back to article Apple's HomePod beams you up into new audio dimensions

A teardown of Apple's HomePod, the company's answer to Amazon’s Echo and Google's Home devices, confirms suggestions that Cupertino was working on advanced audio technology before semi-sentient speakers took off. The HomePod is considerably more expensive than its rivals, but buyers can console themselves that the money has …

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Facepalm

Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

Other reports stated that iFix it realised that the mesh would come off quite easily if they'd attacked it from the other end! Doh!

I wouldn't put it past Mr O from wanting to take a hacksaw to every Apple device (once the Batteries had been removed that is). :) :) :)

In my worthless opinion, the only thing going for this is that it will not be used to :-

1) Sell you more useless tat on your Prime account

or

2) Slurp your listening details and conversations to the highest bidder (both Amazon and Google kit)

As for Siri? Please Apple get rid or do something about it. It is an embarrasment (As if the non removable power cord isn't enough of one as it is)

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

And actually, verifiably, kick arse sound. Check this out for a science/audio engineering based appraisal of its acoustic capability.

https://www.reddit.com/r/audiophile/comments/7wwtqy/apple_homepod_the_audiophile_perspective/

Conclusion, genuinely better than £1000 plus audiophile kit for a fraction of the price.

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

Conclusion, genuinely better than £1000 plus audiophile kit for a fraction of the price.

You help yourself to one. All this "beamforming" bollocks is similar to claims of other expensive point source speaker makers (for example the one that begins with B), but the simple reality is that a single point source isn't going to create a convincing sound stage other than for a single listener, and everybody else in the room will get sub-optimal sound. But, hey, what do generations of top speaker designers know? Nothing apparently, and they've all been bypassed by the God of Shiney.

I'll stick with my Quad electrostatics and a proper amplifier.

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

“ but the simple reality is that a single point source isn't going to create a convincing sound stage other than for a single listener, and everybody else in the room will get sub-optimal sound. ”

Which isn’t how beamforming works or has been applied by HomePod, but hey don’t let what the words actually mean here detract from making a good negative comment. Oh BTW, the article covers the beamforming as well but of course the familiarity of preformed prejudice is so much more comfortable than learning something new.

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

Maybe as a god of hifi you can explain how the addition of 2 or more speakers does anything to eliminate the problem of which you speak?

No passive technology is going to anything but change the size and shape of the audio sweet spot.

In theory beam forming coupled with some kind of warm body detection at least could in theory.

At the very least active adaptation can help with audio distribution and pickup.

How are those gold plated oxygen free cables working out for you?

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

""Conclusion, genuinely better than £1000 plus audiophile kit for a fraction of the price."

That's nice and all, but people *with* those speakers won't care, and people considering those kind of speakers normally want a device that can play more than their itunes library.

In fact quite a large proportion of the world fits into that category.

I'm sure it will all come at some point, but at half the price the echo will play stuff from my music libraries, stuff from my NAS, spotify etc etc

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

Kef 300a are sub £600 active bookshelf speakers. Not exactly what you were stating... Audiophile kit would IMO be >£4k for amplification and speakers

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Re: Love the Picture @ Gordon 10

How are those gold plated oxygen free cables working out for you?

I wouldn't know, as I don't buy the hi-fi snake oil. My electrostatic speakers were originally built in 1964, refurbished a couple of times by Quad, I've owned them for twenty years, and recently had them rebuilt by One Thing Audio, and the amplifiers are a Quad pair that I bought new in 1985. As I routinely listen to live music, I've got a very good idea what "fidelity" is, and (having access to the B device) I can assure you that claims of single point sources, beam forming, wave guiding being either better or even equal to a proper stereo speaker set up are a load of old horsehit. Yes, they do sound better than a basic speaker setup, or the junk built into TVs. But they can't form a proper sound stage, they can't do proper frequency response. These things are fine as an in room sound source, and a great upgrade on the tranny of yesteryear - but that's all they are.

But go on, jump to idiotic conclusions and put words in people's mouths.

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Re: Love the Picture @ Gordon 10

"Yes, they do sound better than a basic speaker setup, or the junk build into TVs. But they can't form a proper sound stage, they can't do proper frequency response."

