Play It Again, Siri

Okay, we know that Humphrey Bogart didn't utter that immortal instruction in Casablanca, but we couldn't resist, given that this issue includes Jim Austin's adventures with Apple's HomePod, the first smart speaker with hi-fi pretensions, which is featured on our August issue's cover.

But wait, there's more! Reviews of ultimate power amplifiers from Pass Labs and Moon by Simaudio; an unusual but high-performing speaker from Tekton; Roon's fit'n'forget Nucleus+ server; a high-performance turntable from Merrill-Williams; and Herb Reichert comparing AC cords. (Yes, we know, that way madness lies!)

And kicking it off, Steve Guttenberg wonders why his system sounds transcendental some evenings and merely superb the next.

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

An Apple a day :-) ..............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is an Apple, not a banana :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How do you like them Apples? :-) .............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Apple of my eye :-) ..........

soundhound's picture

The dumbing down has begun, unfortunately. Yeah, I know, new ownership dictating relevance to the "new" readership demographic yada, yada, but cheapening in order to pander is not a winning strategy. Stereophile will whiter and die. I'm glad I dumped my subscription like a bad habit over a year ago.

John Atkinson's picture
soundhound wrote:
The dumbing down has begun, unfortunately. Yeah, I know, new ownership dictating relevance to the "new" readership demographic yada, yada, but cheapening in order to pander is not a winning strategy.

The person making the decisions on what to cover in Stereophile is still me, as it has been since 1986. Given the poor audio quality of the other smart speakers, I felt that Apple's HomePod, which attempts to use DSP to compensate for the room acoustic problems, was worth our writing about.

soundhound wrote:
Stereophile will [wither] and die. I'm glad I dumped my subscription like a bad habit over a year ago.

Yet you're still here. :-)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hey Siri, play "Hard Habit to Break" by Chicago :-) .............

soundhound's picture

Yeah, well, you still have to do what the ultimate bosses want, and I don't believe for a moment that those directions have always aligned exactly with your wishes. Media such as Stereophile is in big trouble and something has to give, obviously.

Regarding "I'm still here", true, but this is FREE and I proudly utilize an ad and media file blocker (-:

ken mac's picture

John Atkinson is the ONLY boss at Stereophile. He assigns the equipment reviews, he assigns the music features, he even assigns all the record reviews. What you "believe"? Do pigs fly?

John Atkinson's picture
soundhound wrote:
Yeah, well, you still have to do what the ultimate bosses want, and I don't believe for a moment that those directions have always aligned exactly with your wishes.

While it is true I have had an often-fractious relationship with the various senior managers to whom I have reported since the sale of Stereophile Inc. (of which I was one of the owners) in 1998, in the end I have always gotten my way. The cost of forcing me out is higher than the cost of allowing me to follow my instincts.

soundhound wrote:
Media such as Stereophile [are] in big trouble and something has to give, obviously.

Yes, many print magazines are having a hard time but Stereophile was sold to the new owners because it continues to be successful, not because it was in "big trouble." Even our website, which is an adjunct to the print magazine, has more traffic and engagement than the leading web-only high-end audio 'zine.

soundhound wrote:
Regarding "I'm still here", true, but this is FREE and I proudly utilize an ad and media file blocker (-:

Sorry to hear you use an ad blocker as free access to our site depends on revenue from the advertisers. You're still welcome here but if everyone uses an ad blocker, there would be no free www.stereophile.com. :-(

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

hifiluver's picture

Hi John

I feel it’s good and brave to have heterogeneity in content. I'm not sure how being inclusive will pan out revenue wise but the angst here appears to be due to mismatched expectations perhaps? I for one am always interested in new technology, especially affordable stereo equipment which beats expectations. Stereophile has a lot of good things going for it. Eg. one of the few mags which still bothers to do measurements. Would it alienate a lot of readers (and advertisers) if your magazine started reviewing more mainstream electronics from the likes of Onkyo, Yamaha, Pioneer, NAD etc?

