Apple HomePod versus Sonos & Ikea Symfonisk smart speakers

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 16
After we published our reviews of the Ikea Symfonisk line, we got asked to directly compare the product to Apple's HomePod. So, let's do it.

Apple HomePod and the Ikea Symfonisk lamp speaker
Apple HomePod and the Ikea Symfonisk lamp speaker

Similarities

There are many commonalities between these two devices. They are both wi-fi speakers. And at first glance, the speaker parts look pretty similar.






The body of the Ikea Symfonisk is just slightly larger before you get to the lamp and base. While the HomePod is smaller, it is also a dedicated device so the Symfonisk may be preferred as it can also replace a lamp at the same time.

AirPlay 2
AirPlay 2 works with both speakers


For Apple users, both devices rely heavily on AirPlay 2, natively support Apple Music, and can be configured in a stereo pair.

They also each can be automatically tuned to fit the space, though through different means. The HomePod uses an internal array of microphones and accelerometers to automatically tune itself whenever moved and the Symfonisk lamp uses Truetune from the Sonos app on an iPhone.

Neither work over Bluetooth.

HomePod

Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else. Any other audio must be streamed using AirPlay 2.

Apple's HomePod
Apple's HomePod


The HomePod is hefty and more compact than the Symfonisk Lamp, and sends audio out in all directions. The only physical controls are located on top in the form of a simple touch-sensitive screen.

There are microphones internally which are used not just for tuning, but for conversing with Siri and taking phone calls. If you are looking for a speaker with a virtual assistant, then this is your option as Symfonisk has no assistant whatsoever.

In the fall of 2019, iOS 13 and the updated HomePod software will bring even more features. That includes multi-user support for up to six people and Handoff support that allows phone calls and audio to instantly transfer between the HomePod and your phone with a tap.

Ikea Symfonisk Lamp

The Symfonisk Lamp has a lot going for it as well -- and not just the light that sits atop.

Ikea + Symfonisk lamp speaker
Ikea + Symfonisk lamp speaker


For privacy-minded individuals, the lack of any sort of microphone is a huge benefit. It also has an Ethernet port around back so it doesn't have to rely on the wireless network.

Ikea + Symfonisk lamp speaker control buttons
Ikea + Symfonisk lamp speaker control buttons


On the front are simple physical buttons that make the Symfonisk Lamp easy to control without a series of taps. Plus, instead of just acting as a stereo pair, Ikea's Symfonisk Lamp can also be configured to act as rear satellite surround speakers for any Sonos soundbar.

Ikea + Symfonisk lamp speaker pulls from many Sonos streaming services
Ikea + Symfonisk lamp speaker supports many Sonos streaming services


The Symfonisk Lamp isn't limited to just AirPlay 2 and Apple Music. There are dozens of other sources that can be triggered by the Sonos app, and streamed natively by the speaker's hardware including Spotify, Pandora, Sirius XM, Tidal, and many more. If you don't use Apple Music, this is a huge benefit.

Audio quality

The Symfonisk Lamp is powered by Sonos and has much of the same acoustical properties as other Sonos speakers. It sounds great for its price point, hands down.

HomePod top
HomePod top panel


Apple's HomePod absolutely sounds better, though. Thanks to its own tuning and omnidirectional output, it fills a room with much better sound. The Symfonisk just isn't quite as powerful and doesn't have as much bass.

But that power has a downside. HomePod can be too punchy, especially at low volumes or while watching movies/TV. If the speaker is going to be used in a very small room or at low volumes, Symfonisk is the way to go.

Which to buy?

Choosing one over the other is a tough call unless you are looking for something specific -- then it's easy.

If you are looking for a quieter speaker -- go Symfonisk. The Symfonisk Lamp is the best for surround speaker use, if you don't use Apple Music, or want to take advantage of the light.

HomePod is going to be king if you want a smart speaker that has a virtual assistant, you love Apple Music, or you want the best sound and don't mind the higher price.

Grab the Sonos and Ikea Symfonisk Lamp or bookshelf speaker direct from Ikea for $179 or $99 respectively. Grab the HomePod at a now cheaper $279 from B&H.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 39
    coolfactorcoolfactor Posts: 1,532member
    As an authority sharing information, it's important not to mix up terminology too much. The Ethernet and Wifi networking in your home is NOT "the internet". The internet is the global network outside of your home (beyond your ISP). What you have in your home is still based on TCP/IP technology, but it's a LAN (Local Area Network) created by your router, and all devices connected to it, including the HomePod. Your LAN is connected to the outside world by your ISP's network, to the larger internet.
    KiwiPhreddStrangeDaysmistergsfvirtualshiftNotsofastwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 39
    Great review!  

