Stuff

A Week with HomePod

IMG_0141It was late Friday afternoon; I was at work and found myself unable to concentrate, constantly getting up out of my chair and sitting back down again, not knowing why I got up in the first place. I was checking a couriers website every ten minutes; customer number 57, customer number 89. I was nervous: what if I was missed? What if I couldn’t get home in time? I was a useless blob of vacuous jelly. This was no ordinary medical condition: this was Malum Nervosa, a shocking mental condition that afflicts people hooked on Apple products, and I was a willing victim.

I left work a bit earlier than usual but needn’t have done: I was customer number 162 on the courier run and I did not want to find a card on my mat when I got home. Sorry you were not at home would have pushed me over the edge into Malum Palsy, a weekend of almost complete paralysis to which the only cure is the safe delivery of an Apple product. My parcel arrived exactly when it was due to arrive, and at that moment I had only one thought and was utterly focussed and single minded. Unpack the HomePod and get it plugged-in and working.

Now, this is all a bit sad really. For a very long time I was convinced that this was an Apple product I would not want; there was no place for it in my home. If I wanted (needed?) an AirPlay speaker I would buy a Naim Qb or B&W Zeppelin. I caved in at the last minute. I have music in my living room, sitting room, bedroom and dining room. The only room missing was the kitchen and, guess what, that is where I thought the HomePod might actually sensibly fit. And boy was I right!

 

As you would expect, HomePod packaging is pretty much bomb proof and very easy to open. The weight is the first thing that strikes you; it’s a lot heavier than it looks, and it looks gorgeous.

Wot, no Apple Music subscription?

I do not have an Apple Music subscription because it does not allow for high quality files. I switched from Apple Match to Vox a long time ago, so all my CD’s exist in Vox as AIFF files alongside hi res purchases, mainly from B&W Society of Sound and Technics Tracks. To explore new music or gaps in my music collection I subscribe to Tidal, where music is ‘masters’ quality (better than CD) and ‘HiFi’ quality (same as CD). As soon as Apple offers better than CD quality I will sign up. And no, Apple, 320kbps is not good enough in all cases, so don’t try to pull the lo-res wool over my eyes – I can hear right through it.

I would be dependent upon beaming music to the HomePod by AirPlay, which is only CD quality but hey, better than Apple Music! Apart from Vox and Tidal my main other source is the BBC iPlayer Radio app. Out of the box I would be testing all three. Initial impressions show that two work and one does not.

Sound quality?

The first music beamed to the HomePod was Joseph Bowie’s Defunkt Soul (from Tidal HiFi) and….. just a minute….. WOW! It sounds really good; I really was not expecting that. I then switched to Vox and played a track from Dub Colossus Dub Me Tender (B&W 192kHZ) to give the bass a good thrashing. It sounded great! After a few more tracks I was convinced that this is a better speaker than I thought it was going to be. I engaged in a grand tour of my kitchen and, the reviewers were right, it sounds just as good whether you are sat at the table, stood over the cooker, sat at the breakfast bar, or stood over by the front door. Amazing! Play it loud, play it quiet, play acoustic, vocals, heavy bass, ambient – it all sounds astonishingly good.

I swear that 192kHZ files sounded better than their CD equivalents, but they couldn’t have done could they? So far as I know AirPlay reduces higher resolution files to CD-quality.

No good with Tidal?

A major drawback has emerged in the last few days. Albums played from Tidal beamed by AirPlay from an iPad Pro time out after about 10-15 minutes. Now that is a real ball ache when I’m ironing my sheets; ironing is painful enough without the speaker turning itself off half way through Albert King’s Laundromat Blues. I have no idea why this happens, and it seems to only affect Tidal. Streaming from VOX or BBC iPlayer Radio (my other most-used iOS music apps) is fine.

Is it worth £319?

Yes it is. This is a very good little speaker that sounds far better than most other speakers I have heard in this class. I love it. It’s great in the kitchen, and I wish I’d had something like this in my student halls of residence…

Conclusion

The HomePod is well worth the money; sound quality is very good – it is not HiFi but you would need to spend a lot more to get that. I’m told it works really well if you have an Apple Music account, and I am sure that is true. But I don’t and it suits me fine. It will be even better when the Tidal problem is sorted. Forget Sonos and certainly forget the Amazon toy pretending to be a speaker. The HomePod is bloody good, even when it is switched off!

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