Apple takes media on tour of audio lab in run-up to HomePod launch

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited February 6
Apple recently took a well-known blog on a tour of its audio labs, using the occasion to talk up its first smartspeaker, the HomePod, shipping on Feb. 9 for $349.




The labs are the same as those used to test products like iPhones, iPads, and AirPods, Apple marketing head Phil Schiller explained to The Loop. Devices are sent there several times during their development until sound performs to Apple's expectations.

The HomePod project dates back six years, and was born of the idea of making a speaker that would sound good in any room it was placed in, according to Apple's Hardware Engineering VP, Kate Bergeron. Development was originally limited to a small team, but executive approval allowed it to pull in teams handling aspects like thermals and wireless technology.

"We think we've built up the biggest acoustics and audio team on the planet," claimed the company's senior director of Audio Design and Engineering, Gary Geaves.

"We've drawn on many of the elite audio brands and universities to build a team that's fantastic. The reason we wanted to build that team was certainly for HomePod, but to also to double-down on audio across all of Apple's products."

For the HomePod, though, the company built a new anechoic test chamber, said to be one of the biggest in the U.S. and resting on springs to minimize outside vibrations. A second chamber was built to help with Siri voice detection, since the speaker needs to be able to hear Siri commands even over loud music or ambient noise.

A third chamber on the tour is meant to detect any unwanted noise from the speaker itself, such as a buzz. It rests on 28 tons of concrete, with foot-thick walls weighing another 27 tons. Between the chamber and the concrete slab are 80 isolating mounts. The combination of factors pushes the chamber to -2 dBA, below human hearing.

Work on the HomePod is feeding into other projects, Geaves said, without offering specific hints.

"There's been certain catalysts in the development of HomePod that are feeding other products," he remarked. "That's one of our advantages -- we work on a bunch of different areas of audio."
lolliver
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 22
    Are these extensive (and expensive) test labs at 1 Infinite Loop?  I wonder if they will leave them there or rebuild them at Apple Park?
  • Reply 2 of 22
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,329member
    I doubt that the third chamber, which they claim is resting on 28 tons of concrete and with walls weighing another 27 tons is in any regular Apple office facility.   Anechoic chambers have their purposes, but since consumer devices must operate in different and frequently noisy consumer environments, I'm not sure how practical it all is.   But if they're giving a lot of audio engineers high-wage employment (I'm an ex-recording engineer), I'm all for it.  

    And 1 Infinite Loop isn't going away.  My understanding is that it's Apple's leased facilities around Cupertino that will be phased out.   
    randominternetpersoncornchipJWSC
  • Reply 3 of 22
    schlackschlack Posts: 673member
    my first MBP in 2007 had really terrible sound, much worse than the dell laptop I was replacing. my 2010 MBP and my 2014 MBP were also pretty poor compared to the much cheaper competition. Finally my 2016 MBP has very good sounds for its size, as does my 2017 iPad Pro and my 2016 iPhone 7. Looking forward to Apple continuing their very late to the game push into high quality audio. It's a primary selling point for me.
    tmayrandominternetpersonAI_liasracerhomie3zroger73lolliverking editor the gratecornchipJWSCwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 22
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,730member
    zoetmb said:
    I doubt that the third chamber, which they claim is resting on 28 tons of concrete and with walls weighing another 27 tons is in any regular Apple office facility.   Anechoic chambers have their purposes, but since consumer devices must operate in different and frequently noisy consumer environments, I'm not sure how practical it all is.   But if they're giving a lot of audio engineers high-wage employment (I'm an ex-recording engineer), I'm all for it.  

    And 1 Infinite Loop isn't going away.  My understanding is that it's Apple's leased facilities around Cupertino that will be phased out.   
    Wrong. Anechoic chambers are an essential development tool to help engineers determine how products perform in the real world. If you can't measure how the product performs, you can't hope to manipulate it's performance in the real world.
    bikertwinlolliverking editor the gratefastasleepcornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 22
    zoetmb said:
    I doubt that the third chamber, which they claim is resting on 28 tons of concrete and with walls weighing another 27 tons is in any regular Apple office facility.   Anechoic chambers have their purposes, but since consumer devices must operate in different and frequently noisy consumer environments, I'm not sure how practical it all is.   But if they're giving a lot of audio engineers high-wage employment (I'm an ex-recording engineer), I'm all for it.  