    Personally, a microphone in the bedroom sounds like a terrible idea... 

    The HomePod really dominates in the living room and kitchen.
  • Reply 3 of 39
    AppleExposedAppleExposed Posts: 1,503unconfirmed, member
    I wonder where Ikea got that ugly toilet paper roll design from?

    Looks unique!!

    /s
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 39
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,924member
    I wish the Ikea piece had Bluetooth included or a separate model. I would put one in a guest room.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 39
    Good overview of the similarities and differences in the hardware. I really wanted to hear the differences between the two devices, perhaps you can add some audio tests - even though audio through the Internet isn't always great, it can still provide a reasonable comparison.
    virtualshiftlolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 39
    Overall good review, well presented. I would like to see you take advantage of the video aspect of the review and demonstrate switching output from phone to speaker and back – and maybe some touch controls and voice commands. Also, no mention of build quality. From the closeups, the Ikea grid looked uneven and cheesy. In real life, maybe not – you tell us.
    virtualshiftwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 39
    MicDorsey said:
    Overall good review, well presented. I would like to see you take advantage of the video aspect of the review and demonstrate switching output from phone to speaker and back – and maybe some touch controls and voice commands. Also, no mention of build quality. From the closeups, the Ikea grid looked uneven and cheesy. In real life, maybe not – you tell us.
    From the images, the build quality if the lamp speaker can’t compare to the HomePod.  Yes, could have been mentioned...

    Ikea has a target audience, it’s probably not people that can afford the HomePod...or male.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 39
    MicDorsey said:
    Overall good review, well presented. I would like to see you take advantage of the video aspect of the review and demonstrate switching output from phone to speaker and back – and maybe some touch controls and voice commands. Also, no mention of build quality. From the closeups, the Ikea grid looked uneven and cheesy. In real life, maybe not – you tell us.
    From the images, the build quality if the lamp speaker can’t compare to the HomePod.  Yes, could have been mentioned...

    Ikea has a target audience, it’s probably not people that can afford the HomePod...or male.
    Whaaaa?!?!  IKEA's target audience probably can't afford the HomePod?  That makes no sense at all.  A venn diagram of IKEA's and Apple's target audience probably looks something like this → o   complete and total overlap.

    On topic: Nice comparison.  Pretty much spot on.  I think IKEA has a great idea with their speakers.  Multi-functional: shelf or lamp.  Reasonable price.  Expandable. Ecosystem agnostic.   
    burnside
  • Reply 9 of 39
    MicDorsey said:
    Overall good review, well presented. I would like to see you take advantage of the video aspect of the review and demonstrate switching output from phone to speaker and back – and maybe some touch controls and voice commands. Also, no mention of build quality. From the closeups, the Ikea grid looked uneven and cheesy. In real life, maybe not – you tell us.
    From the images, the build quality if the lamp speaker can’t compare to the HomePod.  Yes, could have been mentioned...

    Ikea has a target audience, it’s probably not people that can afford the HomePod...or male.
    Whaaaa?!?!  IKEA's target audience probably can't afford the HomePod?  That makes no sense at all.  A venn diagram of IKEA's and Apple's target audience probably looks something like this → o   complete and total overlap.

    On topic: Nice comparison.  Pretty much spot on.  I think IKEA has a great idea with their speakers.  Multi-functional: shelf or lamp.  Reasonable price.  Expandable. Ecosystem agnostic.   
    I don’t think I’ve ever owned a lamp... many many reading lights but no lamps.

    All my other light sources have been permanent fixtures (bathroom), in the ceiling... often attached to fans, etc.

    If we were doing word associations: lamp = grandma 
    My mother also owned lamps... but she’s now a grandma ; )
    not_antonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 39
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
  • Reply 11 of 39
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,874administrator
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
    It's not a great solution, but connect the turntable to a Mac, and use Rogue Amoeba's AirFoil.
    AnotherBricklolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 39
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
    Below is Apple’s response to these complaints (via cultofmac).  I wouldn’t know not being an audiophile, but it sounds like you’re fighting Father Time in a digital world.  Nothing wrong with that, but it sounds like you won’t be interested in most new products...