dalethorn's picture

I'm OK with companies and products who market to audiophiles. If the mainstream company and product are "very good", but not competitive with audiophile products, then they're better covered elsewhere.

hifiluver's picture

Perhaps this is the challenge. On what criteria is a product good enough? If it’s purely performance, some of the big ticket items reviewed here on stereophile would not have made the list e.g. some tube amps, some mega-buck speakers.

dalethorn's picture

For many companies who produce a product, they partner with other companies who use or reference their products in a complementary way. For example, I worked in manufacturing software, and we partnered with a developer of accounting systems to be able to provide a full solution for our users. In this instance, we were considered to be a VAR (value added reseller) of the accounting software company.

In the hi-fi world there are many necessary partnerships, such as when a company makes power amps, they generally have to use a variety of preamps on the fore end and a variety of speakers on the aft end, to validate that their amp works as expected in the real world. If the power amp is exclusive enough, with sufficient customer support (purchases), they may even restrict their design to support a very narrow range of preamps and speakers.

There are no rules in these designs except that the product has to work as expected by the customers. We can sit back and look at measurements and scoff at a lot of the products like tube amps, and suggest that their users are being fooled, or they're just dumb, etc. But the old saying that money talks and BS walks is never more true than in the upper ranges of hi-fi - the customer pays his money and takes his choice, and the *only* thing worse than making a poor choice is having no choice.

The corollary to "no choice" is the enforced choice - Henry Ford is quoted as saying "Any car is OK as long as it's a Model T, and any color is good as long as it's black." The really beautiful thing about hi-fi today is that not only do the wealthy have great choices on the high end, but so much technology has trickled down to the affordable range that average wage earners can hear real high fidelity sound on a budget.

Getting back to the "criteria" thing, it's determined democratically by people's purchases. And for the most part it works to deliver great sound for the money. The notion that higher prices give diminishing returns isn't news - everyone is OK with that. The other notion, that certain items like high priced tube amps don't just give diminished returns, but rather give poor value for the price, isn't borne out by market research and actual purchases.

If there were millions of people of limited means getting screwed by companies selling inferior audio products through fashion and fads (need examples? I didn't think so), that's one thing. But companies who knowingly sell inferior and expensive gear won't last long, and not only would reviewers drop them, but magazines like Stereophile won't carry their ads. The rule is, it has to work as designed (or expected), or it's not acceptable.

hifiluver's picture

I like your thinking. Democracy gives Choice but will really only work for consumers if there's a non restrictive environment in terms of editorial tone and choice in place. It'd would also take a bit of trust from manufacturers who put their equipment in for review. Add a dash of frankness if not outright honesty behind it and that would be a real boon for budding sound enthusiasts. Maybe times have really moved on but flipping through some old copies of High Fidelity from the 80's, it really did feel more democratic then.

dalethorn's picture

In some ways things were more democratic then. Some ways. There are so many branches to this topic that it would be easy to get totally lost there. Economics is one good way to view the situation. On the low end, with hi-fi or mid-fi cellphones and headphones, there's a huge advantage to budget customers in sound for the dollar, but the disadvantage is that these items are generally controlled by mega-corporations who are mostly unresponsive to individual customers. Same deal with the Internet and all communication providers.

Looking over the products and services that Stereophile covers, I don't see much direct influence of mega-corporations, although Apple has entered the picture in a very small way. So far it's one little speaker that can't qualify as hi-fi, until the automatic sound sculpting is able to be user-controlled. Think of the yin-yang in cameras, between automatic settings and manual settings. Most semi-pro photographers use a mixture.

I wouldn't want to promise anyone that the cold, monolithic and bureaucratic mega-corps will never take over the direction of high fidelity, where direction means planning, production, control of hi-fi media policy, etc. But my instincts say no. The big corporations will never be interested in serving audiophiles, but at the crossover points where mass market intersects top quality sound, there will always be contention and frustration. That's our advantage as well, because many small businesses will step in with products and workarounds to serve us.

