Apple says the modular Mac Pro won’t arrive until 2019, but it’s still listening

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A little under a year ago, Apple tried to assuage everyone’s fears that it had given up on the Mac Pro for good. At the time, it said the device wouldn’t arrive until 2018 at the earliest, and gave us the beastly iMac Pro to whet our appetites in the meantime. Now the company has made it clear we won’t get our hands on the top-of-the-line, modular Mac Pro until 2019. The company recently invited TechCrunch back to its campus to discuss the new Mac Pro, and Apple’s strategy for creating the new device. The entire piece is worth a read if you’re…

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Google Play improves audiobook listening experience, including Smart Resume and speed controls

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Audiobooks have only been available on Google Play for barely two months, but Google is already working hard on improving the experience. In a blog post today, Google revealed a few of the new features and improvements it has been adding to make it even more enjoyable to listen to an audiobook with Google Play, whether on the app or through Google Assistant.

With ‘Smart Resume,’ playback will now intelligently resume a few moments before where an audiobook was paused.

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Google Play improves audiobook listening experience, including Smart Resume and speed controls was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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Spotify reveals that 2 million users are listening to ad-free music without paying

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Apple’s stance on streaming music is that there’s no such thing as free music. The company offers a three-month free trial, and charges $ 9.99 a month onwards if the user decides to continue using the service. Apple Music’s biggest rival, Spotify, however offers a freemium tier, which allows users to play music for free but will serve up ads every couple of songs and restricts the order of songs played.

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China’s Google Equivalent Can Clone Voices After Seconds of Listening

AI Mimicry

The Google of China, Baidu, has just released a white paper showing its latest development in artificial intelligence (AI): a program that can clone voices after analyzing even a seconds-long clip, using a neural network. Not only can the software mimic an input voice, but it can also change it to reflect another gender or even a different accent.

You can listen to some of the generated examples here, hosted on GitHub.

Previous iterations of this technology have allowed voice cloning after systems analyzed longer voice samples. In 2017, the Baidu Deep Voice research team introduced technology that could clone voices with 30 minutes of training material. Adobe has a program called VoCo which could mimic a voice with only 20 minutes of audio. One Canadian startup, called Lyrebird, can clone a voice with only one minute of audio. Baidu’s innovation has further cut that time into mere seconds.

The 5 Weirdest AI Applications [INFOGRAPHICS]
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While at first this may seem like an upgrade to tech that became popular in the 90s, with the help of “Home Alone 2” and the “Scream” franchise, there are actually some noble applications for this technology. For example: imagine your child being read to in your voice when you’re far away, or having a duplicate voice created for a person who has lost the ability to talk. This tech could also be used to create personalized digital assistants and more natural-sounding speech translation services.

However, as with many technologies, voice cloning also comes with the risk of being abused. New Scientist reports that the program was able to produce one voice that fooled voice recognition software with greater than 95 percent accuracy in tests. Humans even rated the cloned voice a score of 3.16 out of 4. This could open up the possibility of AI-assisted fraud.

Programs exist that can use AI to replace or alter — and even generate from scratch — the faces of individuals in videos. Right now, this is mostly being used on the internet to bring laughs by inserting Nicolas Cage into the “Lord of the Rings” series. But coupled with tech that can clone voices, we soon could be bombarded with more “fake news” of politicians doing uncharacteristic actions or saying things they wouldn’t.

It’s already very easy to fool swathes of people using just the written word or Photoshop; there could be even more trouble if these technologies were placed into the wrong hands.

The post China’s Google Equivalent Can Clone Voices After Seconds of Listening appeared first on Futurism.

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HomePod listening tests reveal the grimy truth about audio reviews


As Apple’s HomePod has been out for a week, most of the news, reviews, and early problems have already been discussed ad nauseum. But you might have missed two unusual articles from Yahoo’s David Pogue, whose real world HomePod listening test last Saturday created enough controversy to merit a “readers weigh in” follow-up today. After having praised HomePod’s audio in his initial review, Pogue discovered that a panel of listeners preferred the Sonos One or Google Home Max instead. When he published that finding, some of his readers freaked out, leading him to dive deeper into his testing methodology — and other testers’ results, as well.

My review of the HomePod was pretty straightforward on audio quality: It’s an overly bass-heavy, monaural speaker with recessed mids, ultimately not worthy of its steep asking price. Some real-world reviewers agree with my take, and some don’t. That’s fine — like pocketbooks, audio preferences are somewhat personal. Even before the review was published, my advice was to audition HomePod for yourself.

But it’s worth exploring why there’s been so much difference between the early, universally positive HomePod sonic reviews and the less enthusiastic ones that have followed from members of the public. Specifically, I’d like to fill you in on some details that will help explain why something as simple as a speaker can generate such polarized opinions between “expert” reviewers, “audiophiles,” and regular people.

If you don’t like knowing how review sausage is made, stop reading here, because this is going to get a little messy.

