HomePod Hype vs. Blind Test & Honest Reviews: Dumb Siri And… Subpar Sound Quality?

Apple has innovated again. It launched the HomePod, a me-too ‘not-so-smart’ speaker… with an inferior sound compared to the Sonos One Or Google Home Max.

So, with Siri and subpar sound quality for its price, it really needed glowing reviews… It had them. Though not because it’s a better product than those already on the market… But because of bias.

 

[Note: This is a very long post (2600+ words). There’re a lot of info and thoughts (not only mine, by the way). I’ve also added a section on the HomePod in Apple, The Forbidden Truth Vol. 1.]

**Post updated to reflect the changes WinterCharm made in the introduction of his Reddit HomePod review thread and his mention of edechamps’ critque.**

 

What makes the HomePod so great? Siri, of course… Nah, just kidding. Siri is the dumbest (Reddit thread in which Apple users themselves are disillusioned) virtual assistant out there and it’s worse on the HomePod since it’s even more limited than on an iPhone.

No, what’s supposed to be THE selling point of the HomePod is its magical sound quality. Apple, its fanboys and almost every early reviewers say it’s way better compared to all other smart speakers on the market. And for the price, it’d better be. But is it true?

 

Fair reviewer and blind tests change EVERYTHING: the Google Home Max and Sonos Play:1 win.

 

No, not for everyone. First, this is not the case for Customer reports when comparing it to the more expensive $400 Google Home max (YT video). [iFans just can’t accept a test that isn’t 100% favorable to the HomePod – Reddit. The second thread is even worse because they know Customer Reports has a good track record. So, it’s much more difficult to discredit them… Though angry liars or utterly delusional fools iFanboys still try. You need to expand the comments that have scored below the threshold to see more of them]… but neither, it seems, to the Sonos Play:1 which is about half the price of a HomePod.

 

Google Home-Max sounds better than Apple HomePod - i Hate Apple Fanboys.comThis is an article on a (albeit limited) blind test made by Yahoo finance writer David Pogue. And, to his dismay, the HomePod lost by a wide margin. [Note: he, like every other reviewers, had previously declared the HomePod to be superior in sound quality. He said in his sneak preview (Yahoo news) that: “Apple has tried to differentiate the HomePod, and justify its high price ($350), by giving it better sound than any competitor […] it has succeeded. […] The HomePod sounded the bestHe even added that the Google Home Maxsounded like cardboard].

It was found to be inferior to the Google Home Max and Sonos Play:1 (or One. They sound the same, but the One has a more refined design, touch input and costs $250) :

“Nobody ranked the HomePod the best.”

But at the end of his blind test review he’s still saying that the HomePod is “the best sounding speaker” [though] “only in direct A/B/C/D tests”.

What? Isn’t it what he just did? Didn’t he show the HomePod was preferred by the test participants in a A/B/C/D test? A blind test, no less? Baffling.

Though now, in blind tests Apple fans are going to pick the third best sounding speaker (or the one with more bass) as the best… and, by doing so, increase the chance to make the HomePod the winner… LOL. I jest but they’re definitely capable of doing it.

No one had done blind testing until David Pogue did. I wonder why… Not. Ok, I’ll tell you why. Because with a blind test (unless you rig it or lie about the results… which is always possible, of course) you can’t just claim and pretend the HomePod is by far the best sounding speaker. There isn’t any brand bias with a blind test, the product that people truly prefer (even if it’s still subjective) wins. End of story.

You can’t embellish, fabricate a truth or mislead customers to make a product the best whereas it’s not.

 

Is Apple fanboy “audiophile” WinterCharm in-depth biased review a Marketing stunt?

