Audiophile Review: HomePod 'Sounds Better' Than $999 KEF X300A Digital Hi-Fi Speakers

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HomePod reviews from the tech press came thick and fast last week, and while the smart speaker's sound quality was consistently praised, most reviews were based on subjective assessments and didn't take into account professional-grade output measurements. Early on Monday, however, Reddit user WinterCharm posted exhaustive audio performance testing results for HomePod to the Reddit audiophile community.


Using specialized equipment and a controlled testing environment, the review features in-depth analysis of the smart speaker's output when compared to a pair of $999 KEF X300A digital hi-fi monitors, representing a "meticulously set up audiophile grade speaker versus a tiny little HomePod that claims to do room correction on its own".

As expected, WinterCharm criticized the HomePod for its AirPlay-only output limitation and Siri's often-lackluster performance as a virtual assistant, but the speaker's audio quality appraisal was a different story. Interested readers can check out all the details and technical minutiae here, but in short, WinterCharm offered the following summary after a battery of exhaustive tests.
I am speechless. The HomePod actually sounds better than the KEF X300A. If you're new to the Audiophile world, KEF is a very well respected and much loved speaker company. I actually deleted my very first measurements and re-checked everything because they were so good, I thought I'd made an error. Apple has managed to extract peak performance from a pint sized speaker, a feat that deserves a standing ovation. The HomePod is 100% an Audiophile grade Speaker.
Do you agree with WinterCharm's review? Let us know in the comments. And make sure to check out our HomePod roundup if you're new to HomePod or planning to purchase one -- it's got everything you need to know about HomePod along with a running list of our HomePod how tos.

#Apple #HomePod "...deserves a standing ovation" https://t.co/KHlyQ7cPbL - Philip Schiller (@pschiller) February 12, 2018


Article Link: Audiophile Review: HomePod 'Sounds Better' Than $999 KEF X300A Digital Hi-Fi Speakers
 

dannys1

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"Audiophile" - the fella is a tit - he tried to tell me the HomePod has a perfectly flat frequency response. Even £10,000 studio monitors don't have a perfectly flat frequency response - further more the HomePod wasn't designed to have one.

His actual graphs show anything but perfectly flat, they show huge peaks and troughs everywhere - which is fine, it's a consumer hifi product and Apple haven't designed it to be flat, they've used every trick in the book to get big sound from a small speaker and to make it sound "wow" when you first play something through it "how is that bass coming from this" - the woofer is plenty big enough to get good bass, but they've gone for psycho-acoustic processing as well to make it even bigger.

To be honest this sort of sound is going to work well for most people, it's the sound signature they're used to. The way sound is presented only starts to change if you listen on studio monitors which are designed to be neutral flat and revealing - many people may find that sound "boring" or overly "clinical" compared to a HomePod type sound though. But when you get into the £300+ headphone market that is what they try to do as well, the £1000 Sennheiser HD-800's are more or less as flat as you can get in a headphone. The idea being to just present the music in as much detail as possible as it was from the studio without applying any sort of EQ curve or enhancement to it in anyway.

But it's a bit like getting a high end TV calibrated - some people watch with the shop "vivid" mode on their TV and some people want a perfectly calibrated TV. Many people would think the calibrated one looks flat, boring and too yellow, yet it's the accurate representation of what the original picture is. Horses for courses - depends if you want hyped or accurate, you can't have both.

The HomePod is a perfectly good "hyped" speaker, but it is anything but revealing, clear, detailed, open, transparent, flat, bright or even top end hi-fi. It does however sound better than 90% of the stuff most people will have heard or bought before, which is all Apple needed to do (and yes it destros the entire Echo range and easily puts Sonos to shame, not that i'd ever want to listen to either for extended periods)
 
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Heineken

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Jan 27, 2018
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"Audiophile" - the fella is a tit - he tried to tell me the HomePod has a perfectly flat frequency response. Even £10,000 studio monitors don't have a perfectly flat frequency response - further more the HomePod wasn't designed to have one.

His actual graphs show anything but perfectly flat, they show huge peaks and troughs everywhere - which is fine, it's a consumer hifi product and Apple haven't designed it to be flat, they've used every trick in the book to get big sound from a small speaker and to make it sound "wow" when you first play something through it "how is that bass coming from this" - the woofer is plenty big enough to get good bass, but they've gone for psycho-acoustic processing as well to make it even bigger.

