Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Putting an Ear to the Ground of Apple’s Audio Efforts

Tom Parsons of What Hi-Fi? recently interviewed Apple’s VP of acoustics Gary Geaves, and Eric Treski, who works on AirPods marketing. This part seems worth thinking more about:

This is where Adaptive EQ, which was first introduced with the AirPods Pro, comes in: “we’ve added an inward-facing microphone”, says Geaves, “which continuously monitors what’s being played by the speaker and tunes the bass and, to some extent, midrange frequencies as well, to deliver a really consistent frequency response regardless of the level of fit that each person gets”. The idea is that everyone hears the music the same way, and the way the artist intended.

Geaves’ response has echoes of computational photography about it. When asked to clarify how Apple could possibly know what the artist’s intent could be, Geaves says that it is a mix of analytics and human adjustment. I still get the feeling that we cannot really know — but that it is also true of audio products generally. How do any of us know whether the speakers in our headphones or home audio setup are fairly representing what we are listening to?

Parsons presses the two Apple representatives on new stuff released this year, like the third-generation AirPods and spatial audio. But it is when asked about lossless audio that Geaves gives the most intriguing answer:

“Obviously the wireless technology is critical for the content delivery that you talk about”, he says, “but also things like the amount of latency you get when you move your head, and if that’s too long, between you moving your head and the sound changing or remaining static, it will make you feel quite ill, so we have to concentrate very hard on squeezing the most that we can out of the Bluetooth technology, and there’s a number of tricks we can play to maximise or get around some of the limits of Bluetooth. But it’s fair to say that we would like more bandwidth and… I’ll stop right there. We would like more bandwidth”, he smiles.

Given that AirPods Max and Apple Music’s lossless audio option were announced within six months of each other, yet were incompatible for bandwidth reasons, it seemed like something had to give. It felt like a plot hole in both products’ respective stories.