsets e.g., speakers, that start at that price point and move up? The Apple Watch 3 starts at $399 too, and the speaker on that device isn’t exactly stellar :0))

    • puggsly

      Airplay has always transmitted AppleLossless audio so if your device has uncompressed audio it will be converted to AppleLossless before being sent. If it is in another format it will be converted to AppleLossless to ensure that there is no compression over compression loss.

      AppleMusic is all compressed audio so technically the best quality you could get is over Airplay.

      • CelestialTerrestrial

        Apple Music is AAC Lossy compression, which is different than FLAC or ALAC Lossless compression. It’s file compression not audio compression. Audio compression is either there or not there depending the mastering done on the specific version of music you want to listen to. Most POP music has audio compression. Classical Music recordings generally don’t use Audio compression during the mastering process.

        MQA processed tracks, which is what Tidal is starting to post, but to take advantage of that, you need two things. The player has to be MQA enabled and so does your DAC. Only a small handful of external MQA DACs are on the market, there aren’t any, or at least not many powered speakers that have MQA support internally.

        Apple hasn’t mentioned if they are going to support MQA in terms of Apple Music content, if you want to play MQA on an Apple product, you need a proper music player software, which there are a few available, but you would have to get an external MQA enabled DAC to take full advantage of MQA. MyTek has a portable DAC for iPhone use, it’s called the Clef, but it’s about $300 and it’s the size of a pager.

        • puggsly

          Great info, but not to my point. AirPlay…the transport of information to an AirPlay capable speaker is transmitted in only 1 format! Apple Lossless. Airplay 1 did impose a max quality of 16bit/44khz and i’m having trouble finding out what the max resolution is for AirPlay2. I assume it will be 24/96 but regardless, it will take the source in what ever format, decompress it and re-compress it as Apple Lossless. The formats that the HomePod supports are only about what it can stream directly. So only items in your iTunes library or your Apple music subscription.

          • CelestialTerrestrial

            That’s just for transmission purposes.

            But I’m assuming that the internal DAC is set to play back in 16/44.1 mode because their spec page doesn’t mention anything higher than that. And Apple Music only supports AAC files get decompressed back to 16/44.1 and the HomePod also supports iTunes Match, which is also streaming as AAC 16/44.1.

            It does support iTunes Match too.

            But iTunes Library can hold a variety of different bit/sample rate, it may not necessarily play them back at that rate because internal DACs are limited, so people get external DACs to go to higher bit/sample rates. But the HomePod is probably only 16.44.1 at this time. It very well might have a 24 bit DAC, but anything above 16 bit may not be “TURNED ON” and enabled yet.

            The might do that down the road If Apple starts to stream Hi Res files.

  • This is completely unheard of in the home market.

    Love this about Apple, and not at all surprised.

    But the peanut gallery won’t reward this in a fairly new market that’s already in a race to the bottom.

  • Julian Kaye

    has anyone actually heard one?

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      Only a small handful of reviewers outside Apple. Remember, they don’t ship until next week. I hate it when they talk about something we can’t go to the store and experience the product for ourselves and the product isn’t shipping.

      I think the HomePod is designed more for those that want Apple Music subscription. I mean, it’ll work as a speaker to route music from other devices, but it loses the Siri control when asking for what song/playlist you want, but you still get Siri for other things like controlling HomeKit, and other regular Siri requests.

    • mr_craig

      Yes and it’s extraordinary!

  • JimCracky

    And after all of that, it delivers sound in mono.

    • troll nonsense. channel separation is the opposite of “mono”. it separates channels including left and right to its 7 internal drivers.

      you know, just like a Bose shelf speaker.

      “Direct sound is beamed to the middle of the room, while ambient sound is diffused into left and right channels and bounced off the wall.”

      • CelestialTerrestrial

        You can’t reason with Mr. Cracky, He doesn’t “get it”. He doesn’t understand that one box can produce a stereo image. It might not be the best stereo image compared to two speaker boxes, but most of the other Smartspeakers don’t have enough drives to produce Stereo.

        • mr_craig

          Well put

    • mr_craig

      Buy 2 and wait for the sw upgrade. I have 1 and am entirely amazed.

  • jimothyGator

    Here’s hoping the HomePod is a success, and that it leads to a family of products, like a HomePod mini and a portable, battery powered HomePod. Maybe the latter could be Beats branded, basically a Beats Pill with Siri and AirPlay capabilities.

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    • CelestialTerrestrial

      Beats and this product are designed by two completely different engineering teams. Beats is still run by Beats and their products are designed by a different group.

      I would think that the Stereo capability will be added within the next month or two.

  • Robert Follis

    Apparently Stereo is coming as software update later in 2018 as is multi-room

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    The idiot that wrote this is dumb as a stump. The HomePod is more of a comparison against other Smartspeakers, about the only B&O speakers I would compare it to might be the $1400 and $1800 BeoSound 1 and 2, which are also both Omnidirectional. I wouldn’t have compared the BeoLab 90’s, that’s a totally different class of speaker and audiophiles aren’t necessarily buying those in droves either.

    The BeoLab 90’s aren’t meant to be listened to without a stereo pair, same with the SL-1 Lexicon, which aren’t even shipping and those are probably more than $85K a pair, both speakers not even in the same realm as the HomePod. The HomePod is small lifestyle smart speaker meant for a consumer.

    • IsaacCrawford

      He was comparing the technology of the HomePod to the Beolab 90. Active beamforming, echo cancellation, real time DSP for speaker correction, etc. The HomePod is the only thing remotely affordable with this kind of technology.

      • CelestialTerrestrial

        Yeah, I know and the BeoLab 90’s are sold and used in stereo pairs and only the few can afford them. The HomePod doesn’t have to be used in a stereo pair, unless you want to and that feature will be made available soon. probably next month is my guess.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    20 mm excursion is pretty insane for a 4inch speaker. Excursions is the amount of distance the speaker cone travels in each direction from it’s rest state. So if the excursion is 20mm p to p, that means the cone can go 10mm in one direction and 10mm in the other direction from it’s normal rest position. That’s pretty good for a 4inch bass driver.

    • IsaacCrawford

      And it’s only possible with active amplification and DSP to correct and control the driver. It takes a lot of tech to make a driver like that sound good.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    I honestly don’t think voice activation for requesting music is going to work for me. I have a big catalog in my iTunes library that I want to route to a speaker In my bedroom. I want the speaker to sound good, but it doesn’t need to go that loudly. I can’t request a song by using voice control, unless it asks for all of the information specifically. I have a large list of concert recordings from the same band and many of the songs are the same title, but what differentiates each version is the concert date and venue and I can’t remember 50 different concert dates, etc. from memory, so I have to look at the catalog of titles on a screen to pick which one I want to listen to.

    To request a playlist is easy, Siri does that perfectly. Turns on/off repeat and shuffle.

    I’m sure I can route my iTunes library from my Mac or iOS device (iTunes Match), but I won’t get voice assistant for that portion with the HomePod, I’ll have to ask Siri on either my Mac, IOS device.

    So far, I use Siri for certain things it does well, but certain things it doesn’t. I don’t think any other voice assistant is going to be any better.