To be honest this sort of sound is going to work well for most people, it's the sound signature they're used to. It only changes if you start listening on studio monitors which are designed to be neutral flat and revealing - many people may find that sound "boring" compared to a HomePod type signature though. But when you get into the £300+ headphone market that is what they try to do as well, the £1000 Sennheiser HD-800's are more or less as flat as you can get in a headphone. The idea being to just present the music in as much detail as possible as it was from the studio without applying any sort of EQ curve or enchantment to it in anyway.

But it's a bit like getting a high end TV calibrated - some people watch with the shop "vivid" mode on their TV and some people want a perfectly calibrated TV. Many people would think the calibrated one looks flat, boring and too yellow, yet it's the accurate representation of what the original picture is. Horses for course - depends if you want hyped or accurate, you can't have both.

The HomePod is a perfectly good "hyped" speaker, but it is anything but revealing, clear, detailed, open, transparent, flat, bright or even top end hi-fi. It does however sound better than 90% of the stuff most people will have heard or bought before, which is all Apple needed to do (and yes it destroyed the entire Echo range and easily puts Sonos to shame, not that i'd ever want to listen to either for extended periods)
I think for its size it's too good. I've been listening all evening yesterday.
 

johngordon

macrumors 68000
Apr 19, 2004
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I don't care what a flat frequency response even is.

I'm no audiophile, but I can tell when something sounds a bit crap, and do invest on some decent headphones for my phone. Currently have some Bowers and Wilkins P3s, which certainly sound way better than the supplied EarPods.

Have only had the HomePod for a few days, but it sounds pretty impressive to my non audiophile ears. Really great bass without any distortion, even at high volumes, great separation in the music, and really crisp sounding. I'd describe it as warm sounding, compared to cheaper speakers which can sound a bit cold and brash.

I've been trying to listen to things that might show that all off, so things like Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones, or Medicine Show by Big Audio Dynamite, or something like No Surrender live by Bruce. All sound incredible to me.

I'm really not fussed about Siri's supposed shortcomings - for us its just a great way of playing our music in the kitchen / dining room through a great sounding speaker. For the sound quality of this thing alone, there's no question its worth £319.
 

ke-iron

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Aug 14, 2014
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Interesting, I wonder how this stacks up against more expensive wireless music systems from well respected names in the business.
 
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Smeaton1724

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Sep 14, 2011
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"Audiophile" - the fella is a tit - he tried to tell me the HomePod has a perfectly flat frequency response. Even £10,000 studio monitors don't have a perfectly flat frequency response - further more the HomePod wasn't designed to have one.

His actual graphs show anything but perfectly flat, they show huge peaks and troughs everywhere - which is fine, it's a consumer hifi product and Apple haven't designed it to be flat, they've used every trick in the book to get big sound from a small speaker and to make it sound "wow" when you first play something through it "how is that bass coming from this" - the woofer is plenty big enough to get good bass, but they've gone for psycho-acoustic processing as well to make it even bigger.

To be honest this sort of sound is going to work well for most people, it's the sound signature they're used to. It only changes if you start listening on studio monitors which are designed to be neutral flat and revealing - many people may find that sound "boring" compared to a HomePod type signature though. But when you get into the £300+ headphone market that is what they try to do as well, the £1000 Sennheiser HD-800's are more or less as flat as you can get in a headphone. The idea being to just present the music in as much detail as possible as it was from the studio without applying any sort of EQ curve or enchantment to it in anyway.

But it's a bit like getting a high end TV calibrated - some people watch with the shop "vivid" mode on their TV and some people want a perfectly calibrated TV. Many people would think the calibrated one looks flat, boring and too yellow, yet it's the accurate representation of what the original picture is. Horses for course - depends if you want hyped or accurate, you can't have both.

The HomePod is a perfectly good "hyped" speaker, but it is anything but revealing, clear, detailed, open, transparent, flat, bright or even top end hi-fi. It does however sound better than 90% of the stuff most people will have heard or bought before, which is all Apple needed to do (and yes it destroyed the entire Echo range and easily puts Sonos to shame, not that i'd ever want to listen to either for extended periods)
That's probably the best summary of the Homepod anyone could make. Also a great summary of video. As with everything digital there's a vast difference between audio, video and photography looking and sounding good versus being accurately reproduced.

