Speaker wars

Of course there is no war at all, except that which has been in my head over which speakers to use in our office. I have switched between having a HomePod in the office to having my Harman Kardons in there… and back and forth a number of times.

Most recently, we have one HomePod in the living room, one in the bedroom, and the Harman Kardons in the office. This has been working rather well. Shawna has been using the HomePods in the bedroom and living room and enjoying them.

So today I was doing some “audio tests” and came to another decision (a similar thing happened the last time I did audio tests). For those who don’t know, these audio tests are what we refer to around here as “music appreciation hour”. That happens on occasion when I am left unsupervised for more than an hour or two.

Anyway, my conclusion today was… while the Harmon Kardons might outcrank the HomePod… there are more things to consider.

Perhaps the Harman Kardons are superior. I don’t even really know for sure. I do know that all the feedback I’ve read about the HomePod talks about the excellent sound. Even the people who don’t like it say it sounds great. So I simply might be mistaken in thinking the Harman Kardons sound better. I honestly suspect that is true. I mean how could a $150 set of speakers outperform a $350 one that by all accounts is “great sounding for the price”?

So my decision… is to double-down. I am going to buy a third HomePod to use in the office. We will essentially have one in each room of the house. My OCD likes things being uniform. Three matching speakers. Yay! And Siri in every room to control our HomeKit devices.

So the Harman Kardons are back in the box in the garage where they will likely stay. If they are truly the better-sounding speakers… then oh well. Regardless of which speakers actually sound better, I am fully determined at this point that the HomePod will suffice. It may not be true hi-fi, but it’s “good-enough-fi”.

I did a similar thing when I shed my $2,000 front room stereo in favor of a sound bar. Being content with less is a good thing. And if I can’t crank the HomePod loud enough so the neighbors can hear it, well that’s ok. I probably shouldn’t be doing that anyway right?

to k-cup or not to k-cup, that is the question

For the past two years… at home, I have had my top-rated OXO coffee maker and Shawna has had her Keurig machine. We had been doing strictly Keurig before I bought the OXO. I went with my OXO coffee maker because the end result is better-tasting coffee.

When I first bought the OXO, I decided that I would not buy coffee beans, but would instead buy good-quality ground coffee. Of course grinding fresh from beans produces better coffee. But it requires a grinder on the counter and additional mess. I settle on Peet’s for my ground coffee, and the results were pretty good. Even without grinding my own beans, the OXO made considerably better coffee than the Keurig.

One of the aspects of switching to the OXO from a Keurig machine was an expected reduction in cost. I had thought that k-cups were probably the most expensive way to buy coffee. However this turned out not to be true. And that’s because my OXO calls for a pretty large amount of coffee each time I brew.

For example… one pot of coffee requires nine scoops of coffee (18 tablespoons). And yes, this makes it strong, as it should be. But because of the large amount of coffee that is called for, I don’t really think I was saving any money over using k-cups.

Based on $10 for a pound of decent coffee and .36 ounces per scoop. Ground coffee runs about $0.22 per scoop. It takes 2.5 scoops to make one cup of coffee using ground coffee ($0.55). Whereas a cheap k-cup is more like $0.35. So, cost is not a good reason to be using ground coffee over k-cups.

Even though the OXO clearly makes better coffee, at some point one might just be ok with “good enough”. If we go with good quality k-cups, the result will certainly be closer the level of the OXO. And honestly, a really good k-cup may well produce better coffee than what most people typically drink.

At work, we buy Starbuck’s k-cups because my boss is a shareholder. Those k-cups actually make a pretty decent cup of coffee. At home, we usually get Costco’s Kirkland brand. They are some of the cheapest we’ve found. And they are acceptable.

There is one aspect of using k-cups that I’ve thought would be nice to avoid. And that pertains to our morning coffee routine. We will typically run through 6 k-cups before leaving the house in the morning. But after thinking about that, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

While it is somewhat of a pain… 6 (actual drinkable sized cups) of coffee is more than a full pot in my OXO. So either way you look at it it’d be a fair amount of effort to get our morning coffee taken care of. I don’t know that brewing two pots of coffee using the OXO is any less hassle than running 6 k-cups through the Keurig.

So the Keurig wins.

More HomePod fun…

Get ready to laugh. This will undoubtedly cause you to chuckle.

So… bought the HomePod right? Had it for a few days. Liked it. Not sure it was better-sounding than my Harman Kardon speakers but figured I’d keep it anyway.

A couple nights later, had a few beers, and did a bunch of comparison testing between the two speaker systems.

