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Apple's Phil Schiller on HomePod: We Want to Create a New Kind of Music Experience in the Home That Sounds Incredible

Over the weekend, Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller did a quick fifteen minute interview with Sound & Vision, where he once again explained some of the technology behind the HomePod, shed some light on why Apple ultimately decided to create an in-home speaker, and explained how the HomePod will stand out among other smart speakers on the market.

Schiller believes that Apple is in a position to create a "new kind of music experience" that not only "sounds incredible," but is also "fun to interact with." He says that's the driving force behind Apple's work on the smart speaker. Apple's focus, though, isn't on a single product -- the company wants to design a unified experience that's the same throughout the day.

We don't think it's just about HomePod though, or any one product, it's about creating an experience that moves with you throughout the day -- so the experience you have at home, is replicated in the car with CarPlay, at work with iPad and Mac, and when you're out for a run with Watch and iPhone. You can listen to the same music, control your home accessories or ask Siri to do something for you, wherever you are.
Schiller says that Apple Music, Siri advancements in personal music discovery, and Apple's innovative audio work "come together" in the HomePod to deliver an "amazing music experience" to customers.

He went on to explain many of the technological advancements that improve sound quality in the HomePod, including machine learning to allow the HomePod to sense and adapt to its environment, the A8 chip for real-time acoustic modeling, audio beam-forming, and echo cancellation, and a more advanced thinking of speaker arrays to "create a wide soundstage."

Schiller also explained in detail how the HomePod's spatial awareness features work. From the moment it's plugged in, the HomePod senses its location. The built-in microphone array listens to how sound reflects from neighboring surfaces to determine where it's located in a room and what's nearby, adjusting audio accordingly. The A8 chip beams center vocals and direct energy away from walls that are detected, while also reflecting ambient reverb and back-up vocals against the wall for better dispersion into the room.
The end result is a wide soundstage with a feeling of spaciousness and depth. This entire process takes just seconds and it doesn't stop with the initial setup. Every time you move HomePod, it uses the built-in accelerometer to detect a change in its location and continues to make sure the music sounds great and is consistent, wherever it's placed. We've also done some great things to help minimize the audible side effects of compression artifacts by developing studio level dynamic processing to optimize for rich, clean bass even at loud volumes.
Thus far, it appears Apple's efforts to focus on sound quality have been successful. While full HomePod reviews have not yet been shared, initial first impressions from reviewers who were able to spend a short amount of time with the HomePod have been positive. Many reviewers were highly impressed with the sound quality of the device, which has been described as "warm," "astonishing," "precise," and an "aural triumph."

Apple will, however, need to convince its customers that sound improvements are worth the premium price the company is charging for the device. HomePod is more expensive than competing products from Google and Amazon, but some reviewers have questioned whether the average consumer will value sound quality more than affordability.

Phil Schiller's full interview, which goes into more detail about Apple's aim with the HomePod, how voice recognition works, HomeKit integration, and more can be read over at Sound & Vision.

The HomePod, which is priced at $349 in the United States, can be pre-ordered from the online Apple Store. The first HomePod orders will be delivered to customers starting on Friday, February 9, the official launch date of the device.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Buy Now)


Top Rated Comments

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7 months ago
I think people will be surprised by the positive reviews the HomePod will receive.

Remember how people slammed the AirPods before they actually tried them, then found they loved them. They also slammed the Apple Watch and it turned into a great success too.

Calling a product a failure before it even hits the market almost always turns out to be a failed prediction. It's far easier to gauge success before release than failure. We see it time and time again.
Rating: 47 Votes
7 months ago
I can see it now...Johnny Ive "We have redefined audio, with sound waves that are now 20% thinner, and 10% lighter."
Rating: 30 Votes
7 months ago

And still no high-fi audio via Apple Music.


99% of listeners don't care. For the vast majority of users, a normal 128bit MP3 is perfectly fine.

Apple markets to the average user. They're the largest percentage of the market and the largest potential to make money.

Just look at how going after hi-fi audio has worked out for Tidal.
Rating: 21 Votes
7 months ago

I know it's got seven tweeters, Apple won't let you forget that, but how is subscribing to Apple's compressed music service to be pushed through a mono system of speakers going to "sound incredible?


You could check my earlier explanation of why this is not a "mono system." HomePod takes a stereo input, analyzes that stereo "sound stage," and synthesizes it into an 8-channel system - each speaker in the box has its own channel.

Mono (when created from a stereo signal) is the sum of Left and Right - it is always less than the sum of its parts, because the sum of left and right includes the loss of certain frequencies from certain instruments... Sorry, I don't want to write a treatise on phase cancellation, but basically, summed mono sucks.

Speaking as a former audio engineer who produced concerts for live radio broadcast for 25 years, I had to accept mono as a fact of life - lots of people would be listening on crappy audio systems, and I wanted my sound to be as good as it could be on those systems as well as $100,000 audiophile systems. That meant doing what I could to avoid phase cancellation, and it meant checking my mix in mono and on crap speakers as well as my expensive stereo control room monitors. It was really nice to get compliments from audiophiles on the quality of my sound, but I also had to make sure the masses wouldn't tune out.

The audio industry has long taken advantage of the knowledge that our ears can more easily detect location from mid- and high-frequency sounds, but we have a harder time detecting directionality in low frequency sounds. That's why so many home theater systems have a single sub-woofer and multiple small "satellite" speakers carrying only midrange and highs. It's a highly economical solution to an otherwise expensive and space-wasting alternative - 5-7 large, full-range speakers.

