Apple HomePod mini: First impressions

From friend-of-the-blog David Emery:

Apple homepod first impressionsUnboxing wasn’t quite up to Apple standards, because it wasn’t quite clear how to get the inside white box out of the (custom) brown shipping box. But once I ripped off the shipping box, it was back to the usual experience.

The power supply for this is interesting!  On the HomePod Mini side, it’s a ‘fixed cable’ (no plug, cable is permanently connected).  On the other side of that cable is a USB-C connector, and the power supply is the larger USB-C plug (the same one that comes with the recent iPads.)

Once I plugged it in, it made some noise, and then I read the 6 page manual, which says, “Hold your bluetooth enabled phone close to the Mini.”  I did that, it grabbed network settings, joined the network.  Then it said, “If you want to transfer music, etc, settings from your phone, hold the phone at the top of the Mini.”  I did that (NFC?)  It’s not clear at all what settings got transferred.  One thing I was asked was “where is the HomePod Mini located?” This gave me a list of ’typical room names’, not sure if I could do a custom name.  But “Basement” was a choice (“model RR room” was not a choice 🙂 🙂 )

Then I ran upstairs to my computer room, opened Music.app on the one Mac Mini that’s running Catalina (and that spools AirPlay to a bunch of AIrport Expresses and sometimes to an AirPlay enabled stereo receiver – that unit has been giving me problems.)  After a quick call to Apple, I was able to verify what Music.app was connecting to.  I asked “Can I control Music.app from Siri downstairs?” and the support person was not sure.  But that’s OK, because I can control Music.app from the “Remote” app on my phone (which works most of the time….)

Now the HomePod Mini before I changed it to be a client of AirPlay thought it was playing music from some source.  In typical Apple “we don’t really respect people who do albums” style, it was set up on ’track shuffle.’   Since 98% of my music is classical (and therefore Album oriented), Track Shuffle is really hostile.  The one question I’d want to ask Tim Cook or any other Apple exec if you got him/her online for the PED3.0 sessions would be “What kind of music do you listen to?  And why doesn’t Music.app, particularly on the iPhone/iPod, support Album Shuffle?  Shouldn’t this have the same kinds of features Music.app and the former iTunes.app had?”  sigh…

Right now I have no plans to use Siri, but I might play with it at some point.  I’m just not convinced by voice response systems.  I’ve never tried Siri on my phone.

One could argue “That’s a lot of money to spend for a remote AirPlay mono speaker” and that’s probably correct.  On the other hand, there aren’t many choices for AirPlay remote speakers, let alone those with the signal processing capability of the Mini.

I’ll report back later on sound quality once I’ve had a chance to listen to this with a variety of inputs.  (Right now doing renaissance vocal…)

First impressions on sound:  It’s definitely better than what it’s replacing (a reasonably good quality portable Sony speaker from the iPod days.)  The bass is good and in general the sound is quite clear (listening to Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” right now) although I haven’t put any of my bass test tracks on it (“1812 Overture with digital black powder cannons” or Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony 🙂 )

My take: Apple speakers tend to be bass-heavy, especially for classical.  In your Music app, try turning down the bass or turning up treble.

27 Comments

  1. John Butt said:
    We are going to have to schedule a trip to Australia to buy them – frustratingly and typically, Apple doesn’t sell them in New Zealand. We bought our two Homepods on two trips to Melbourne (they are heavy). We also have a distinct advantage in that Apple does a crazy exchange rate setting such that the flight cost NZ⇆AU is about the size of their exchange rate errors for some items (I want a Macbook Air also)

    1
    November 18, 2020
  2. John Konopka said:
    “Right now I have no plans to use Siri, but I might play with it at some point. I’m just not convinced by voice response systems. I’ve never tried Siri on my phone.”

    Really? Never tried it on the iPhone? I’m not a heavy Siri user but I probably use it half a dozen times a day for simple things. Get the weather in nearby areas (we have microclimates where the temperature can change 10 degrees F in 10 miles), set a timer, set a reminder, look up odd facts, get football scores and schedules.

    1
    November 18, 2020
  3. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    Oh, do I have a mouthful to say about this.

    Mine (2) just arrived today and I’m currently giving them a go. One first, then I’ll pair the second and explore that.

    (@ David Emery — too bad you had a deflated Apple unboxing experience, but the brown cardboard shipping box can easily be opened by pulling on the arrowed tab strip-pull right in the middle where it will bisect the shipping box and completely expose the presentation box.)

    After a quick listen to just one, I believe I can confidently say that these will be a solid hit and probably not so much because of the doable price, but moreover for the accuracy, balance and musicality that it’s bigger brethren has carried so well. Just with a smaller presence of this same voicing. An audio “win” for the listener, especially given its barely there size.