That night, I initiated a return of the HomePod. The next day I took it to FedEx and shipped it back.

Then I came to some realizations (which I will detail below). Last weekend I happened to be near the Apple Store in Bridgeport Village. So I went and picked up another HomePod before the return on my first one had even processed.

So here are the realizations…

  • It’s probably better not to test out speaker systems while under the influence. Because anything with booming bass sounds good.
  • It’s probably better not to test with Metallica when my normal listening material is classical music.
  • Loud sound doesn’t equal good sound.
  • Bass-heavy sound doesn’t equal good sound either.

One of the reasons for some of these conclusions, was some research I was doing into “studio monitor” type speakers. I have a set of well-rated studio monitors that make good PC speakers. Come to find out my Harman Kardon 2.1 system is also well-rated. So I was trying to decide which to use (since I had returned my HomePod).

Studio monitor speakers attempt to reproduce recordings the way they were recorded without adding “color” to the sound. This can honestly result in some boring listening. Because there isn’t much bass and the sound is relatively flat. But it’s a more “honest” reproduction of the recording.

Then there are the 2.1 style systems. Which can produce some pretty good bass. But my feeling is… the 2.1 system definitely does color the sound. And while it sounds way better when cranking up Metallica after a few beers, it’s probably not “quality” sound.

That’s when I concluded that the Apple HomePod is probably a great speaker for me and the type of music I typically listen to. Will the Harman Kardons outcrank it while playing bass-heavy rock? Sure. But the HomePod probably produces better quality and more accurate sound.

BTW, what you see in the picture is my HomePod elevated on a “yoga block”. I have no idea what yoga blocks are used for. But an audio guy said the HomePod sounds better when elevated a bit and recommended them.

HomePod impressions

The picture above shows my Apple HomePod that arrived yesterday. It is intended to replace the Harman Kardon SoundSticks shown below. The HomePod has no wired connections (except for power). It’s designed to respond to voice commands (via Siri). One can also stream to it from any Airplay-capable device.

The HomePod has very nice sound. Certainly it is a technological marvel for it’s small size. For years we’ve seen a number of small bluetooth speakers on the market that have significantly better sound output than their small size would suggest they should. I have a couple from Sony that I like pretty well. I also had an expensive one from Harman Kardon before I returned it and got my SoundSticks.

For years I have used a number of 2.1 systems like the Harman Kardon SoundSticks shown above connected to various things (usually a PC or a TV). A 2.1 system is a basically an amplified speaker system with two primary speakers and one sub-woofer. I’ve been pretty impressed with a number of these, and I think it’s a great budget solution for many folks.

I think that one cannot expect to match the sound volume or crankability of a decent 2.1 system with a single speaker like the HomePod. However the HomePod does have several things going for it. First, the sound quality is exceptional. Second, it’s entirely omnidirectional. There is no front or back and therefore no real “sweet spot” that one needs to be in. It literally tunes itself to your room and it’s placement in it. Third, it has an always-listening personal assistant (Siri). This is particularly nice since most of our lighting is HomeKit compatible. Controlling the lights with voice commands is kinda cool.

So while the HomePod doesn’t crank as loud as my other speakers… it looks cool, and it sounds cool. Plus I’m an Apple fan. So there is that. Being an Apple fan means I have a predisposition to liking/preferring Apple products. I make no apologies for that. And in the case of the HomePod, my decision whether or not to keep it might be more difficult if it were not a fancy new Apple product. That does kind of tilt the scales for me. I won’t lie, being an Apple fan is fun. And yes, I am keeping it.

I’m going to add this link to a really great reddit article/review on their audiophile subreddit. Seems that this guy thinks Apple totally nailed it. And he has the evidence to prove it.

I will also add a link to a great YouTube piece on the HomePod. This one is entertaining.

I should be a tech reviewer

I’ve been on the fence regarding the new Apple HomePod. For those who don’t know, it’s Apple’s new Siri-powered digital assistant speaker. It went on sale last Friday for pre-order. And will be delivered beginning Feb 9th.

One of the things I’ve started doing is watching a fair amount of tech reviewers on YouTube. It’s quite a niche for those guys. And it’s pretty high paying for a number of them. We’re talking about people that have to form companies and hire employees to get to the level of video production that is expected. It can be a good place to listen to reviews and things.

Today I was listening to a guy who’s YouTube channel I subscribe to. And he was saying how bad this new speaker sucks. Shortly after listening to his review (he hadn’t actually seen one yet)… I went ahead and ordered one. Just like any respectable Apple fan would do.