In the case of HomePod, you can consider this to be the equivalent of an 8-speaker home theater system - mono woofer, plus 7 satellites - they just happen to be arrayed in a single enclosure. It's a similar approach to the one Bose has been using for several generations - adding complexity to the listening room sound field by mounting additional speakers on the rear of the speaker enclosure, facing the wall. The big difference is that Bose did this passively - no signal processing. Stereo in, stereo out. Apple, on the other hand, is throwing an entire computer at this.

As to "Apple's compressed music service," of course it's data-reduced, for the same reason web sites post JPG images, not TIFFs or RAW. Bandwidth and storage space come at a cost, both in dollars and in real-world performance. Now, you may happen to be a cost-is-no object audiophile who believes he can detect every nuance and imperfection, but a mass-market product has to strike a balance in order to satisfy the largest possible customer base - if too many users can't stream the service because it demands too good a cellular (or even wifi) signal, then there are going to be a lot of unhappy customers.

In the end, music listening is NOT about technical quality, it's about music - composition, musicianship, arrangement, melody, lyrics, harmony, counterpoint... Someone who truly loves the music, for its own sake, isn't going to let themselves be upset by technical imperfections unless they're so glaring and obnoxious that they become distracted - say, the person sitting behind you coughing or opening a candy wrapper (or loud pops and clicks from a black vinyl disk) during a heart-rending pianissimo passage. What audiophiles typically complain about can be compared to the story of the Princess and the Pea. Sure, the princess may truly have been able to detect that pea under a stack of mattresses, but it takes a really special individual to lose sleep over it.
Rating: 17 Votes
7 months ago

Sound quality is amazing according to all the technology journalists/sites allowed to review it in advance. Interesting that not one audio journalist/web site was invited to review it...


Best I know, nobody has actually reviewed it yet. Instead, they got to go to a demo run by Apple. A demo is not a review. For example, in a demo, the demonstrator- Apple- steers the presentation to their product's strengths. In a well done demo, the outcome is predetermined and the demonstration will be engineered to be sure that the desired outcome is the one that results from it.

Real objective reviews will arrive AFTER 2/9, when independent AV reviewers can pound one of these in their own labs, per their own approaches, with their own musical selections. Instead of focusing on only what these do best, they'll consider everything with an aim to build a clear pros & cons list.

Real reviews will also answer about a dozen questions still flying around and still unanswered or ambiguous. For example, relatively how much smarter is Siri here? As smart as it's competitors? Smarter? Or not as smart? Does it definitely have Siri command access to our own ripped music files on our Macs? With Match or without? AM required or not? Will it play the lossless rips on our Macs or only the Matched copy in the cloud? And on and on.

To a buyer, what it's not (relatively) is perhaps as important as what it is. We don't even have a complete picture of what it is yet. Every "review" so far reiterates what we know from the marketing messaging (mostly from way back when it was first revealed) instead of telling us much new.
Rating: 14 Votes
7 months ago
And still no high-fi audio via Apple Music.
Rating: 13 Votes
7 months ago

Wake me when it offers stereo and is controllable by different people.


Here's the thing about "stereo." Two-channel stereo is artificial to begin with - two speakers trying to mimic a much more complex live musical environment. What Apple is doing here is not a mono speaker (which would take the sum of the left and right channel signals, resulting in a flat non-directional experience) - it's a multi-speaker array (single woofer, 7 separately-driven directional horn tweeters) that, with the help of tons of computer processing and direct/reflected sound from those tweeters, creates a complex sound field from a single box (well, cylinder). This takes both channels of a stereo signal and uses all of it. The addition of a second unit will allow for an even more complex sound field.

The principles behind this have been around for a very, very long time. We've seen many implementations come and (sometimes) go. Quadraphonic, 5-channel and 7-channel surround, sound bars, Bose Direct/Reflecting speakers, self-tuning sound systems... All these were done with cheap, passive speaker/amp arrays, with relatively little or no active signal processing. There's also nothing new about beam-forming tweeter arrays. A dual-HomePod array should produce the equivalent of super-stereo, accomplishing with two units what others may hope to accomplish with 5-speaker systems.

The main difference is that Apple is able to take these established principles, add their proprietary R&D, apply a ton of active digital signal processing, and execute it all in a mass-market product that sells for $350. What they're applying here has been learned giving iPhones, iPads, AirPods, and iMacs remarkably good sound (for what they are), and no doubt, what they've been learning for HomePod will also flow to Apple's/Beats other products.

Oh, and P.S., yes, HomePod will be controllable by multiple people (which is to say, more than one person can issue voice commands).
Rating: 12 Votes
7 months ago
So, basically, Sonos.
Rating: 11 Votes
7 months ago
I feel like a lot people are happy streaming music to a Bluetooth soundbar that’s cheaper and multi-purpose. I know I am.

My music setup is already great, a HomePod wouldn’t add anything to my experience. In 2018, a lot of people already have their music setup to their needs. It will be successful because it’s Apple and Apple users pour money into new Apple products whether they need them or not.
Rating: 11 Votes
7 months ago

99% of listeners don't care. For the vast majority of users, a normal 128bit MP3 is perfectly fine.

Apple markets to the average user. They're the largest percentage of the market and the largest potential to make money.

Just look at how going after hi-fi audio has worked out for Tidal.


Ummmmm, perhaps you should reread how Apple is marketing this product. Best quality sound hardware begs for best quality sound software. Or, at the other extreme, garbage in: garbage out.

If Apple made a million dollar HP Magical Deluxe Speaker, the quality of it's sound will be limited by what it is fed.

OR, if "99% listeners don't care about audio quality," won't they be happy to save money and buy just about anyone else's much cheaper smart speaker? If they "don't care about quality," why pay more?
Rating: 11 Votes

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