    Mastered for iTunes is all about the quality of the source,” Apple says. “24-bit audio has a remarkably wide dynamic range which is preserved during encoding to AAC and these files are virtually indistinguishable from the original. Some of the best audio engineers in the business have a hard time telling them apart even on high-end audio equipment. Experts may be able to tell you that they are different in some subtle ways, but they can’t necessarily tell you which one they like better. This isn’t about AAC vs. CD or vinyl. It’s about creating the best possible master for the unique characteristics of each medium.”

    Apple talks up its “powerful and practical software tools” designed for pro musicians.

    “We want the music to sound as close as possible to the way it did in the studio or in the concert hall, preserving your vision and intention,” Apple says. “We want artists and sound engineers to be thoroughly satisfied and proud of the results they can now achieve in our format. So we have worked very hard to provide both the monitoring and quality assessment tools, plus an end-to-end mastering and encoding process that delivers the best possible audio for today’s digital world.”


    Wgkruegerpropodlollivermacguiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 39
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
    Below is Apple’s response to these complaints (via cultofmac).  I wouldn’t know not being an audiophile, but it sounds like you’re fighting Father Time in a digital world.  Nothing wrong with that, but it sounds like you won’t be interested in most new products...

    Mastered for iTunes is all about the quality of the source,” Apple says. “24-bit audio has a remarkably wide dynamic range which is preserved during encoding to AAC and these files are virtually indistinguishable from the original. Some of the best audio engineers in the business have a hard time telling them apart even on high-end audio equipment. Experts may be able to tell you that they are different in some subtle ways, but they can’t necessarily tell you which one they like better. This isn’t about AAC vs. CD or vinyl. It’s about creating the best possible master for the unique characteristics of each medium.”

    Apple talks up its “powerful and practical software tools” designed for pro musicians.

    “We want the music to sound as close as possible to the way it did in the studio or in the concert hall, preserving your vision and intention,” Apple says. “We want artists and sound engineers to be thoroughly satisfied and proud of the results they can now achieve in our format. So we have worked very hard to provide both the monitoring and quality assessment tools, plus an end-to-end mastering and encoding process that delivers the best possible audio for today’s digital world.”


    AAC is a lossy format. Despite what the article says, it is NOT a 24 bit format either. Lossy means you are losing some of the audio quality when compared to the same music in a lossless file format, even if both formats are digital.  Apple shouldn't charge high end prices for mid level performance equipment, especially ones that require you to jump through hoops to use your existing but high quality music. The connection to a HomePod is wireless ethernet, in all but the poorest of wireless systems you should be able to stream ALAC or FLAC files versions which would mean at least CD quality bitrate (16 bit) lossless versions of songs and could have a frequency  and data rate up to 24 bit with a higher frequency response. ALAC IS an Apple format, and it has been around for years, so Apple already has a format they could use. The physical means of getting the music TO the  HomePod, wifi, isn't the problem. It's the restrictions of what you can (easily) stream and the loss of fidelity inherent in an AAC format. Bluetooth would struggle and probably drop out trying to stream ALAC at least for now, but wifi has no problem unless you are an extremely very heavy wifi streaming user. 300 mb is many times more than enough bandwidth for the highest digital music format and most routers are at least that, and 1 gb routers are pretty common now as well.

    You will hear people talk fondly of tube based systems sounding better (usually described as 'warmer') than a discrete based amplifier system. I won't argue with them, but I know I cannot hear the difference. I can hear the difference in AAC and either ALAC or FLAC. If you can't then don't buy a super high end system, you won't notice the improvement. But that doesn't mean that the improvement isn't there. But to me, even if it's all in my mind (another thing people will say when you bring up quality) and not reality, a high quality vinyl disc sounds better than the same album on a CD, and much much better than any streaming service, whether its Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music. I have heard of, but never personally listened to, Tidal music which is supposed to be (if you pay for the upper tier of their service) CD quality streaming music. I don't know if you can get Tidal on an iPhone or iPad but I know I can get it on my iMac, so I could stream it to an HomePod, but with the other physical and software limitations, which I think were artificial and not inherent in what Apple said they were trying to do, I'm not interested in going to the trouble.