    Not to boast, but I currently have 14 HomePods (some paired as stereo) throughout my home that I listen to constantly with music, podcasts, ambient music, phone calls — the whole shootin’ match. I’m also an audio enthusiast. Never had the budget to be a true audiophile (but the fat lady hasn’t sung on that yet). Given this , I’ll AT LEAST say that I’m fully informed of the HomePod audio capability and voicing.

    (continued…)

    4
    November 18, 2020
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      (…continued)

      It becomes obvious that the namesake HomePod “mini” refers not so much to the size of the unit as most people would at first infer, but moreover to the characterization of the uncannily exact same HomePod voicing — done smaller.

      One little “experiment” I tried was to sit equidistant between a single HomePod and a single HomePod mini (both mono). I AirPlayed a good sample song (Jazz) and would first listen to the HomePod mini at full volume then slowly (through airplay controls) bring up the volume of the HomePod to where the sound pressure level was almost the same, then continue to push the volume beyond the HomePod mini to the HomePod’s full volume.

      Through this slow ramp-up process it was easy to determine that the sound voicing is almost identical between the two with the only difference being that the overall total PRESENCE of the sound is smaller on the mini.

      Indeed a deft audio dancer with all music genres. Maybe a better marketing namesake would be to call it HomePod Lite.

      I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll restate it more emphatically again, these just might sell as well as AirPods — and even be MORE utilized.

      Enjoy the sound, y’all.

      5
      November 18, 2020
      • Kirk DeBernardi said:
        One last comment —

        • TIPS ON GOOD SOUND REPRODUCTION •

        • Can you hear each of the instruments individually and clearly throughout the piece? Next time you listen to something on anything, try to see how well you can cherry-pick any instrument at any time.

        • Does the sound you’re hearing sound natural and accurate? Isn’t that what proper sound reproduction is all about? We all know what most instruments sound like. What a voice sounds like. What a piano sounds like. Drums. Etc. Accuracy. Accuracy. Accuracy.

        • Are there sonic details of all the sounds? A single tap on a cymbal has many frequencies of sound within that one tap. A single hammer of a piano string. These are the finer sonic ingredients of delicious audio dishes.

        • Balance and smoothness. Are some sounds not harshly overtaking others — other than their intended performance predominance?

        Some might think this is a ridiculous extent with such small speakers of today, but with quality sound reproduction all of these things can be evident.

        Seek and ye might find.

        2
        November 18, 2020
    • Romeo A Esparrago Jr said:
      Dang, @Kirk!
      14! I only have 5 and haven’t ordered the two HPMini’s yet.
      The area they cover must be Yuge!
      I have AT&T Fiber with Ethernet extenders. Do any of your HomePods occasionally lose internet WiFi connection?
      Cheers!
      -Romeo

      1
      November 19, 2020
      • Kirk DeBernardi said:
        @ Roman Esparrago Jr. —

        On rare occasions I’ll have Siri say that she has trouble connecting to the internet, yet goes ahead anyway and connects. I recommend a mesh WiFi arrangement if you are going to anticipate having HomePods (& minis) everywhere.

        While 14 HomePods sounds a little ridiculous to most, as far as I’m concerned, it’s absolutely appropriate if what you want is an enveloping whole-house sound system.

        I currently live alone and enjoy the ability to listen to something almost every waking moment from every corner of my abode — garage and laundry room included. The “sound everywhere” design of the HomePod speaker experience to me is akin to wearing headphones without wearing headphones.

        The across-the-room balanced sound and razor-sharp sync is absolutely enveloping. I like to claim it’s like the room itself becomes the speaker. You can close your eyes and walk through my home with nary a change in sound characteristics.

        A friend thought I was insane to place a HomePod in my laundry room, but I considered it a drop-out area in my whole-house sound configuration as it is at the end of a hallway and was a definite dead spot.

        (continued…)

        2
        November 19, 2020
        • Kirk DeBernardi said:
          (…continued)

          My home is about 2,400 sq ft — 2 story with 4 bedrooms. Downstairs is like an asymmetrically divided 4-square with open space between the two front rooms (living/dining) and the two back rooms (kitchen/family). Here I have the west side of the house the right-channel HomePods and the east side the left-channel. Master bedroom has a stereo pair. Master bath currently has one but will soon be replaced by the new stereo HomePod minis.

          The remaining guest bedrooms each have one while the garage (largest room in the house) gets four — one in each corner. West-side right channel, east-side left. (I do a lot of tinkering in the garage and enjoy the loud immersion of sound out there.)

          HomePods can be bought at $200 when on sale at Best Buy, so in my case with 14 of them, expending $2,800 — the cost of one beefy MacBook Pro or iMac — I get to thoroughly enjoy an audio bliss across my home.