    And 1 Infinite Loop isn't going away.  My understanding is that it's Apple's leased facilities around Cupertino that will be phased out.   
    That’s a truly baffling (pun intended) comment coming from an audio engineer. Why are studio monitor speakers used when recording, mixing and mastering music? Most consumer hardware lacks the flat frequency response of studio monitors. For that matter, why record in Abbey Road Studios or at Capitol Records in L.A., when consumer listening environments lack the acoustic perfection of those places? Oh, that’s right. Because you want to start with the ideal, and then go back and only tweak it a little if the finished product inexplicably doesn’t test well on crappy speakers in noisy environments. Do it the other way around, and you’re not going to get what you want.
    bikertwinlolliverking editor the gratefastasleepwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 6 of 22
    Siri is still the most used Voice Assistant in the world ,by far.Very few even know Amazon ,or Alexa outside US.
    I will never use Alexa at my home, nor Google Home even if they paid me.
    bikertwinracoleman29StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 22
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,266member
    That is how you test a speaker and device to see if it sound right, unlike these internet wantabes review to claim one speaker is actually better than another. This is why apple is better at this than most companies especially Amazon and Google. These kinds of test labs do not exist all over the place they are far and few between and most companies will not spend the money to build them. I am told that Apple has these chambers in the Valley somewhere, where exactly it is not clear. They are not going to be put in 1 Infinite loop since there is parking garage below the building and these changes need to be isolated from the building structure. I am also told that Apple has the better testing chambers out in the middle of central valley.
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 8 of 22
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,266member
    mike1 said:
    zoetmb said:
    I doubt that the third chamber, which they claim is resting on 28 tons of concrete and with walls weighing another 27 tons is in any regular Apple office facility.   Anechoic chambers have their purposes, but since consumer devices must operate in different and frequently noisy consumer environments, I'm not sure how practical it all is.   But if they're giving a lot of audio engineers high-wage employment (I'm an ex-recording engineer), I'm all for it.  

    And 1 Infinite Loop isn't going away.  My understanding is that it's Apple's leased facilities around Cupertino that will be phased out.   
    Wrong. Anechoic chambers are an essential development tool to help engineers determine how products perform in the real world. If you can't measure how the product performs, you can't hope to manipulate it's performance in the real world.

    actually most places just set up a sound rooms, they do not bother with full anechoic chambers. Very few of these exist in the world, Apple uses them due to the echo cancelation on the phones as well as the dynamic sound adjustments of the homepod. To just test a speaker or a mic a sound room is good enough. I was in one full anechoic isolated sound chamber once and when the close the door it so quite you can hear your own heart beat it is the weirdest experience you will ever have.

    Phil told a little white lie, this is biggest in the world since you can put full size cars in them 

    https://eckelusa.com/anechoic-chamb

    edited February 6
  • Reply 9 of 22
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,288member
    maestro64 said:
    That is how you test a speaker and device to see if it sound right, unlike these internet wantabes review to claim one speaker is actually better than another. This is why apple is better at this than most companies especially Amazon and Google. These kinds of test labs do not exist all over the place they are far and few between and most companies will not spend the money to build them. I am told that Apple has these chambers in the Valley somewhere, where exactly it is not clear. They are not going to be put in 1 Infinite loop since there is parking garage below the building and these changes need to be isolated from the building structure. I am also told that Apple has the better testing chambers out in the middle of central valley.
    1) I would assume all the major companies, including smaller players like Sonos, have rooms for testing audio output and input. Just like any testing mythology you need to remove variables to get a baseline, but that doesn't mean that they don't test in other environments—especially Apple, who is touting a major new feature that literally needs to  understand how sound waves bounce off walls and other objects (including those moving through a room) to adjust the sound.

