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Ex-Apple designer’s ‘triphonic’ speaker may be the hi-fi HomePod we deserve

Say what you will about Apple’s original HomePod, but it was actually a really solid speaker by technical standards. So when Apple discontinued it, we wondered what might eventually replace it.

Although there are currently rumors of a HomePod with a screen and camera, it’s now looking like one of the best alternatives may actually come from an ex-Apple designer and his new company, Syng. Well, it’s more of an ‘upgrade’ than an alternative, considering it costs $1,799.

Christopher Stringer, who worked at Apple for 21 years and was Jony Ive’s first hire, and Damon Way of DC Shoes and Incase fame, teamed up to create a futuristic speaker called the Cell Alpha.

It somewhat resembles the HomePod in that it features a round body with an omnidirectional acoustical design, which theoretically means the speaker will sound the same no matter what angle you listen to it from. There are a pair of force-canceling woofers on the top and bottom, and three tweeters with wide waveguides arranged around the speaker’s circumference.

But more than that, it uses something the company calls ‘triphonic’ audio to offer users “full control” of sounds with “precise placement and localization.” According to Syng:

You can put sound wherever you want, shrink it, move it, magnify it, and layer it. Or let the Cell handle everything – with Triphonic audio, it’s able to virtualize any speaker array and accurately spatialize sound for your room. When sound is all around you, it’s intimate, totally enveloping and unlike anything you’ve ever heard.

Syng’s speaker is using beamforming — a technique that essentially allows you to ‘aim’ soundwaves — to be able to adjust the spatial qualities of the resultant sound field.

The company claims that just one speaker is able to create a realistic, room-filling stereo sound and that a pair of speakers can work without needing to arrange the speakers in a traditional equilateral-ish triangle.

Three speakers are the “fullest expression” of the system, able to create what Syng says is a completely immersive sound field. You can then use Syng’s app to change the location and size of the sound field.

That sounds cool, but it’s worth taking any claims about spatial audio with a grain of salt. Most speakers that claim to provide fully immersive audio without a full surround setup tend to be underwhelming in my experience. The ones that do provide decent spatial effects sometimes do so at the expense of sound quality.

But the technology has improved over time, and at $1,799, I hope the Cell Alpha ends up being more than a gimmick. Current attempts have had mixed results, but beamforming does feel like the next big leap in home audio.

The Cell Alpha’s design and futuristic technology resemble something Apple might make, which is no surprise given the talent behind it. It’s what I would’ve liked to see if Apple ever decided to take the hi-fi speaker route.

Unfortunately for Apple, the original HomePod didn’t sell well, forcing Apple to discontinue it. The company is apparently still having trouble getting rid of inventory.

I can’t help but feel a big reason for that is that Apple’s walled-garden approach failed it, for once. The speaker could only stream via Apple Music if you intended to use Siri, and AirPlay support for other streaming platforms like Spotify was sometimes unreliable.

It also means that you were completely out of luck if you wanted to stream music from an Android phone or Windows device (at least without significant workarounds).

Here Syng has a welcome advantage; it supports AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, USB audio in (via two USB-C ports), and HDMI eARC (through an upcoming adapter). It’s launching with just an iOS app, but an Android one is coming soon.

If the acoustic technology pans out, the company could be onto something. We’ll let you know what we think when we get our hands on one ourselves.

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Apple stops selling the original HomePod to concentrate on the Mini

Nearly four years after it was first announced, Apple is discontinuing its original HomePod smart speaker. The company said it wants to concentrate on the $99 HomePod Mini.

As TechCrunch noted, Apple took almost five years in building this device. It even built the largest anechoic chamber for commercial use in the US to test the device’s audio capability.

When it launched, the audiophile community also noted that Apple’s speakers stand tall against proven devices in the hi-fi audio segment. That’s no mean feat. Despite good reviews and impressive audio quality, the $350 HomePod never really took off.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Apple didn’t elaborate why it’s shelving the HomePod, but it hinted that the HomePod Mini’s amazing sales number could be the reason:

HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99. We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.

While there was no doubt about HomePod’s great audio prowess, its $350 tag at the launch made many people choose smart speakers from Google, Amazon, or Sonos. When the company slashed the price to $299 in 2019, it was a bit too late.

The Cupertino-based company’s idea might have been to lure you into buying multiple HomePods and use them as a home theatre system, but the idea never really hit home.

Last year, while Apple announced the HomePod Mini, it smartly priced it $99 — the same price as the new Google Audio and the spherical Amazon Echo. That helped the company drive better sales than the original HomePod.

Apple will continue selling the original HomePod till it’s in stock and will provide software and service support. So if you want one as a collectible, now is your chance.

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Published March 13, 2021 — 04:58 UTC



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Apple HomePod axed as original Siri speaker makes way for mini

Bid farewell to the original Apple HomePod, with the Siri-powered smart speaker being discontinued, the company has confirmed today. Launched in early 2018, the speaker met with praise for its high sound quality, but its $439 price tag at release meant it struggled to gain traction against rivals from Amazon and Google.

Indeed, the whole launch had been a struggle for the Cupertino firm. HomePod was announced at WWDC 2017 in June of that year, but its release date was pushed back several times. It wasn’t until February 2018, in fact, that deliveries and in-store sales began.

Apple later attempted to address pricing criticisms by trimming the HomePod to $299, though it still proved a tough sell. Part of the challenge was that several features other smart speakers offered – such as stereo pairing and multi-room use – didn’t arrive until later firmware updates. That combined with frustrations around Siri, and the assistant’s capabilities in comparison to Alexa and the Google Assistant, and Apple’s preference to keep rival music services at arm’s length.

Now, Apple has confirmed to TechCrunch, it’s time for the full-sized HomePod to wave goodbye. Existing stock of the speaker will be sold, through Apple online as well as in stores, but after that’s gone there’ll be no more. Instead, the company plans to focus on the HomePod mini which launched last year.

“HomePod mini has been a hit since its debut last fall, offering customers amazing sound, an intelligent assistant, and smart home control all for just $99,” Apple said in a statement. “We are focusing our efforts on HomePod mini. We are discontinuing the original HomePod, it will continue to be available while supplies last through the Apple Online Store, Apple Retail Stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. Apple will provide HomePod customers with software updates and service and support through Apple Care.”

At a third of the price of the original HomePod, the HomePod mini unsurprisingly doesn’t sound as impressive. However it’s far more in line with what Amazon and Google charge for their smart speakers. That opens the door to a more cost-effective way to put Siri in more locations around the home, something the price tag of the full-sized HomePod made generally unfeasible.

It’s not the only product that Apple has pulled the curtain closed on in recent weeks. The iMac Pro – the higher-spec version of Apple’s all-in one computer – was discontinued earlier this month, with the company confirming that it would only be available “while supplies last” online. Custom configurations were first to go, leaving just the standard $4,999 model still available to ship.

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