          3
          November 19, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      I pulled that strip. It ran 1/4 way around the box and stopped. I would have expected it to go far enough that the inner white box was easy to remove. Maybe I didn’t pull it right 🙂 🙂

      1
      November 19, 2020
  4. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    @ David Emery —

    Welcome to the world of HomePod.

    Some comments on your input —

    When switching from any usual “go-to” speaker system, a different sound “voicing” presents itself and one might think the sound is some kind of “off”, “wrong” or simply some inexplicable “different”.

    It’s best to carefully listen “into” what’s being played. Is it approaching naturalness? With a critical listen on a good system, the naturalness, balance and beauty will out.

    You should soon be aware of the finer characteristics that the HomePod and HomePod mini can offer. Usually all speakers are voiced to sound in a certain manner and it’s obvious that the Apple engineers are pursuing accuracy, detail, balance and musicality — a Holy Grail of audio reproduction. With such a tiny speaker entry, this is definitely a tightrope to walk.

    The transferred settings simply allow the HomePod device to be completely aware of your necessary preferences and settings to allow for Apple’s simple & slick ecosystem. After all, you just added yet another computer to your stack.

    The room selection wheel allows you to create a custom room-naming scheme other than those pre-loaded. This will incorporate into the Home App as this is where the HomePod settings reside.

    (continued…)

    3
    November 19, 2020
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      (…continued)

      You ought to give Siri a spin. She’s a member in your home now and can complete most life-based requests. Apple has done some serious software polishing at the mini’s intro that’s also paying off for the older HomePod.

      AirPlay IS being offered on more and more speakers and devices now. Some high-end offerings too.

      Bass in anything audio is probably the most problematic thing there is and is difficult to get appropriately accurate.

      Compounding the problem is that everybody has their own flavor of bass and quite often it’s an over-presence and power that catches peoples heart and will therefore unfortunately be a deal-breaker to many. Today’s over-engineered TV and movie soundtracks attest to a generation that might not have ever been exposed to accurate bass. Regard the HomePod mini as appropriate bass to the remainder of music being played. It plays it’s bass part very well.

      It’s about proportions, much as an attractive woman (or attractive man) is all about in-balance proportions. Bass is a proportion of a total impression.

      2
      November 19, 2020
  5. Romeo A Esparrago Jr said:
    Thank you, Philip, for sharing Mr. Emery’s experience!

    Hi David, THANK YOU!
    You got me with the Mac Mini & Airport Expresses! And Model RR Room!
    Looks like one HomePod Mini for now?
    Can I politely ask your count of regular HomePods and Expresses being used, please?

    1
    November 19, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      1 HomePod Mini
      now 1 Airport Express (hooked up to the ‘aux’ jack on the small stereo in the bedroom) Another Airport Express was hooked up to speakers in the basement, replaced by the HomePod
      2 Apple TV (on in the attic library, the other connected to the TV in the living room.)
      1 AirPlay receiver (that doesn’t quite work right, not sure why. I’m sure it’s just some sort of configuration problem.)

      I have about 2800 albums (200 days) of mostly classical, streamed via “Album Shuffle” from a Mac Mini. (We have 3 of those in the computer room. One Mac Mini hosts externally visible websites, the second used to run OS X Server :-(, and the third is my wife’s machine.)

      I’ve been using Airport Express and its attached speaker feature since the product’s introduction (2004.) I still have that original Express somewhere.

      1
      November 19, 2020
  6. Romeo A Esparrago Jr said:
    PED: “ Apple speakers tend to be bass-heavy, especially for classical”

    Reviews are saying the small HPMs are not bass-heavy. Do you agree, @David E?

    1
    November 19, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      Let me do some serious listening and get back to you. I’ll run my bass test albums and a variety of other stuff during the day.

      1
      November 19, 2020
      • David Emery said:
        OK, I played some of my more interesting (from a sound reproduction perspective) music. My standard bass test is the Telarc 1812 Overture with its digitized black powder cannon. I’m no musician, but I do know exactly what those should sound like. There’s a long sustained bass roll at the end (as the black powder burns off) that the Telarc recording captures, but that I could not hear at all on the HomePod Mini.

        For some other stuff, including some reedy Renaissance instruments (krummhorns, bagpipes, etc), the sound was pretty good. In particular there was good clarity across the instruments.

        Now for the bad news. I control the music streaming from Music.app on a Mac Mini now running Catalina. As I wrote before, this streams to multiple destinations. I control it with the Remote.app. This combination used to work just great, but has been increasingly fussy. Updating to Catalina from the old iTunes did help. Still, trying to control the music (e.g. advancing in the current track, moving to the next track) introduces a substantial delay with the new HomePod. And in particular, I have to pause the playback, reposition, and then press Play. Adjusting while playing just seems to cause things to hang. It’s a really annoying bug in Music.app (inherited from iTunes) that, when streaming to multiple devices, any hiccup in any device launches a modal dialog on Music.app, and that makes the Mac application non-responsive to the remote.