 

Like what it seems a Redditor named WinterCharm has done [Note: He seems to be a student, self-proclaimed “audiophile” Redditor and… he clearly sounds like an Apple fanboy or Apple shill. His post history, extraordinary claims, the over-the-top upvotes count he received early for his review, and the fact he was invited by Apple (How? Why?) to try out the speaker before its release seem to suggest that there’s a marketing force behind him – The link directs you to a Reddit thread he made after the visit. And, as he’s doing in his review, he drowns the reader in utterly biased opinions presented as facts. – So, yeah… this is obviously a review made by a completely objective and neutral “audiophile”… /s

And for those who doubt there are shills on Reddit threads, that it’s conspiracy theories, paranoia or whatever. Do you seriously believe that companies, here the most profitable company on earth with one of the best marketing division in the world, don’t try and influence people on social media or tech websites/blogs to sell more products or attenuate potential backlash (*cough*… #iPhoneSlow, Battery Gate… *cough*…)? Seriously? This is the most easy thing to do and it costs pennies compared to huge ad campaigns. And it’s efficient. The real question is why would they not? They’d be almost stupid not to do it. You just have to be aware of it and exercise critical thinking… even more.].

He provided some almost useless measurements (weather and temperature, really? For a ROOM test?), a good presentation, baseless claims, pseudo-educated guesses and a lot of words to impress neophytes (like me… though I won’t get impressed by some fanboys’ words… even if there are a lot). He also interpreted and displayed data in a ‘strange’ way to, for example, be able to claim that the HomePod is an “almost perfectly flat speaker”. And it worked.

Yardenbourg

“Holy sh*t. I’m no audiophile, and most of the technicalities went over my head, but it looks like a meticulously well done review.

Phil Schiller’s retweet was well deserved!”

Looks like”…

 

 

WinterCharm review is flawed and… misleading?

 

According to a well-argued and technical critique made by edechamps, another Redditor, WinterCharm’s review is full of flaws and bizarre choices… unless the goal was to mislead readers?

Of course this critique is dismissed or ignored by Apple fanboys and the media… but not WinterCharm’s review despite probably being widely inaccurate. It’s been tweeted by Phil Schiller (Senior VP at Apple… Yeah, definitely not a marketing campaign /s), reported on by 9to5 Mac and  Mac Rumors and dozens more blogs since.

9to5 Mac shows a graph used to ‘prove’ that the HomePod sound is almost perfectly flat. But that’s edechamps‘ main critique, the HomePod sound doesn’t seem to be flat at all. He wanted to check the data and here’s what he has to say about it:

“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):

https://i.imgur.com/3nHZimq.png

Doesn’t look as nice, does 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.

Then, he points out a passage of WinterCharm’s review about “deviation from linearity” presented as if it was about “the frequency response of the speaker”:

“It has nothing to do with frequency response, which is a much, much more important metric. The way that passage is worded is so mind-bogglingly misleading that I’m having a hard time believing it was not written that way on purpose.”

He then finishes by saying:

“Contrary to what OP claims, his own frequency response measurements do not look flat at all […] the evidence shows that the speaker doesn’t do room correction, or if it does, it’s being hilariously bad at it.”

Another enlightening critique made by a Redditor named notnyt:

“Your limits on the frequency response tab are absurd, why is it 5-140? It will make any bad speaker look flat.

You should have it like 45-95 or so for a better representation.

The LF distortion is also ridiculously high. […]

You clearly put a lot of effort into this, but there are some severe flaws to your approach. […] You’ve just masked it by how you’ve chosen to display the data.

[…]Anyone who reviewed your findings should have their creds checked.”

So, did WinterCharm put a lot of effort in this ‘review’ with the specific goal of making the HomePod look (sound) good as much as possible in mind?

 

[Update: A couple days later, after all the noise and buzz was made about this thread… when it was all over and no one would read or pay attention to it anymore, he admitted that he may have been wrong and placed a link to edechamps post. It had generated a whole new sub-discussion, which should have deserved its own thread, btw… And in which Apple’s shills, employees, fanboys – whatever – get totally owned by REAL audiophiles and/or acoustic professionals.

Almost none of the claims they, or Apple, make still stand after analysis of whatever data or claim they throw at these honest and competent Redditors.

I love these guys: edechamps, notnyt or yeky83 (there are more). Seriously. Because I love the TRUTH (the pursuit of it). And they are looking for it (and try to deliver it) beyond the marketing, the claims and the misinformation attempts.