Thus neatly illustrating my point about pre-formed prejudice. If you had bothered to check the thorough test of the HomePod speakers I linked to, there is this section:

"2.a Frequency Response

I had to re-measure the frequency response at 100% volume, using a -24 db (rather than a -12 db) sine wave, in order to better see the true frequency response of the speaker. This is because Apple uses Fletcher Munson Loudness Compensation on the HomePod (which we'll get into in a bit)

Keeping the volume at 100% let us tricking the Fletcher Munson curve by locking it into place. Then, we could measure the speaker more directly by sending sine waves generated at different SPL’s, to generate a frequency response curve at various volume levels. This was the only way to measure the HomePod without the Fletcher Munson Curve compensating for the sound. The resultant graph shows the near-perfectly flat frequency response of the HomePod. Another testament to this incredible speaker’s ability to be true to any recording.

Here is that graph, note that it's had 1/12 smoothing applied to it, in order to make it easier to read. As far we can tell, this is the true frequency response of the HomePod.

At 100% volume, 5 feet away from the HomePod, at a 0º angle (right in front) with a -24db Sine Wave. For this measurement the HomePod was on a makeshift stand that’s approximately 5 inches high. The reason for doing this is that when it was left on the desk, there is a 1.5Khz spike in the frequency response due to reflections off the wood. Like any other speaker, The HomePod is susceptible to nearby reflections if placed on a surface, as they happen far too close to the initial sound for any room compensation to take place.

Here's a Graph of Frequency Response with ⅓ smoothing decompensated for Fletcher Munson correction, at 100% volume, from -12 db sine waves, to -36 db.

And here's a look at the Deviation from Linearity between -12 and -24db.

What we can immediately see is that the HomePod has an incredibly flat frequency response at multiple volumes. It doesn’t try to over emphasize the lows, mids, or highs. This is both ideal, and impressive because it allows the HomePod to accurately reproduce audio that’s sent to it. All the way from 40Hz to 20,000Hz it's ±3dB, and from 60Hz to 13.5Khz, it's less than ±1dB... Hold on while I pick my jaw up off the floor."

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@SuccessCase:Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

SC,

you are laving a laugh aren't you? I was picking up my [repaired] MBP yesterday in the Exeter apple store yesterday, the remarkably keen 'yoof' staff were demonstrating the Homepod.

You can measure performance in any way you like, but if it doesn't actually SOUND good, what's the point?

It sounds f'ing diabolical, we have £200 of Tibo Plus 3 speakers on our kitchen dresser, and comparing the two is like putting a transistor radio against a proper hifi.

For reference we have £3.5k of tannoy speakers in the lounge and I have some pretty good Tannoy monitors in my study, so I know what quality should sound like...

I can see why some folk would love it, that's just fine, but hi-fi? No way...

Ymdv

Jay

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

Conclusion, genuinely better than £1000 plus audiophile kit for a fraction of the price.

Which would be great if there were that many audiophiles, which there aren't and of those that claim to be, many of them will already have age-related hearing degradation. Then, there's the plain fact that most of the music we have has for years been mastered and mixed to work well in lossy digital formats in shitty environments (cars, for example).

So, it could just be more impressive, expensive but ultimately pointless technology for the fanbois and gurls: Andrew is right to point out the importance of network effects for this kind of device or a must have feature which technoporn doesn't count as.

Not planning to get any of these devices myself but I know people that have them and they're invariably Amazon's shit, which is "good enough" for voice controlling the music, getting the weather, news and footbal results.

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Re: @SuccessCase:Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

@fruitoftheloon You're having a laugh aren't you? What HiFi, ArsTechnica, scientific measurement of audio fidelity (which can be done with great accuracy), pretty much every godamned review out there and my own experience of the HomePod *all* with very few exceptions call-out the outstanding audio quality. But I guess you know better.

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

@Ledswoinger:

> All this "beamforming" bollocks is similar to claims of other expensive point source speaker makers

> I'll stick with my Quad electrostatics and a proper amplifier.