As someone who used to run a print business we came across so many problems with people expecting what is on the screen being 1:1 albeit we had all of the calibrated equipment and they had non calibrated laptop, phone and tablet screens that you get such a range of expectation versus reality.
 
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huffhuff

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Jan 21, 2010
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Bought mine on Saturday and so far, only switched it off through the night. We have it on quietly in the background pottering about the house, nice bit of light jazz in the evening, Disney sound tracks and kiddies stuff at random points throughout the day if Siri manages to understand my toddler. This morning I woke everybody up at 6:30 with GnR Sweet Child of Mine - pretty loud.

The sound quality is unbelievable. Before buying, I listened to it pretty much side-by-side to the Sonos One and a few others in a department store (John Lewis - FYI, currently offering interest free on apple kit…).

Yes, it's somewhat limited to the Apple ecosystem and a tad annoying you can't plug something in - but we are a 100%* apple household and actually, have nothing to plug in to it anyway… (other than Amazon Dot...)

Siri is a different story. Appalling, really quite shocking - I hope they take some serious thought and pile a shedload more $$ at the siri teams doorstep.

*We have an Amazon Echo dot for any smart queries we have (and question of the day). I also use Alexa to control my house lights and heating (Hive system - not siri/home compatible… but is with Alexa)

I was explaining to my dad last night, I don't normally listen to much music at home. But i've realised now, that's because i've never had a decent system to listen through. Now I do - so subsequently signed up for AppleMusic too (which I think you should get at least 1 year free with HomePod purchase).

All in all, happy with the sound quality. Not happy with the Siri side of things (but no surprise there)
 

mhd2100

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Nov 3, 2016
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Whether this article is true or not, most studio monitors are still going to blow the HomePod's music quality out of the water. Also Apple has never used premium-grade audio converters in their equipment, and Beats never made anything other than consumer-grade over-priced products as far as I'm aware.

It's a high-end smart consumer hi-fi that isn't going to be flat nor transparent, but rather have the classic HI-FI EQ 'smiley face' i.e. boosted bass and treble. Which then drown out certain mid-range frequencies (as has been said in some reviews).
 

belvdr

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I'm sure it would sound fine for me, as I'm not an audio guy, but I'm not willing to fork over $350 to find out. Plus, I don't have a need to have music "at the ready" all the time. I won an Echo Dot but it goes by unused still after almost a year. We used it a lot at first, but it's a novelty and it wore off quickly. I'm glad I didn't pay for anything for that test.
 

belvdr

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How does one become an audiophile? Is it something you go to school for or does it apply to anyone who spends a lot of money on audio gear?
Like anything, there is spectrum between pros and amateurs (i.e. those that do it for a living and having training and those that have a much better understanding than someone like me). The pros are usually audio engineers or similar. I wouldn't dare call some guys I know an audiophile, as that seems to degrade what they do.
 

dannys1

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Whether this article is true or not, most studio monitors are still going to blow the HomePod's music quality out of the water. Also Apple has never used premium-grade audio converters in their equipment, and Beats never made anything other than consumer-grade over-priced products as far as I'm aware.

It's a high-end smart consumer hi-fi that isn't going to be flat nor transparent, but rather have the classic HI-FI EQ 'smiley face' i.e. boosted bass and treble. Which then drown out certain mid-range frequencies (as has been said in some reviews).
The only thing i'd disagree with on the smiley face curve is for some reason it has no top end at all. It's very veiled and sounds like it's all bass. The processed hifi sound and the extended bass I can accept coming from listening to studio monitors, but the lack of any detail above about 4khz makes me feel like there's a blanket on the top of the speaker.

Hopefully they enable EQ on it - you can run the iTunes one when Airplaying (only stuff from iTunes though) and basically a tilt EQ in the opposite directly (cut bass, boost treble, with a cut at around 500hz) makes it sound much better.

Also cutting that huge bass in a shared apartment/house or with close neighbours could be useful for night time listening - it tends to travel a few rooms even at low volumes.
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Like anything, there is spectrum between pros and amateurs (i.e. those that do it for a living and having training and those that have a much better understanding than someone like me).
There are no pro audiophiles. Most of them are laughed at by people who work with sound for living because they don't have a clue what they're talking about and they believe some of the most far fetched things you could imagine. They're often the audio version of flat earthers.
 