WinterCharm corrected the first lines of his post and added:

“please read /u/edechamps excellent reply to this post […] about measuring, conventions, some of the mistakes I’ve made, and how the data should be interpreted. His conclusion, if I’m reading it right, is that these measurements are largely inconclusive” […]

That’s not really what its conclusions are. He says that, if anything, the evidence shows that, contrary to Apple (? and its) fanboys’ claims, the HomePod doesn’t do room correction (even less in real time) at all… or it’s “hilariously bad at it”. And, of course that these measurements are more about the room that the HomePod, making the whole review pretty much useless.

It’s good that WC made the correction… it’s well played. If he wants to keep some credibility (to this Reddit account) and people to still give him the benefit of the doubt, that’s the best move he could have done. Regardless, it doesn’t change my mind. I have a hard time believing that he just made a review full of utterly biased conclusions based on some enormous honest “mistakes”. Too many things sound fishy with this thread.

Also, did you see a Phil Schiller’s tweet or 9to5Mac, or Mac Rumors article or even update on how WinterCharm may have had it all wrong after all? Me neither.]

 

One thing for sure is that dissenting voices are very few [this is explained by the fact that the first wave of reviews was done by media outlets and people handpicked by Apple and by Apple fans who preordered the HomePod. We should start to see more accurate ones but will they be audible in a sea of – biased – praises?] and almost no one can hear them (though there are some on YouTube, like this one made by Armando Ferreira).

For the vast majority of the (tech) media and therefore, now, readers, the HomePod sounds better than any smart speaker. It’s magical. That’s it.

And yet, it’s mono only! It doesn’t even support stereo (like the Sonos Play:1 but unlike the 3 and 5… and the Google Max which can all play in stereo mode). Having 2 HomePod doesn’t change that (yet?). SMH. But iFanboys are already telling everyone that Apple has invented or is using a system that makes mono sound better than stereo… … Or that stereo is useless in small speakers anyway… Yet they love having stereo speakers on their 5” iPhone… Go figure.

 

A real, unbiased and honest, audiophile review: The Computer Audiophile.

 

Here’s another very interesting review made by an audiophile (the Computer Audiophile whose blog exists since 2007). You should read it in its entirety. He has a lot of good points and interesting thoughts on the HomePod. And he can’t be made out to be an Apple hater since he’s the owner of a MacBook Pro.

But he’s not pleased with the HomePod either (he decided to re-sell it right away after his review). He even asks himself if Apple isn’t pulling some tricks to make the HomePod sound flatter when tested than it is when in normal use (though we’ve seen that the interpretation of the data WinterCharm came up with is flawed and biased, so the HomePod sound isn’t, in fact, even flat when tested at all):

“Let’s talk about frequency response for a second. […] something just isn’t adding up. Flat measurements with completely un-flat sound.

Speculation alert […] Call me crazy, but it seems like Apple has designed the HomePod to […] recognize the input signal of a traditional speaker measuring test, then adjust its output accordingly.”

He later adds that Apple needs, with the HomePod, to catch up to Amazon and Google’s home assistants. But Apple knows Siri is behind. So, it only has sound to try and advantageously differentiate itself from the others. That’s why it NEEDS to claim (or make other make the claim, as good PR tools) that the HomePod sound quality is (way) better:

“Apple has […] no doubt talked to the influencers about how good the device sounds. Without sound quality, the HomePod has no purpose.

Emphasis mine.

He concludes by saying:

“Perhaps some normalcy has now been added to the hysteria. […] I really wanted to like the HomePod and I wanted [it] to sound fantastic. […] With respect to sound quality, there are many other products I’d recommend over the HomePod”

Again, I encourage you to go and read his review.

 

The HomePod $350 price is very high for all the things it… CAN’T do.

 

Now, what else, beside stereo, is it unable to do that other smart speakers can do?

You can’t ask Siri to access your calendar, make a phone call etc… Siri is dumber on the HomePod and yet, if you have it activated, it supersedes the one you have on your phone, iPad, AppleTv etc… meaning HomePod Siri will not let ‘another Siri’ answer any question you ask.