    2) Why would a real world use case make someone an "internet wantabe"? Apple sends out review units to these people for a reason. Note: We've seen Apple that one of their shortcomings is not doing enough real world testing, but I don't think that will be an issue with this product.
    JWSC
  • Reply 10 of 22
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 2,016member
    Soli said:
    pentae said:
    Too little, too late guys. While you've been beating each other off in your audio chamber Alexa has eaten your lunch, and millions of people are annoyed about the new Macbooks. Maybe send a few people back to the Mac department so we can have a good portable Apple computer again, please.
    Apple has repeatedly proven that not being first and coming out with a higher-end product to enter a market is how you dominate the market.

    The iPod was years after the first PMP, the iPhone a decade after the first smartphone and decades after the firsts cellphones, and the iPad came decades after the first tablet, and yet everything is measured by those products—so much so that even other vendor PMPs and tablets are referred to as iPod and iPad, respectively.
    Exactly. Same thing happened with smart watches. Look at Samsung rushing to the market with the Gear watch. That watch was a colossal failure with a reported 30% return rate at Best Buy. Apple wasn't the first company to release a watch but now they dominate the market. 
    lolliverJWSCwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 22
    jdgazjdgaz Posts: 297member
    My first one arrives Friday. Sound quality matters to me. As does privacy. Therefore no google or alexa in this home. Duck Duck Go on devices capable of a search engine.
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 22
    zonezone Posts: 53member
    Apple will catch up to services on the pod. Why worry when Amazon is giving their devices away? Alexa is used for another purpose which is to sell more Amazon items. Most people do not have a smart home yet and by the time they do the pod will be where it needs to be. So sound does matter and that's something you can't change... not to mention privacy. That's a big one... wonder how long it will take till someone is convicted of a crime due to evidence that their Alexa recorded or heard? That would be a game changer for Apple...
    edited February 6 watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 22
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,288member
    zone said:
    Apple will catch up to services on the pod. Why worry when Amazon is giving their devices away? Alexa is used for another purpose which is to sell more Amazon items. Most people do not have a smart home yet and by the time they do the pod will be where it needs to be. So sound does matter and that's something you can't change... not to mention privacy. That's a big one... wonder how long it will take till someone is convicted of a crime due to evidence that their Alexa recorded or heard? That would be a game changer for Apple…
    Do you know a single person that does that as their primary usage? I don't even know of a single person that has ever use it to make a purchase.. and that's out of me own 4 starting nearly 3 years ago, knowing at least another dozen homes with one or more Echos. Can you point me to one that thing that says the purpose for buying the Echo is so they can buy products instead of simply looming at at them, their cost, the seller, the reviews, etc. via Amazon's website to buy products?
  • Reply 14 of 22
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,266member
    Soli said:
    maestro64 said:
    That is how you test a speaker and device to see if it sound right, unlike these internet wantabes review to claim one speaker is actually better than another. This is why apple is better at this than most companies especially Amazon and Google. These kinds of test labs do not exist all over the place they are far and few between and most companies will not spend the money to build them. I am told that Apple has these chambers in the Valley somewhere, where exactly it is not clear. They are not going to be put in 1 Infinite loop since there is parking garage below the building and these changes need to be isolated from the building structure. I am also told that Apple has the better testing chambers out in the middle of central valley.
    1) I would assume all the major companies, including smaller players like Sonos, have rooms for testing audio output and input. Just like any testing mythology you need to remove variables to get a baseline, but that doesn't mean that they don't test in other environments—especially Apple, who is touting a major new feature that literally needs to  understand how sound waves bounce off walls and other objects (including those moving through a room) to adjust the sound.

    2) Why would a real world use case make someone an "internet wantabe"? Apple sends out review units to these people for a reason. Note: We've seen Apple that one of their shortcomings is not doing enough real world testing, but I don't think that will be an issue with this product.

    A sound room is completely different than a chamber when it come to doing sound analysis. Most speaker companies do test for frequency response, amplitude and resonances in sound rooms which is just room with absorbers on the wall. But in order to do real times signal processing and analysis you have to be in a perfect room, and then introduce object to see how the algorithm responds. Apple is doing something completely different than pushing out sound they changing that sound in real time. I suspect they showing this off so the competitors can not say me too.