Errm, don't you know that your ESLs are virtual point sources? You're quite happy to let your large planar loudspeakers process the signal through delay lines to approximate a point source.

I suspect that a pair of these Apple speakers will deliver equally good stereo (also on a single axis).

Whatever, listening to a convincing soundstage only interests a tiny number of people, catered for by a tiny number of small firms.

You are lucky to have point source speakers with a very flat response curve. These Apples do too, but most people won't care. After all, Apple was happy to cash in on the dreadfully unflat Beats by Dr Dre. Perhaps you should be cheering the effort that's been put into these speakers.?

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

"better than £1000 plus audiophile kit for a fraction of the price."

Which is basically pointless, because Apple fans will buy this regardless of how it sounds, and audiophiles will stick with their separates and handbuilt amps, because even if the Homepod thingy was the aural equivalent of oral sex, it's not expensive enough to be 'audiophile grade'.

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

"it's not expensive enough to be 'audiophile grade'."

Very true. And it's true for me anything of similar price from Bose or Sonos is good enough, even though I can hear the difference with HomePod when directly compared. Not sure I could identify the HomePod if doing a blind hearing test where the different systems are not played one after the other.

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Re: @SuccessCase:Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

SC,

my friend, I have no interest in other folks reviews; I am however very interested in my ears.

I heard it in the apple store, and for what it is, it is quite acceptable, what it clearly IS not is hi-fi, I have never been one for willy-waving where hi-fi is concerned, but I shall make an exception:

- we have a very good Sony SACD player, which we play SACD and normal discs on

- we have more than good enough speaker cable, which whilst not in rip-off territory, is more than good enough

- a £600 onkyo amp, which apparently gets good reviews

- and lots of big & good tannoy speakers (the front ones were even made in England)

This, all together SOUNDS GOOD to my ears, the homepod DOESN'T

Let me re-iterate, I didn't say that I am right and everyone else is wrong -'cos it's subjective.

If folk had only ever heard their music played on a phone (or via their dreadful Beats headphones) then heard it on a homepod they would rightly consider it a substantial improvement-and it is.

But hi-fi? err no...

Btw I regularly work with pro musicians and my main client has a very nice recording studio here in Devon, so I think I have better experience of quality audio than Joe or Jane average...

Thanks for your engagement anyway.

Jay

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Re: @SuccessCase:Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

The speaker quality itself is basically irrelevant, though, since it can only ever play stuff from your iTunes library. So literally anything which can plug into Spotify AND iTunes, or a CD player, or any other kit, is more useful.

Basically, Apple tried to make a home assistant and then realised that what they had was fourth or fifth rate - Siri is by now embarrassingly bad compared to every other voice app, the smart home space has become too diverse to lock into Apple's ecosystem and so the 'boat' for lock-in has sailed (making the attempt to try it anyway bizarre), and everyone else has large, mature voice app markets for their product where Apple has a Windows-Store-esque wasteland. Moreover, Apple doesn't reap the subsidies that Google or Amazon do, and so needs to over-price hilariously by comparison. That's when they suddenly started trying to re-brand Homepod as a 'voice-activated speaker', despite the fact it was originally billed as a smart home assistant/hub.

A more sensible approach would have been to strip out Siri along with the half-baked Smart Home gubbins, and just sell the speaker itself at $200 with bluetooth and a line-in port. That would have been hard to turn down - competitive with Sonos in price and better in quality, and able to be hooked into an Echo or Google Home device to replace their internal bag-of-dicks speakers. Instead, what you end up with is a very good speaker, inexplicably attached to a badly gimped Amazon Echo which refuses to let it connect to 90% of your other kit or play any music owned on any other platform.

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Re: @SuccessCase:Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

I have never been one for willy-waving where hi-fi is concerned

But names really do impress some people. Example, I've just taken delivery of a Behringer X32 mixer at work. One "band" we had come to play some time ago said "absolutely no Behringer kit" in their tech spec.

I wonder what they would have made of the Turbosound iQ speakers I've just received too - the company's owned by Behringer now, of course - and to my own ears they sound better (as in more "HiFi" than the dbx speakers they are replacing :-)

Each to his own. I've used three core mains cord for (HiFi) speaker cables for 30 years and it sounds at least as good as "proper" speaker cable!