It can’t differentiate between voices or even identify your voice and only respond to it (The Verge YouTube video review). It will answer to anyone demanding it to perform a task. Beside being seriously annoying, it creates huge privacy problems (e.g. anyone can read your last message and send a reply to the sender).

 

You can’t directly stream third party services like Spotify from it. It only works with Apple Music and iTunes… unless you use Airplay but then you lose Siri functionalities and destroy the battery of the device you Airplay the music from.

You can’t set it up and control it with an Android (or Windows) phone either, it only works with an Apple device (again, unless you find an unofficial app that let you use AirPlay on an Android phone).

Bluetooth isn’t supported nor is there a AUX connection.

You can’t choose a specific song or playlist to wake you up in the morning.

You can’t use equalizers (settings) on it. Apple has decided to do everything automatically from the HomePod. Like often, it’s Apple’s way or the highway. And does this mean that if you use Airplay to stream anything on it, it’ll sound differently (worse?) and there’ll be nothing you can do about it? I don’t have an answer to that. But that’s an interesting question with plenty of potential consequences.

You can’t repair it yourself (iFixit teardown). Though Apple will repair it for ‘only’ $279… LOL

You can’t even change the damn cable without risking breaking everything (Mac Rumors). Yep, there’s no small profit and Apple really wants those $29 it charges to replace it… But you have to mail the speaker. And you need to make sure there isn’t any other damage on it. Otherwise, it won’t make the swap of cable but ask $279 for a whole unit replacement.

That’s a lot of things you can’t do for $350.

What it can do, though, is let a white ring shaped stain (The Verge) on your (expensive) wood furniture.

 

Bias, Apple fanboys, Apple shills and Apple’s influence on the HomePod reviews.

 

And if, as some say by analyzing the data provided by only one, to my knowledge, reviewer (WinterCharm) and making blind tests, it doesn’t even sound as good as advertised and as good as a Google Home Max or a Sonos One, that would mean that Apple, once again, arrived on the market years later with a subpar product.

One more thing on sound is that it’s not omni-directional as we’ve read about everywhere. The sound escapes the HomePod from the top and bottom, not the sides since, as demonstrated by the iFixit teardown, they’re completely sealed off. The mesh fabric is thus almost there for aesthetic purpose only and to make it look like the sound is coming out from all sides (360°). Because for us, mesh = speakers. So, if there’s mesh all around, we assume the sound travels from all sides. Though, with the HomePod, it’s not.

In any case, don’t listen to the fanboys, most of the tech reviewers or even most users as they all seem to be biased (though not for the exact same reasons). It’s highly annoying and unjust but it’s a FACT we must take into consideration.

Fortunately, many more customers are waking up to this fact. A Redditor named hctarks OP’d a thread (this one too you should read in its entirety. It’s very well thought out and written) to share his thoughts on David Pogue’s incomprehensible conclusion on his HomePod review, about a blind test he made himself.

hctarks:

“It really makes you wonder about the extent that marketing can influence even educated journalists who make their living on their ability to assess tech objectively. At least in this case, it seems that Apple’s “reality distortion” had a real and very powerful effect on people’s perception of the Homepod.”

On the same thread:

Elephant789:

“There are a lot of Apple shills here on Reddit”.

… and Apple employees (plenty of “geniuses” and other retail store employees at least since they speak about it openly in various threads)… Don’t tell me they aren’t biased.

So, if you want a more accurate account of the true level of performance of an Apple product or a better idea of what an Apple service can actually offer (or lack)… you can’t just listen to and believe them. You need to dig a bit deeper… and look for the differing and opposing but well explained opinions and arguments.

And remember that sales are by no means a measure of quality, ‘only’ of success. This HomePod will certainly sell very well since it’s an Apple product. And as such it benefits from a tremendous buzz and extremely positive reviews overall. BUT it doesn’t mean that it’s better (offer more value, performance and features) than all other smart speakers out there… at all.

 

 

This was a very long post indeed…

See you soon.