    Short version, it's not the price that is stopping me. Its the lack of versatility and limits that the device itself imposes on what it can accept. Sounding better than Alexa or Google Home is not hard. Even still, there are lots of people who say that either those speakers are good enough, or that they can't hear the difference between them and the HomePod. HomePod could have been a real, honest to goodness audiophile speaker. The hardware is 90% or more there. Offer a HomePod2 that will accept music from any wifi source, and charge $500 for each speaker. As I said, there isn't a lot you would need to change, hardware wise or system delivery wise with the current HomePod. Audiophiles would buy it. Non Audiophiles can't get beyond the current price anyway, or honestly don't hear the difference and shouldn't waste their money.

    mobird
  • Reply 14 of 39
    As an authority sharing information, it's important not to mix up terminology too much. The Ethernet and Wifi networking in your home is NOT "the internet". The internet is the global network outside of your home (beyond your ISP). What you have in your home is still based on TCP/IP technology, but it's a LAN (Local Area Network) created by your router, and all devices connected to it, including the HomePod. Your LAN is connected to the outside world by your ISP's network, to the larger internet.
    I'm so glad you mentioned this. I was baffled when he said, "are over the internet". Poor choice.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 39
    MicDorsey said:
    Overall good review, well presented. I would like to see you take advantage of the video aspect of the review and demonstrate switching output from phone to speaker and back – and maybe some touch controls and voice commands. Also, no mention of build quality. From the closeups, the Ikea grid looked uneven and cheesy. In real life, maybe not – you tell us.
    From the images, the build quality if the lamp speaker can’t compare to the HomePod.  Yes, could have been mentioned...

    Ikea has a target audience, it’s probably not people that can afford the HomePod...or male.
    Whaaaa?!?!  IKEA's target audience probably can't afford the HomePod?  That makes no sense at all.  A venn diagram of IKEA's and Apple's target audience probably looks something like this → o   complete and total overlap.

    On topic: Nice comparison.  Pretty much spot on.  I think IKEA has a great idea with their speakers.  Multi-functional: shelf or lamp.  Reasonable price.  Expandable. Ecosystem agnostic.   
    I don’t think I’ve ever owned a lamp... many many reading lights but no lamps.

    All my other light sources have been permanent fixtures (bathroom), in the ceiling... often attached to fans, etc.

    If we were doing word associations: lamp = grandma 
    My mother also owned lamps... but she’s now a grandma ; )
    Most reading lights are lamps. They can be floor lamps or table lamps. It can also be a task lamp for your desk. Some people, like me, even have lamps on my night stand so I can read before I go to bed. I don't get what you're saying. What does a lamp have to do with grandma? Please explain.
    edited August 16 raybogatorguy
  • Reply 16 of 39
    mobirdmobird Posts: 273member
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
    Below is Apple’s response to these complaints (via cultofmac).  I wouldn’t know not being an audiophile, but it sounds like you’re fighting Father Time in a digital world.  Nothing wrong with that, but it sounds like you won’t be interested in most new products...

    Mastered for iTunes is all about the quality of the source,” Apple says. “24-bit audio has a remarkably wide dynamic range which is preserved during encoding to AAC and these files are virtually indistinguishable from the original. Some of the best audio engineers in the business have a hard time telling them apart even on high-end audio equipment. Experts may be able to tell you that they are different in some subtle ways, but they can’t necessarily tell you which one they like better. This isn’t about AAC vs. CD or vinyl. It’s about creating the best possible master for the unique characteristics of each medium.”

    Apple talks up its “powerful and practical software tools” designed for pro musicians.

    “We want the music to sound as close as possible to the way it did in the studio or in the concert hall, preserving your vision and intention,” Apple says. “We want artists and sound engineers to be thoroughly satisfied and proud of the results they can now achieve in our format. So we have worked very hard to provide both the monitoring and quality assessment tools, plus an end-to-end mastering and encoding process that delivers the best possible audio for today’s digital world.”


    AAC is a lossy format. Despite what the article says, it is NOT a 24 bit format either. Lossy means you are losing some of the audio quality when compared to the same music in a lossless file format, even if both formats are digital.  Apple shouldn't charge high end prices for mid level performance equipment, especially ones that require you to jump through hoops to use your existing but high quality music. The connection to a HomePod is wireless ethernet, in all but the poorest of wireless systems you should be able to stream ALAC or FLAC files versions which would mean at least CD quality bitrate (16 bit) lossless versions of songs and could have a frequency  and data rate up to 24 bit with a higher frequency response. ALAC IS an Apple format, and it has been around for years, so Apple already has a format they could use. The physical means of getting the music TO the  HomePod, wifi, isn't the problem. It's the restrictions of what you can (easily) stream and the loss of fidelity inherent in an AAC format. Bluetooth would struggle and probably drop out trying to stream ALAC at least for now, but wifi has no problem unless you are an extremely very heavy wifi streaming user. 300 mb is many times more than enough bandwidth for the highest digital music format and most routers are at least that, and 1 gb routers are pretty common now as well.