So again looking at Stereophile, I would never consider giving up the richness we have here today, with the music reviews, audio market analysis, the occasional venture into low-budget-fi, the historical posts and so on, just to return to the simpler (but narrow) world of yesteryear. When I see articles featuring the $200k speaker, the $50k turntable, the $75k amplifiers etc., I switch off my price-aversion engrams and read for the details of how these things work - the latest technologies or whatever - and I imagine how and when much of that will filter down to the lower price brackets. Which it will eventually.

dalethorn's picture

Speaking of frankness and honesty, I bought the Advent speakers based partly on the rave review in Stereophile, and partly on Henry Kloss's fantastic prose in his product blurb. Things like "Hoffman's Iron Law", or "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, or the line that's straightest under the circumstances" were of biblical proportion to this young audiophile then.

The Advents were a good deal - a really good deal. But that's not exactly where I started. After I digested the Stereophile article in 1971, I obtained the product blurbs on that speaker and the new "Small Advent" from my dealer in Cleveland. I truly believed that the Small Advent would do exactly what the original speaker would do, just that I needed a bit more amplifier power. So I bought the smaller speakers.

Long story short, and while the Small Advent was designed for the same bandwidth as the original speaker, it didn't deliver the same experience, which I learned after purchasing the originals. That experience taught me a lot about reading things literally, about how to read things written by engineers versus things written by non-engineers, about the complexity of sound, and how the actual listening experience takes precedence over specs and test results.

I think specs and tests are very important, insofar as they can make you aware of potential issues that might arise long after the free evaluation period ends, but reading reviews and listening are the final judge.

Daniel666's picture

Seriously. You guys are dickheads.
I buy this magazine every time i see it.
My system is ML 436s, Sonus Faber Cremonas and Auditors and Duntech Sovereigns. Cyber SETS, Audio Rearch S14, Esoteric DO5 PO5, Goldmund Studio and Project 10.1, Nordost Cables.
A reasonable system i love. I read Stereophile to see new products, to challenge my views, to give me the shits, to inform me etc etc etc. You stupid pricks who have a go at the dumbing down have no idea what you are talking about. The guys at Stereophile have to make money to do what they do. I couldn't give a shit about bad articles when i am lucky enough for a few dollars to actually get to read an intelligent conversation about something i love.
What, a stupid cable costs thousands, but i get more enjoyment out of $20 mag. Get a sense of reality guys and shut the fxxx up.
Cheers'
Justyn

Graham Luke's picture

There's little dumber than some of the above....

Bill Leebens's picture

So: you feel above all the everyday come-and-go of commerce and the world at large. Good for you.

Does it somehow make you feel better to piss all over everyone else?

Sheesh. If you're not part of it, so be it. But just have the decency to go away quietly.

dalethorn's picture

I'm all for naysayers when they engage others in healthy debate, but when - instead of really dumping their connections to this media - they instead dump their angst on others - what's the point?

Did I miss the latest crop of videos? The binaural show demos? The latest record reviews? The controversies over MQA, cables, tube amps, and 50 other things? Maybe I just dreamed all of that.

Ali's picture

I am very surprised and glad have seen Home Pod on your cover. Make me think you are still agile, open minded and brave! Can't wait to read the article. Say hello to your boss Atkinson!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I've never seen John walking down hallways at audio shows, talking to himself.

We also reviewed the LG V30 smartphone, whose hi-rez DAC delivers audiophile grade sound. People went apoplectic because I auditioned its sound on MQA-encoded tracks. That was loads of fun.

tonykaz's picture

You're a darn good person for including the LG.

You and PS Audio both run "Ultra" High performance music systems without trying to "carry" the Audiophile burden of 33.3 Collecting and "Praise Singing".

It ain't worth much but you have my admiration annnnnnnndddddd my approval.