I commented on his video. And he responded. We both agreed that a small single speaker like this would most likely not have as good of sound quality as a good 2.1 setup. He says “you can’t skirt the laws of physics”. But from everything I hear, it’s the stand-out excellent sound quality that sets this speaker apart from it’s competition.

While people are comparing it to the Amazon Echo and the Google Home smart speakers, it’s really out of their league. It features like six separate tweeters each with their own dedicated amplifier. It is powered by the same powerful chip that runs their iPhones. And it essentially senses the proportions of the room it’s in… and it’s position in that room w/regard to walls… and adjusts it’s sound output accordingly. Bang and Olufsen has a speaker with similar smarts that retails for about $10,000.

So we’ll see how it does against my 2.1 setup I have in our office at home. Luckily Apple has a no-questions-asked return policy. So this is essentially a trial.

Celebration of life

My wife and I went to a memorial service for a 13-year old girl yesterday. No one was really talking about it, and you don’t really ask, but word was that she committed suicide as the result of bullying.

It was a nice service in that folks shared their memories of her. And I got a small glimpse into this young life of someone I did not know. By all accounts she was an amazing young woman. So very sad how her life ended.

There was a noticeable absence of any mention of Jesus or salvation… or God in general. There were two “clergy” there. I don’t know what kind of clergy they were but IMHO they were not deserving of that designation.

The service made me think a little of my own life, and what my memorial service would be like. Or perhaps my wife’s memorial service. What focus would it have? I have to admit… the current focus of my life is really not God. It would almost seem disingenuous to attempt to have a memorial service centered on God when one’s life clearly was not.

To be fair… I do toy around with the idea of God. I read a devotional on occasion. I try to think about right and wrong and doing the right thing. I definitely know and believe the truth of the Bible with regards to Jesus, His death and resurrection, etc. But my life is a far cry from what my honest idea of a committed Christian should be like. It’s possible that my idea is not accurate. After all, there is real life to deal with… working, eating, sleeping. Not everything is about God right?

In my experience, trying to make everything about God has a tendency to cause one to sort of go off the deep end. And yes, been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.

However, I do think that God’s idea of a committed Christian would be considered “off the deep end” by the world’s standards. So I would say, there is a good off-the-deep-end and a bad off-the-deep-end. I’m not sure I know how to tell the difference between the two.

And I have no doubt in my mind that the majority of people who are off the deep end in the bad kind of way honestly believe that they are walking in truth and right on track.

Christianity is nuts in a good way. But how do you know you’re not just nuts? Because many folks would probably think that you are. One of the tools I use to gauge the general acceptability of things I say or ideas I have is by people’s reaction to those things. That lets me know when I’m off track. However that doesn’t really work that well with Christianity. Because the indications would be highly misleading. I think that with Christianity, it’s totally possible to be perfectly in line with God’s will, and have others think you’re crazy… even other Christians.

So that’s leaves us without a good measurement gauge. Hmmm…

So much for that

My last blog entry explained how I was downsizing my computer gear. I had sold my iMac, my MacBook, and my iPad. All to be replaced by a newer MacBook.

The reasons for doing this are a little difficult to explain. First of all… I have a bit of a computer habit. I spend most my time in front of one, both at work and at home. I’ve been fighting this off and on for years (unsuccessfully I might add). Second, because my iMac was my best device (by a long shot), I spent most my free time basically chained to my desk where it sits, as opposed to using my other (more mobile) devices away from my desk.

I’ve actually gone to great lengths in the past to help curb my technology habit. I went so far as to go without internet at home. I figured I could take my laptop to where there was public wifi when I wanted to use the net. I suppose that was a little extreme. And it wasn’t because the of the cost either. It was because I felt it would be better for me not to have access at home. Something to literally force myself to do other things. Well, like most of my other attempts, that was short-lived.

With my latest downsizing I guess I kinda thought that the move to having the MacBook as my only computer would help free me from my desk. I would be completely mobile and free to geek out from anywhere.

This sounded attractive. But in reality, even after successfully getting rid of all my other gear… I still pretty much spent all my time at my desk. I went so far as to run my MacBook in closed-cover mode… with an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

That’s when it occurred to me. I actually paid a premium for this MacBook in two ways. One, it’s super small size and portability made it cost more. And two, there was also a significant performance sacrifice involved in getting it that small. Essentially, while a desktop machine was the most suitable tool for what I was doing, instead I was using an underpowered and overpriced laptop for a purpose it was not intended for.