M.

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Re: @SuccessCase:Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

"The speaker quality itself is basically irrelevant, though, since it can only ever play stuff from your iTunes library."

@Naselus. Actually that's incorrect, the interface is Airplay (a lossless format), so anything that can be played over Airplay, which includes to give some examples, Spotify on iOS, any music from Android devices with some extra software, anything on a Mac, anything on a PC (again with extra software or with iTunes).

But yes that is less convenient for anyone outside the Apple ecosystem because anyone not using iOS or a Mac will need to install something extra to ensure Airplay output and it is doubtful anyone would want a speaker where they have to do that if they aren't Mac or iOS users.

The restriction you are thinking of is on the use of Siri to make music requests to the HomePod. Siri can only fulfils music requests if you have Apple Music or an iTunes in the cloud library.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

That should be “aural sex”, I think.

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Re: Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

"Conclusion, genuinely better than £1000 plus audiophile kit for a fraction of the price."

Conclusion... either the tester's £1000 setup sucks, or the tester used a very select variety of music to test it with.

I've listened to a range of music on one of these and it sounds fecking awful! Whether it's Metallica, The Prodigy or Lindsey Stirling, it ruins all of them. There's very little or no midrange at all, so you can hear all the bass no problem so that's fine if you only care about bass, but the top end sounds stratchy and much of the detail in the middle is lost. I tried the same Lindsey Stirling violin track on my Echo Dot, and even with the obvious lack of bass available it sounded better than on the HomePod.

Oh and I also hate the complete lack of feedback when you talk to it. No light to show it's heard you, and often if it doesn't understand it'll do nothing rather than say it doesn't know what you want.

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Re: @SuccessCase:Love the Picture (with the Hacksaw)

"Actually that's incorrect, the interface is Airplay (a lossless format), so anything that can be played over Airplay, which includes to give some examples, Spotify on iOS, any music from Android devices with some extra software, anything on a Mac, anything on a PC (again with extra software or with iTunes)."

I stand corrected, then, but really only just. It's still a very good speaker that doesn't natively connect to most people's kit, but, through jumping through a bunch of complex hoops that most home users won't understand, or buying a new Mac or phone, you can finally manage to get it to perform the very, very basic function it is allegedly designed to do.

So I'd say my original diagnosis and wider point still stand; this is a great speaker that insists on not letting you use it as a speaker, and a behind-market home assistant priced absurdly high because it has an over-engineered speaker built into it. It's as big a goof as taking away the headphone jack - in fact, it's the exact same goof.

Ultimately, I'm left wondering which market this thing was supposed to be for. Music lovers aren't going to be able to connect their cherished 40-year old vinyl turntable, thousand-pound amplifier and half-dozen additional carefully-placed speakers to it to benefit from the speaker's excellent sound quality. Anyone who isn't that bothered about sound quality won't see a $350 speaker as a serious purchase option. And people who want a home assistant will get one of the ones that actually integrates with stuff they do around the home (smart switches, smart lights, voice-ordering from Amazon etc), rather than the seriously pitiful option Apple has put together.

It's two different products mashed into one, and the good product has been artificially gimped to a point that makes it even harder to compensate for the needless presence (and added cost) of bad one.

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success of the Echo – “tens of millions” were sold over Christmas,

I wonder how many are actually in use now?

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"success of the Echo – “tens of millions” were sold over Christmas,

I wonder how many are actually in use now?"

More than the comments in here would suggest. People don't care that they are being listened too.

I'm 34, the vast majority of our friends have one or the other, as do most of my family. From my happily retired old man, to my younger sister, to my technophobe Aunt. All in daily use.

As is ours.

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Anonymous Coward

the vast majority of our friends have one or the other, as do most of my family. From my happily retired old man, to my younger sister, to my technophobe Aunt. All in daily use. As is ours.

The collective noun for you is not "family", but "product".

Every whisper, belch and fart is being beamed back to Amazon data centres, processed, sold to their parties, and used to steer recomendations. The AI will be thinking "A lot of farting at 42 Acacia Avenue, I'll recommend up some Wind-Eze and Ranitidine".

