The initial reports are in and virtually everyone agrees that the Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker is one fine-sounding unit that handily beats the competition in the sound quality category. This comes as no surprise since Apple has long had a stable of extremely capable engineers with backgrounds in professional audio and audio DSP. With that said, perhaps it’s not too bold to ask the question, “Will the HomePod cause the average consumer to find a new appreciation for higher fidelity audio products?”
This idea might not be as far out as you think, since history has shown that it’s happened before. Audiophile audio first began in the late 50s and 60s with the mothers and fathers of the Boomer generation. While not widespread, the seeds were sown for a greater recognition of fidelity after the kids of the 60s grew tired of the tiny sounding scratchy audio from their transistor radios. Then with the album suddenly important in the 70s, nearly every college kid began to outfit his or her dorm room with at least a reasonable sounding stereo playback system.
It was during this time when hi-fi sales exploded, and while audiophiles tend to look down on this period as one of inferior imported products, the average college student stereo beat the pants off of the vast majority of systems in the homes today.
Of course, the comparison is hardly fair in that it’s a different time now, since the source format that we mostly live with today (streaming) is of far lower quality audio audio than the vinyl or even CD of the past. Sadly, today we live in a world where convenience is king in which a quick setup and wireless portability are perhaps the most important feature requirements when it comes to gear.
What’s even worse, the average music young consumer today has almost certainly never heard what music can sound like on even a decent audio playback system, and therein lies the problem and the opportunity.
The fact of the matter is that it’s highly likely that once a person is exposed to high quality audio, everything changes (as evidenced by this article). The enjoyment increases, and their reference point for what sounds good is forever skewed in a fashion that won’t easily be changed. And that’s where the HomePod comes in.
Apple’s new little unit has a lot of interesting features, but the sound quality may be its biggest (along with ease of setup, which is huge). If you hear something that knocks you out once, you tend to want to hear it again and again. Your reference point on the quality scale has been lifted higher and it’s usually not going back down.
Now it’s true that there are a lot of great sounding audio devices available already, but the difference is that HomePod is a mass market consumer electronics product. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s also not out of reach price-wise either. There are a lot of people who will buy these things and their audio lives will change forever, and so will their friends as they’re exposed to it.
Bold prediction here – don’t be surprised if this spurs on a line of Apple audio products using the same or similar technology to HomePod. How about a larger stereo pair for starters?
Is this all the wishful thinking of a lifelong audio professional? Maybe, but the fact is that we’ve lived with crappy audio for so long that the cycle had to come back around sooner or later. Convenience has always been the primary factor in pushing consumer audio technology, but audio quality may end up being the ultimate differentiator. The time may indeed be right for HomePod to lead a new revolution.