Of course when I realized this, it kinda torqued me off. There were a few different times where I swapped back and forth between using the external monitor, keyboard, and mouse… and just using the MacBook as a normal laptop. While the external monitor, keyboard, and mouse gave me the best functionality. They caused me to miss out on the MacBook’s best selling point, which is the super high quality of it’s hardware.

Ok, I’ll acknowledge that this is definitely a first-world type of problem. But (luckily) my life is so boring that I am always trying to figure out ways to optimize my little existence.

After the above realizations, I started thinking iMac once again. I toyed with the idea of buying an iMac and selling my MacBook. I figure I could use my iPad for anything mobile (yes, I bought another iPad). But I do believe that I could be deemed certifiable if I were to sell my new MacBook only three months after purchasing it.

I did order a new iMac. I’m typing this on it now. This time I did a custom-build with an SSD instead of a fusion drive. It’s quite a bit quicker.

So this “experiment” in downsizing was a little expensive. However in the end, I ended up upgrading my MacBook, my iPad, and my iMac to newer models that were all significantly better than what they replaced.

My wife had a bit of wisdom. She said that perhaps I should just accept the fact that I like computers and stop trying to fight it. Hmmm…

Gear trading

Wow. I just finished over two weeks of selling a lot of my tech gear, partially just to trade it for more. This has been a long time in coming. In buying stuff… I suffer from “mission creep” where I keep adding more and more. At some point I need to clear out the excess and do a bit of a reset.

I sold my 27″ 5K iMac, iPad Air 2, early-2015 MacBook, 4 pairs of headphones, and 2 headphone amps. I used eBay for the bigger-ticket items and Craigslist for the lower-value ones.

To replace this stuff, I bought a new 2017 MacBook. Essentially, the new MacBook is replacing my iMac, iPad and old MacBook. My old headphones and headphone amps had already been replaced by a couple pair of Apple AirPods.

My wife and I also swapped out our Series 0 Apple Watches for the latest Series 3 w/LTE. And I did a scheduled phone upgrade from the iPhone 6S Plus to the iPhone 8 Plus. (my wife is holding out for the iPhone X)

I also sprung for a Nintendo Switch and a few games. We have a Wii U that has been obsoleted. For now we’re keeping both. The Switch goes in my office.

This all pretty much happened with no money out of pocket. I’ve been really wanting to downsize my gear for a long time. I finally did it. In spite of the fact that I believe everyone I know would have probably advised me against it. And yes, when you sell used items you certainly take a hit. But Apple stuff has pretty good resale value. And some money for the old stuff is better than no money.

Of course the biggest change for me is getting used to the 12″ screen on the MacBook compared to the gorgeous 27″ 5K screen that I had on the iMac. But part of the goal here was to decrease the role that computers have in my life. Yes, having a computer is a fact of life. But I have decided that I wish to embrace a form of “minimalism” to where these things don’t have more of a role than they need to.

I also think that having my only computer able to go anywhere with me is a bit liberating. No longer will I feel tied to my desk because I feel compelled to “enjoy” my desktop computer. The highest level of functionality I have is now completely mobile. I didn’t really use my old MacBook that much because it was always a compromise when compared to the iMac that was sitting right there on my desk. It’s now no longer a matter of choosing. I have one iOS device and one macOS device. Problem solved.

First-world problems… yeah sorry. Although it’s a big change to my little world.

Well that didn’t last long

A couple months ago I bought a wireless speaker from Harman/Kardon called the Onyx. That speaker has now failed on me. I am beyond the refund window, so Harman/Kardon was going to replace it. Well, honestly I wasn’t that impressed. So I had another idea.

After I’d initially ordered that speaker, I noticed that Harman/Kardon is still selling the Soundsticks 2.1 setup (pictured above). I used to have a set like these when I bought my first Mac back in 2002. So there is some sense of nostalgia.

The Soundsticks happened to be exactly the same price as the Onyx. So I talked them into sending me the Soundsticks to replace the failed Onyx. Yes, it’s possible they chose style over substance. But I believe this 2.1 setup will out-perform the Onyx.

In search of good sound

I just got a new wireless speaker for my desk at home. I wasn’t necessarily in the market for one… but this popped up in my twitter feed as a “deal”. I recognize Harman/Kardon as a quality audio brand. And it was discounted about $350 off regular price. I think one could safely say it was originally overpriced. But after the discount it’s probably just about right. One selling point for me… it has Airplay built in. So I can play to it from my computer or my phone, seamlessly and lossless.