Ted13

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Dec 29, 2003
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Another thing besides sound: the microphones are vastly better than any competitors- from the same Reddit article:
What’s truly impressive is that Siri can hear you if you speak in a normal voice, even if the HomePod is playing at full volume. I couldn’t even hear myself say “Hey Siri” over the music, but those directional microphones are really good at picking it up. Even whispers from across the room while I was facing AWAY from the HomePod were flawlessly picked up. The microphones are scary good — I just hope Apple improves Siri to match. Until then, you can turn just her off, if you don’t care for voice assistants at all.
 

belvdr

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There are no pro audiophiles. Most of them are laughed at by people who work with sound for living because they don't have a clue what they're talking about and they believe some of the most far fetched things you could imagine. They're often the audio version of flat earthers.
You missed my edit as I realized I wasn't very clear on my thoughts. I wasn't implying there are pro audiophiles.
 
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mmttu

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Apr 2, 2014
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Like anything, there is spectrum between pros and amateurs (i.e. those that do it for a living and having training and those that have a much better understanding than someone like me). The pros are usually audio engineers or similar. I wouldn't dare call some guys I know an audiophile, as that seems to degrade what they do.
I just bought mine last night, and have only messed with it for a bit, but the bass and treble seem to be fantastic. I am already tempted to buy another one at some point to place in another point in my living room, but I'll play with this one for a while to learn how loud it actually is. Great so far!
 
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Rogifan

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Like anything, there is spectrum between pros and amateurs (i.e. those that do it for a living and having training and those that have a much better understanding than someone like me). The pros are usually audio engineers or similar. I wouldn't dare call some guys I know an audiophile, as that seems to degrade what they do.
That’s what I was wondering. It sure seems like the term is thrown around a lot. Maybe there are objective things that can be measured but I would still argue whether something sounds good or not is mostly subjective.
 
How does one become an audiophile? Is it something you go to school for or does it apply to anyone who spends a lot of money on audio gear?
As you imply, you call yourself one and own a piece of equipment or two to "hear" music and mathematically and/or graphically represent it. Then you write up mostly a bunch of fluff around the numbers and ultimately arrive at a subjective conclusion which is generally something toward X = 43 so that makes this speaker audio perfection minus 4.

"Relative to <other speaker> recently reviewed in our labs r is 3 points better here but it is 4 points worse on the q-score. Our proprietary vibration extreme gauge shows that this speaker is engineered to allow it's aluminum hydroxelometer to move 0.00000017 mm further than comparable speakers, resulting in a fine but measurable difference in the highs that everyone could hear (if they were Jaime Sommers AFTER the parachute accident)."

About 20+ more paragraphs like that and then some "final conclusion" that leaves room for future speakers to rank a little higher and a lot lower than the one being reviewed.

Nevertheless, trying to be objective does tend to be better than leaning entirely on the subjective. And such reviews tend to be consistent in their approaches, so that head-to-head measurements are typically done the same way. A great benefit of real audiophile reviews is that one ends up with a pros & cons list instead of just a gushing praise or bashing con headline. The pros & cons list can be helpful to those considering buying any speaker.
 
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hot ham water

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There is also the question of: how does one play lossless music in the HomePod? Is AirPlay the only way?
If you have lossless files synced to Apple music via iCloud music library, then they should be playable from apple music on any device. Of course, there's no telling what will happen to them when played back on homepod with its processing.
 

djcerla

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Apr 23, 2015
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What an incredible product.

This is the AirPods to speakers (not just smartspeakers): years ahead of the competition.

Some may harp on Siri’s shortcomings, but at the end it’s the hardware that counts, and this one is revolutionary.
 

recoil80

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Jul 16, 2014
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But it’s a ‘smart’ speaker.
True, but I'd only buy it for the speaker part.
I wear an Apple Watch all the time, so I don't need a smart speaker at home, and I don't talk too much to my Watch to be honest.
I'm not sure I want to spend more than $300 on a speaker though, since I listen to music primarily via headphones. But if I'll decide to buy something similar I'll compare HomePod with products like Sonos Play3 or Play5, if HomePod is as good as the Play5 at a lower price I'll happily but it