Mr.Spacehound is one of my correspondent troublemakers who seems to have good intentions yet relentlessly trashes "Progress" for "Click Bait" purposes. I suspect he posts here after an Evening's "Yard of Ale" at the Local. He still avoids by "Bargepole".

Remaining a Fan ( and renewing a 3 Year Print Subscription ),

Tony in Michigan

Ali's picture

And who knows, maybe one day, I retire myself of being hardcore-audiophile and settle down on a pair of HomePod and become a softcore-audiophle if their review turn out to be a good one!

fsalido's picture

Thank you, Stereophile. I've been a subscriber for 30 years. I agree with other readers who say the magazine is easily the best value available in audio enjoyment. To tidy my home and decrease my carbon footprint, I have culled other paper print periodicals arriving to my home, including other publications that I have received for over 30 years. But, so long as Stereophile is available in print, and reflects Mr. Atkinson's editorial taste/approach--and an annual subscription costs less than the price of one used vinyl record--I shall continue to subscribe, which I will supplement with Stereophile's unique online articles.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Hey Siri, play some classical music" ............ "It is too early in the morning for that Jim, why not I play "Boom Clap" by Charli XCX for you?" :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Don't be a blockhead :-) ...........

volvic's picture

When I got my August issue from Zinio over the weekend and saw the cover shot I knew the vitriol would fly, and I have not been proven wrong. I look over at AudioStream and InnerFidelity and see the bile from some directed at a real swell fellow like Rafe and I am pleased to see he is coping and doing a good job, but I do think some of the comments are unnecessary. I enjoyed reading the review, yes, it is not pure hi-fi but such gadgets that are on the periphery, are what make our hobby and music listening more interesting.

Last week I dropped off some film on the 6th floor of Memorial Sloan Kettering and realized how lucky I was to be able to walk out with my own strength, plug in my headphones and listen to some fine music and enjoy the day. Get angry at Stereophile for reviewing an LG phone, embracing MQA or an Apple Home Pod? Nah!

Richard D. George's picture

I gladly pay for my iPad subscription, and have several years of issues on my iPad.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

As long as JA stays as our fearless leader and at the helm, Streophile should do alright :-) .............

Route 66's picture

Apparently you're not old enough to remember the 'real' Stereophile back when J.Gordon Holt was at the helm. The magazine took a nose dive after he left.

ken mac's picture

You'll be needing those, a dial up phone, and a fallout shelter should your malady persist.

Route 66's picture

Clever.

dalethorn's picture

Holt was a unique character - the right man at the right time for his chosen vocation.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

He was the founding father of "Audiophilia" ...........

Anton's picture

The later JGH promoted DBT and surround sound. Is that the JGH you want?

dalethorn's picture

Oh yeah, the whole JGH, not just the oldest part. Must keep that in mind.

John Atkinson's picture
Anton wrote:
The later JGH promoted DBT...

Yes he did - see www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/1107awsi/index.html - but it is appropriate to note that Gordon never used double-blind testing to prepare his reviews.

Anton wrote:
. . . and surround sound.

Good grief, yes. In fact one reason Gordon resigned from Stereophile's staff in 1999 - see www.stereophile.com/news/10541/index.html - was my insistence that the magazine continue writing about two-channel products and recordings. He was then hired by The Absolute Sound to write about multichannel products but was fired a few months later.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

AaronGarrett's picture

Just bought an LG V35 thanks in part to the Stereophile review. Sounds incredible. Thanks for keeping up with changing technology. Listening to the new Lee Konitz in MQA and the new SOPHIE album (you should review it)!

Stereophile is better than ever. I used to love Listener, and then Art Dudley joined. I loved reading Herb Reichert, and then -- voila. All sorts of great new writers as well, although I'm sorry for the recent losses.

My only complaint is that the latest issue makes me want an ASR.

Thanks again!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

ASR ....... Acute Stress Reaction? :-) ........

dalethorn's picture

I'm looking for Konitz - I assume it's the Portland Sessions - can't find a download (no streaming).