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The AI will be thinking "A lot of farting at 42 Acacia Avenue, I'll recommend up some Wind-Eze and Ranitidine".

It's pretty shitty AI if that's all it does. The digital play is much more sophisticated than tying the device to a particular low-margin tat bazaar. Think insurance products or planning the next TV series: how many people in Acacia Avenue are watching Ballache? And what are they doing at the same time?

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There is one in my house as it was bought for me as a gift, but it is still sitting in its box waiting for me to decide how to get rid of it.

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how many people in Acacia Avenue are watching Ballache? And what are they doing at the same time?

Farting.

But I take your point about cross selling completely different products. But its still just correlation, rather than rocket science. Anybody watching Cash in the Attic is a prospect for stairlifts and funeral cost policies. Anybody watching Loose Women can be advertised Prosecco. Anybody watching Watchdog is a target for switching services, and so on.

Even Amazon on their full fat internet service can't get this right - trying to sell me "one off" purchases that I've bought before, or even just looked at, and confusing my possible interest because they don't know WHY I buy some products (eg as a gift for somebody else). Spotify do a very good guess of music I might like, but that's undoubtedly less AI, and more simply picking out the common correlations of people who also like the music on my playlists.

AI is driven by large data sets. Most large data sets are very dirty and incomplete, so the outcome of the processing will only ever be approximate, no matter how clever any machine learning element is. Hardly seems worth it for most use cases.

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But I take your point about cross selling completely different products.

I don't think that this is going to feed the same fairly shitty "collaborative filtering" they use on their website: the data is more valuable than that. For example, coughs and sneezes can be picked up and the data sold to pharmaceuticals companies.

I think that Amazon's digital properties are fundamentally different from the tat bazaar and there will at some point be a split, spin-off, or sale of part or parts. The current focus on tying everything into online shopping is clever misdirection while Amazon gets ready to enter the far more lucrative digital advertising business.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: coughs & sneezes - change your policy premium?

Not just badvertising but also perhaps the far more lucrative life insurance policy decision seeding; the insurance corps are very covertly trying to profile everybody as then their mildly profitable statistical tables can have personalised names, post-codes and ailments tabulated for trebles-all-round.

That said, I bought the expensive Alexa with quite reasonable speakers for relatives to chant "open Radio Player and Play Classic FM" (as it won't play it directly). It was a third of the cost of the shiny apple thing, and I got a 'free' zigbee lightbulb from a soon to be trillionaire. I do think Amazon is best price/quality.

However, luckily my relatives watch TV with the sound off & the subtitles on, so perhaps it is mapping their acoustic/profit phase-space in other ways:-

The trigger word "Corbyn" was mentioned 37 times recently, does that meet the criteria to slow down/jitter their DSLAM?

37 visitors who discussed "Vegan" today - do we need to send an undercover activist cop to read the meter and plant a bug^H^H^H, nope that's already self-administered!

No sound heard from next-door for 10 days, perhaps we can speculatively put it on the market, in case the old biddy has croaked - she was showing signs of pneumonia last time we profiled. . . .

roll-on GDPR!

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With my work I visit people in their homes and it is remarkable how many have an echo or Google home and are using it. I don't sell double glazing.

Palm may be dead - but the form factor and utility lives on in our mobiles. Psion style devices may make a comeback but the reality is ultrabooks do the same job.

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Anonymous Coward

With my work I visit people in their homes and it is remarkable how many have an echo or Google home and are using it. I don't sell double glazing.

UPVC fascias and guttering? The Watch Tower? Block paving? Fitted bedrooms?

Just askin'

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Anonymous Coward

"Just askin'"

Since he's oddly coy about what he really does, I'm inclined to believe he's a burglar :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Just askin'"

Or a Bitcoin scam artist?

Had someone try to sell me a load only yesterday. "Guaranteed to grow exponentially!"

Nearly gave him a kick up the backside as I sent him on his way.

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I would have guessed serial killer, but that's not work, more of a hobby really...

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Anonymous Coward

Could be a gigolo?

But this thread's come up with some great ideas to put down for occupation at the next census.