        1
        November 19, 2020
        • David Emery said:
          There was some mention here on controlling the HomePod mini from the iOS Home.app. I launched that app, it did find the HomePod, but ‘pressing’ that just produces “HomePod paused” with no other effect. In particular, I found none of the controls that others talked about. It could be because the HomePod is still connected to the streaming Mac Tunes.app. I’ll play with this some more.

          All in all, I’d say (1) sound is pretty good, but the bass appears to be a bit clipped; (2) the mode I want this for, an AirTunes speaker, is severely handicapped by problems with Tunes.app on the Mac and the associated iOS Remote.app. That’s quite disappointing.

          1
          November 19, 2020
        • Kirk DeBernardi said:
          @ David Emery —

          Although Apple’s computational audio is the backbone of audio performance on the HomePod mini allowing for the expansive-beyond-its-size soundscape, the deep bass drama you’re expecting on something like the 1812 Overture just can’t be achieved to a satisfactory level on the mini.

          What IS achieved enough is a satisfactory overall bass character that is in proper proportion relative to the remaining musical frequencies in casual playback.

          There’s an old saying about bass, “There’s no replacement for displacement.” which refers to the displacement of air that say a large subwoofer could attain to give that gut-rumbling feel — or anything even close to it.

          The impressive bass that you seek from the small-speaker format you will get more satisfactorily from the original HomePod.

          As great as the computational audio is to satisfy most people casual listening demands, we’re bucking up against physics here.

          BTW — When controlling any individual HomePod action through the Home app, you need to press and hold on the icon tile to more finely control more of the playback. Tiles can be added to favorites and will appear at the home-page of the Home app.

          2
          November 19, 2020
          • Kirk DeBernardi said:
            That finer control I speak of is, of course, from the iPhone/iPad. Tapping any tile will perform the basic one-off action, i. e. turn on/off a light. Tap and hold will bring up other controls.

            As to your complications and frustrations with playing most of your content from your Mac mini wirelessly, you might want to call Apple support and see if they can help.

            Good luck.

            1
            November 19, 2020
          • David Emery said:
            I do understand (at a primitive level 🙂 ) the physics for bass reproduction. But it does seem that some of the low rumble was missing, as opposed to just not ‘felt’. I’m not an audiophile (and I do have some Service related and age related hearing loss…)

            Overall I’m happy with the device. I’m less happy with the Apple ‘music around the house’ system-of-systems. (And I have ZERO interest in Apple’s music streaming service, which I’m sure is what they’ve optimized for.)

            1
            November 19, 2020
            • Kirk DeBernardi said:
              @ David Emery —

              To be honest, on some played pieces yesterday I noticed the same “where is it” dropout.

              While it’s mildly disturbing knowing that such low, low frequencies are actually present in the recording, they’re probably carefully computationally engineered out completely. This is actually a much better compromise than other systems that might attempt such acrobatics and only end up coming out as an expelled, garbled, over-distorted mess.

              Expanding on the potential of audio in the home, I dream of a day where nothing but HD files will be standard fodder for all the streaming services and for any kit you assemble at home with open opportunities through the widest range of equipment.

              Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for music is part of our soul.

              1
              November 19, 2020
              • David Emery said:
                More than anything, I wish Apple would respect album/multi track formats. On iTunes/Music.app, there’s the ability to ‘shuffle by albums’. No such facility on iPhone or iPad! Trying to keep albums together is damn near impossible. Do you know how many tracks I have in my collection named “Adagio”? 🙁

                0
                November 20, 2020
  7. Romeo A Esparrago Jr said:
    Ok, so I admit this thread wasn’t exactly about AAPL financials & such which this blog is primarily about, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Mssr.s David & Kirk, great great stuff.
    I loved the bass review and sharing your use case scenarios at home. Inspirational & boggling.

    Kirk, u r ridiculously crazy with all those HPods but I luvvit and am jealous! Oh to be single again and be allowed to blow my roof off with great audio! (J/k on the single part, don’t tell my wife LOL)!

    FYI I like bass so I supplement my 4 living room speakers (2 are HPods) with a large Bass speaker connected to an Airport Express. I crank it up when my wife and/or my son aren’t home. Teehee.

    1
    November 19, 2020
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      @ Romeo Esparrago —

      Hey — thanks for your input. Glad to deviate from the normal investment chat around here. Wish more of the content would slant a bit more towards discussing the products of Apple — the salt & pepper spice to this collective investment soup.

      Thought that PED might give me the hook though.

      All in all, one usually falls somewhere between being a casual or critical listener and the HomePods all rest solidly in the middle.

      (PS — Your secret is safe with me.)

      1
      November 19, 2020

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