AaronGarrett's picture
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hey Siri, play "Old Time Problem" by Pepper :-) ...........

AaronGarrett's picture

If it plays and it sounds good screw the "in my day" brigade.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In my opinion, HomePod is a good value for the money, for music discovery and casual listening ........ Hey, think about all the other things it can do :-) ............

Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Hey Siri, which one is a 5 star rated Mexican restaurant?" ........... "Hot and spicy food can give you heart-burn, Jim" :-) ...........

dalethorn's picture

If the Homepod were playable without a network (i.e. directly from an iPad via Bluetooth), I would have bought two already. I know that the sound is "adjusted" by Apple's algorithms, so my expectations would be low. At $350 per speaker it's a pretty good deal hardware-wise.

About that sound: I don't have a sonic controller device that can directly select several sound "sculptures" with a set of buttons, like a TV remote control with half a dozen buttons that are programmable separately to select those sculptures. But if such a thing were available for purchase, so that I could sit back and close my eyes and listen, and then press the appropriate button for the music I'm playing without breaking my attention, that could go a long way toward making the Homepod viable for non-critical listening.

While Apple makes very high-quality hardware, their software user-interfaces are horrible, so I'm not optimistic that they could produce something like I described.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HomePod2 may be coming out next year with hardware upgrades, including BlueTooth and wired connection(s) (of any kind, digital or analog or both) .......... It is a possibility, knowing the history of Apple :-) ......... BTW, it may still not be able to do "Audible", THX, Dolby Atmos, DTS-X, Auro 3-D etc. etc. ........ We may have to wait for HomePod24, for all that :-) .......

dalethorn's picture

My understanding is that Apple is pushing hard on "Apple Music", and so they want to keep these Homepods working to that end, i.e. to discourage local storage playback. Apple has already pretty well ruined their music and video players for their iOS devices, so the direction they're taking makes sense for them.

You might remember a time when large billboards were placed all over the U.S. - even in the smaller cities, advertising the iPod with a white cable plugged into it and into its user's ears (everything was white then). The verbiage read something like "Impossibly small", suggesting that you could abandon the big stereo and live blissfully on-the-go with your Apple device and whatever music you could scrounge up.

But, just as the big computer giants abandoned "personal computer" operating systems for home use by upgrading all of their users to Windows NT/2000/XP/7/8/10, or Apple's conversion to a flavor of Unix, the giant corporations that make these "smart" speakers have no interest whatever in delivering to you a pleasurable, secure, and well-protected music experience with your own files. They need your subscription, and the Homepod design is toward that end.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Well, in that case, it may bring back hardware based music playback system(s) .......... like CD, SACD, HDCD, Blue-Ray, and even vinyl and analog tape ........at least for audiophiles and music lovers in limited quantities ........... Vinyl and analog tape are already making a comeback .......

dalethorn's picture

The hardware never went away. We are in a true golden age of hi-fi music recording and reproduction, with many, many different and complementary choices of components as well as media. This blessing of goodies thrives on competiton at many levels. I'd say, don't let the naysayers tell you that narrowing our choices for any reason is desirable, whatever the suggestion (i.e., analog is dead, tweaks don't work, you can't hear anything above redbook CD, etc.) Just look around at what people are willing to spend. There's plenty of growth ahead for this industry.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

AudioStream website has a recent article about ChromeCast, Roon etc. .......... Interesting article .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

You are right .......... People now have many choices, more than ever before, as to how they want to listen to their favorite music .......... That is a good thing ........

Anton's picture

Did these same snowflakes opine the reviews of Audio Engine or Dayton speakers?

How about the PSB Alphas?

Entry level is a pretty exciting place.

Seeing what affordable audio is up to and what features it can offer is pretty cool.

I don't see why the 'delicates' would become incensed over including this speaker.

Just to see if we can drive them to apoplexy...

Here's a Stereophile cover that mentions Bose 901 speakers! (The horor, the horror.)

https://www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/483/index.html

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