    The comment about the wantabe is more around they trying to do a side by side but they not controlling any thing in the environment. The first thing is simply how good is their hearing and can they actually determine difference other than which one is lower, can they determine distortion in sound. I gone into sound rooms to listen to speaker and some you can not ever tell them apart, others behave very differently but that does not mean one is better than another and when you have other people listening, others hear things you do not. The internet blogger just say they like this one better can not say why 
  • Reply 15 of 22
    Siri is still the most used Voice Assistant in the world ,by far.Very few even know Amazon ,or Alexa outside US.
    I will never use Alexa at my home, nor Google Home even if they paid me.
    Just because something is popular doesn't make it the best.

    Siri could be used by 700 million people and Alexa by 7 million, but until or unless Siri becomes at least as useful as Alexa for me, I'll continue using the latter.

    I love me some "Apple juice", but Siri reminds me of a "dumb blonde" while Alexa reminds me of a "smart brunette". Google and Cortana are the red-headed step-sisters.
    lukei
  • Reply 16 of 22
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 502member
    jdgaz said:
    My first one arrives Friday. Sound quality matters to me. As does privacy. Therefore no google or alexa in this home. Duck Duck Go on devices capable of a search engine.
    Same here! I actually just grabbed the Duck Duck Go browser app for my phone last night. I am REALLY looking forward to getting this home and putting it through the paces!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 22
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,902member
    Siri is still the most used Voice Assistant in the world ,by far.Very few even know Amazon ,or Alexa outside US.
    I will never use Alexa at my home, nor Google Home even if they paid me.
    Because Alexa only knows 1 fcking language and is not really optimized for specific life voice recognition. I'm watching TV and something in TV dialog could triggered the damn Alexa too....many times.
    edited February 6 cgWerkswatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 22
    ...but to also to double-down on audio across all of Apple's products
    Double down sounds like double speak, just say 'to improve audio across all of Apple's products.
    king editor the grate
  • Reply 19 of 22
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,686member
    One of the purposes of the anechoic sound chamber is to eliminate all reflections and standing waves so the microphones and speakers spatial response within the actual speaker enclosure can be very accurately mapped. This is needed to verify both the receive (microphone) and transmit (speaker) beam patterns for the microphone and speaker arrays. This information is especially vital for the HomePod because it implements both receive and transmit beamforming in its DSP algorithms.

    The expected beam patterns for the speaker arrays can be roughly determined through mathematics and modeling but they must still be verified in an actual speaker enclosure sitting on a representative reflective surface that the speaker will encounter in actual use, since the enclosure and table surface directly influence real world beamforming performance in ways that are difficult to predict with a high degree of accuracy beforehand. Each individual microphone and speaker, i.e., transducer, has a known spatial response at specific frequencies but the beamforming process, by definition, involves the very critical time based combination of signals from multiple overlapping transducers physically oriented in the actual speaker enclosure to correctly form beams. Also, music and natural sounds like human voices are unpredictable and complex waveforms composed of multiple overlapping frequencies and transducers are frequency dependent, so there is really no way to really know how well the beamforming is working unlessmeasurements are done in an anechoic chamber with a lot of sample data.

    Only after the baseline beamforming characteristics of the arrays are established and verified through DSP programming and measurements in the chamber can the engineers tune their adaptive algorithms to influence how the beamforming and sound intensity is used to influence the spatial performance of the microphone and speaker arrays when additional reflective and partially reflective surfaces are introduced into the test chamber in a very controlled manner. 

    Obviously this is much more controlled than anything you’d ever be able to do with a sound/listening room. But it’s very necessary if you want to have a more predictable response when the speaker is placed in a real world environment. Apple could never “tune” the HomePod for all possible customer deployments but they can make it much easier for them to predict and explain why the HomePod operates how it does in just about given environment. It will never be perfect, but it will never be random either.
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 22
    lukeilukei Posts: 325member
    Siri is still the most used Voice Assistant in the world ,by far.Very few even know Amazon ,or Alexa outside US.
    I will never use Alexa at my home, nor Google Home even if they paid me.
    Wow that’s some naivety

    Amazon and Alexa are massive in the U.K. for a start. 
    edited February 7
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