    You will hear people talk fondly of tube based systems sounding better (usually described as 'warmer') than a discrete based amplifier system. I won't argue with them, but I know I cannot hear the difference. I can hear the difference in AAC and either ALAC or FLAC. If you can't then don't buy a super high end system, you won't notice the improvement. But that doesn't mean that the improvement isn't there. But to me, even if it's all in my mind (another thing people will say when you bring up quality) and not reality, a high quality vinyl disc sounds better than the same album on a CD, and much much better than any streaming service, whether its Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music. I have heard of, but never personally listened to, Tidal music which is supposed to be (if you pay for the upper tier of their service) CD quality streaming music. I don't know if you can get Tidal on an iPhone or iPad but I know I can get it on my iMac, so I could stream it to an HomePod, but with the other physical and software limitations, which I think were artificial and not inherent in what Apple said they were trying to do, I'm not interested in going to the trouble.

    Short version, it's not the price that is stopping me. Its the lack of versatility and limits that the device itself imposes on what it can accept. Sounding better than Alexa or Google Home is not hard. Even still, there are lots of people who say that either those speakers are good enough, or that they can't hear the difference between them and the HomePod. HomePod could have been a real, honest to goodness audiophile speaker. The hardware is 90% or more there. Offer a HomePod2 that will accept music from any wifi source, and charge $500 for each speaker. As I said, there isn't a lot you would need to change, hardware wise or system delivery wise with the current HomePod. Audiophiles would buy it. Non Audiophiles can't get beyond the current price anyway, or honestly don't hear the difference and shouldn't waste their money.

    Excellent synopsis!! I really enjoy my HomePods but I do wish they were a little more versatile. They are no match for my KEF Reference 107's audio system but I do have a great appreciation for the audio reproduction that the HomePods are capable of. Having spent a lot of time in the finest recording studios in the Dallas Area for the better part of the '70's, I understand what is possible and appreciate music reproduction in the home environment. Music source material should match the full capabilities of the Homepod and I believe there is definitely room for improvement.

    And no, I am not one of those referenced previously as it relates to a "dedicated listening room while enjoying a snifter of cognac". ;)
    edited August 16
  • Reply 17 of 39
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
    The word "audiophile" gets thrown around a lot. So does the word "high end". That said, I wouldn't want to play my high end anything on a WiFi speaker. Don't get me wrong. I like my HomePods; I have two. They're just not my main speakers of choice for listening to my vinyl or even DSD audio files. Do you really want a HomePod that can accept a turntable? And what is a "high end vinyl collection"? Pressings from remastered tapes? 120G vinyl? I've never heard anyone describe their records as high end vinyl.
    edited August 16 mobird
  • Reply 18 of 39
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 824member
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
    HomePod is a great speaker but do you seriously want to play your vinyl on a speaker this size, and not a larger component system ?  I have been throwing around the idea of getting back into vinyl and it near crossed my mind to try and use my HomePod for this over my receiver and component system? 

    It’s a $299.00 WiFi speaker that sounds great but to me doesn’t make sense to try and incorporate with an expensive turntable and vinyl collection. When you picture sitting back and critically listening to a high end vinyl collection doing it with the HomePod just doesn’t seem right to me. 

    mistergsfwilliamlondon
  • Reply 19 of 39
    jcs2305 said:
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
    HomePod is a great speaker but do you seriously want to play your vinyl on a speaker this size, and not a larger component system ?

    Exactly this.
    mobirdwilliamlondon
  • Reply 20 of 39
    polymniapolymnia Posts: 939member
    There is one sentence that will prevent me from buying a HomePod: “Apple's HomePod is a fantastic home speaker. It connects solely over Wi-Fi and streams Apple Music natively, but nothing else.”

    A device which claims to be an audiophile grade speaker that only plays mp3 quality music and cannot accept other sources unless that source has AirPlay, which probably eliminates turntables for people who are vinyl purists, absolutely killed my interest in the device. I wanted something that could play the highest quality bit rate for digital and could play my high end vinyl collection as well.
    Below is Apple’s response to these complaints (via cultofmac).  I wouldn’t know not being an audiophile, but it sounds like you’re fighting Father Time in a digital world.  Nothing wrong with that, but it sounds like you won’t be interested in most new products...