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I'm guessing Amazon delivery driver

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Devil

Re: "Just askin'"

How do you sell Bitcoin door-to-door? I suppose you could just sell people a cheap memory stick, claiming there's a locked wallet on there.

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We have some echo stuff...

The thing is that I like my music and already had a fairly decent speaker setup so I only needed an echo dot to allow it to work with my current stuff. I would never consider another £350 purchase that would add very little to what I have. I think that this is the sweet spot that amazon and google are trying to hit that apple will miss. I'm sure it sounds great but better than a properly amplified setup with several good speakers? I doubt it.

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On the (long) list of "things I don't get", all these talkie speaker jobbies are right near the top. I love cool tech, but these things are just, well, meh. Add in the privacy implications of having something in your house that is potentially listening to everything that you and yours say, and could be transmitting it all back to the mothership just so they can try and sell you more tat (or worse) - yeah, I'll pass.

I know, deal with it grandad...

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list of "things I don't get"

Me too.

I'd want it disconnected if I was in a room with one.

The loads of microphones make some sense. The array of tweeters is only useful if it's HiFi audio. It's not as there isn't a big enough box or a big enough speaker.

It's nearly impossible to beat a decent sized chipboard or MDF box with a 6" driver. You might want more than one tweeter to spread the higher frequencies only if it's close. The array of tweeters and microphones suggests it's meant to live on a coffee table surrounded by the faithful users, unlike a HiFi speaker.

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Coat

'harder to get into than Fort Knox'

Since they're not telling us about that little escapade, we'll just have to believe them it was easier.

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Anonymous Coward

I think i have realised how Gartner predict Apple's future so accurately

Apple come to market late, with a shiny object that doesn't do nearly as much as the competition although being way more expensive.

Also it doesn't connect to anything, not even Apple kit.

There, every Apple product on their books right now..

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Re: I think i have realised how Gartner predict Apple's future so accurately

Dammit: he's on to us.

Quick - push out another list of Cool Vendors before anyone notices.

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Re: I think i have realised how Gartner predict Apple's future so accurately

In the early days Gartner advised Apple to stop selling phones, as it would never make them money.

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Pending landfill

Ease of recycling seems to be on the decline. This stuff will be obsolete in 2-3 years and then not economic to recycle - it's not just Apple - but despite their "green credentials" - they lead the pack in sealed in / glued in slab-tronics

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Re: Pending landfill

This stuff will be obsolete in 2-3 years and then not economic to recycle

Electronics are most easily recycled by bulk processing, which usually involves shredding them and using mechanical and chemical separation. So the method of assembly is mostly irrelevant to the economics of recycling. The only issue is whether the difficulty of repair makes the device scrap before its time.

In practical terms, the reportedly high build quality and technologies in this probably give it a service life of about a decade or two. Decent speaker drivers last for many, many years, and solid state electronics (if not stressed by heat) last for one or two decades. The biggest durability issue will probably be the capacitors, but I've got audio equipment 30+ years old that's stuffed with full functioning capacitors.

Barring an absolute howler (like using poor quality capacitors, or an assembly problem) this could be the most durable Apple product ever. A pity they're likely to "sunset" the compatibility after five years in order to sell you a new product.

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Which?

I subscribe to "Which" magazine because it is sometimes useful for home appliances and the like.

However they do seem completely biased when it comes to Apple. I saw a headline on an email they sent me: "Alternatives to Apple's HomePod for Android Users" (If I recalled it correctly).

The assumptions in that headline are incredible.

Actually it did me one service. I hadn't heard of the HomePod at the time, now I have.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Which?

"Alternatives to Apple's HomePod for Android Users"

Curious. I wonder how many Androids subscribe to Which?

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JDX
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We used to think that Palm and Psion PDAs were “mass market” once too

This has to be a singularly stupid comment. They aren't around because the functionality became available in other devices (you know, your phone) not because people didn't want the functionality.

So by comparison the efforts of Echo/Home/HomePod will be seen as the crude fore-runners of a ubiquitous take-up in smart-home technology not tied to specific manufacturers.

Which is not a thrilling prospect in my view.

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