    Mastered for iTunes is all about the quality of the source,” Apple says. “24-bit audio has a remarkably wide dynamic range which is preserved during encoding to AAC and these files are virtually indistinguishable from the original. Some of the best audio engineers in the business have a hard time telling them apart even on high-end audio equipment. Experts may be able to tell you that they are different in some subtle ways, but they can’t necessarily tell you which one they like better. This isn’t about AAC vs. CD or vinyl. It’s about creating the best possible master for the unique characteristics of each medium.”

    Apple talks up its “powerful and practical software tools” designed for pro musicians.

    “We want the music to sound as close as possible to the way it did in the studio or in the concert hall, preserving your vision and intention,” Apple says. “We want artists and sound engineers to be thoroughly satisfied and proud of the results they can now achieve in our format. So we have worked very hard to provide both the monitoring and quality assessment tools, plus an end-to-end mastering and encoding process that delivers the best possible audio for today’s digital world.”


    AAC is a lossy format. Despite what the article says, it is NOT a 24 bit format either. Lossy means you are losing some of the audio quality when compared to the same music in a lossless file format, even if both formats are digital.  Apple shouldn't charge high end prices for mid level performance equipment, especially ones that require you to jump through hoops to use your existing but high quality music. The connection to a HomePod is wireless ethernet, in all but the poorest of wireless systems you should be able to stream ALAC or FLAC files versions which would mean at least CD quality bitrate (16 bit) lossless versions of songs and could have a frequency  and data rate up to 24 bit with a higher frequency response. ALAC IS an Apple format, and it has been around for years, so Apple already has a format they could use. The physical means of getting the music TO the  HomePod, wifi, isn't the problem. It's the restrictions of what you can (easily) stream and the loss of fidelity inherent in an AAC format. Bluetooth would struggle and probably drop out trying to stream ALAC at least for now, but wifi has no problem unless you are an extremely very heavy wifi streaming user. 300 mb is many times more than enough bandwidth for the highest digital music format and most routers are at least that, and 1 gb routers are pretty common now as well.

    You will hear people talk fondly of tube based systems sounding better (usually described as 'warmer') than a discrete based amplifier system. I won't argue with them, but I know I cannot hear the difference. I can hear the difference in AAC and either ALAC or FLAC. If you can't then don't buy a super high end system, you won't notice the improvement. But that doesn't mean that the improvement isn't there. But to me, even if it's all in my mind (another thing people will say when you bring up quality) and not reality, a high quality vinyl disc sounds better than the same album on a CD, and much much better than any streaming service, whether its Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music. I have heard of, but never personally listened to, Tidal music which is supposed to be (if you pay for the upper tier of their service) CD quality streaming music. I don't know if you can get Tidal on an iPhone or iPad but I know I can get it on my iMac, so I could stream it to an HomePod, but with the other physical and software limitations, which I think were artificial and not inherent in what Apple said they were trying to do, I'm not interested in going to the trouble.

    Short version, it's not the price that is stopping me. Its the lack of versatility and limits that the device itself imposes on what it can accept. Sounding better than Alexa or Google Home is not hard. Even still, there are lots of people who say that either those speakers are good enough, or that they can't hear the difference between them and the HomePod. HomePod could have been a real, honest to goodness audiophile speaker. The hardware is 90% or more there. Offer a HomePod2 that will accept music from any wifi source, and charge $500 for each speaker. As I said, there isn't a lot you would need to change, hardware wise or system delivery wise with the current HomePod. Audiophiles would buy it. Non Audiophiles can't get beyond the current price anyway, or honestly don't hear the difference and shouldn't waste their money.

    Your comment makes me think of my work as a photo retoucher. I use 16 bit per channel files rendered from camera RAW files as my editing source. I get great latitude in my edits by using these high res files. 

    All that said, once I’m done editing there isn’t a huge benefit to delivering a 16 bit per channel image to my clients. All that resolution is mostly wasted unless they plan to edit further. 

    Sure, the extra bits could theoretically improve rendering certain end uses, but it would be very subtle and wouldn’t hold a candle to the difference it makes when I’m trying to pull detail out of the darkest depths of the shadows in an image.

    in audio, I suspect the reason musicians and recording technicians love high res audio is similar: they get much more latitude in editing. 

    All that said, I love high end audio and i’d happily buy new Sonos gear that could play it. I’m just not complaining that it’s not there now. 
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