How they tested, or should have tested

Over the course of his articles, Pogue first hinted and then fully explained that Apple required early reviewers to attend a special listening session comparing the HomePod against three competing speakers. Apple selected the tracks, and in an important detail most reviewers probably didn’t realize, played them over different audio connections ranging from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth, Ethernet, and audio line-in. As Pogue notes, reviewers typically left Apple’s listening sessions feeling that HomePod had outperformed its rivals — no shock, given that two were around half or less of HomePod’s price.

But after Pogue disclosed Apple’s speaker shootout, readers questioned it, leading him to run a more controlled comparison of his own. He took the four speakers, picked five revealing songs, assembled a fairly representative panel of listeners, and made sure the input source and volume were kept constant across all the speakers. Contrary to Pogue’s initial assumptions, and his early review’s conclusions, the panel rated HomePod’s overall sonic performance below the Sonos One and Google Home Max.

Because the internet has its fair share of self-proclaimed audiophiles, the second and more neutral round of test results didn’t sit well with some of Pogue’s readers, either. There were questions over the thin curtain that masked the speakers’ identities, suggestions of bias due to listeners’ physical positions relative to the speakers, and complaints that Spotify was the audio source for all the speakers. Pogue was called “grandpaw,” asked to use more randomized methodologies, and told to retest in either sonically silent or visually neutral rooms. The list of reader comments reads much like a series of high school excuses for failing to turn in homework — except nastier.

Here’s how review sausage is made

Although I don’t agree with Pogue’s original claims that “HomePod sounds really, really great” or “amazing,” I applaud him for the courage it took to publicly re-examine the comparison process that led to his initial conclusions. His all-important first impressions were created using a skewed test, and a more neutral methodology would have yielded different results, as his panel’s experiences demonstrated.

Why was there such a difference between the “expert” reviewers’ opinions and Pogue’s real world panel? I’m going to fill you in on a critically important piece of background information that will help you understand the reality behind speaker reviews:

Most journalists know very little about speakers, or audio in general.

Here’s one more key point:

Many journalists, including even legitimate audio experts, have damaged their hearing, or aged past their ears’ sonic prime.

Apple knew this, and it knew that (some of) the people it picked to review the HomePod might feel compelled to disclose their lack of audio experience. That’s why it set up a four-speaker testing room — a step it literally never took with competitors to the Apple TV, Apple Watch, iPad, or iPhone — and walked reviewers through the tests. Apple spared writers the need to do their own comparisons and helped them reach a positive conclusion about HomePod’s audio, presenting it in the best possible light.

These details should help you understand why some of the first HomePod reviewers said that they could have stopped writing about the speaker after a paragraph or so, but felt obliged to write more. Normally, most of these people don’t write about the nitty-gritty of audio products, and they don’t feel comfortable discussing the technical nuances of “great sound.” But in this case, they were being given early access to a new Apple product, knew they had to write full reviews, and did the best jobs they could under the circumstances. That might seem like a somewhat charitable interpretation given how over-the-top some early reviewers were in praising HomePod, but in my experience, it’s largely accurate.

An alternative: Don’t trust (most) audio reviews

If you care about audio — and you certainly should, for $ 349 per speaker — one option would be to seek out opinions from people who have actual audio expertise. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of noise on the internet these days, and true expert opinions are surprisingly hard to find. Assuming you can’t decide for yourself, the best alternative is to find someone with a public track record of audio reviews that match your preferences and experiences, or alternately, someone whose opinions are reliably the opposite of yours.

One thing you shouldn’t do is put faith in people who appear out of nowhere armed with audio graphs purporting to show that a given speaker has “perfect, audiophile-quality sound,” or reviewers who write effusively about the magical melodies produced by every piece of audio gear they test. Reviews that focus heavily on specs or poetic descriptions of sound are usually full of crap — regrettably, many readers confuse pages of numbers and words with genuine expertise. It takes a lot more courage for a writer to produce brief, blunt, and accurate conclusions about a speaker than to convince you it’s going to deliver sonic heaven every time you turn it on.

Unlike his first HomePod review, Pogue’s last article doesn’t attempt to be authoritative on the speaker’s sound. While raising an eyebrow at certain conclusions, it acknowledges a diversity of opinions from everyone, from his panel of listeners to various readers to professional testers at Consumer Reports. That’s a reasonable approach: If you can’t find a great single reviewer whose tastes mirror yours, considering a variety of different opinions is probably the second healthiest way to approach audio purchases.

The best option? Try the product for yourself, and return it if you don’t like it. You’re the best judge of whether something sounds (and works, and looks) great enough to be worthy of your hard-earned cash.

Happy listening!

Apple – VentureBeat

The women of Atari spoke. Why isn’t the gaming industry listening?


Multiple women have come out in support of Atari’s co-founder after a viral campaign stripped him of an award. Their words cast new light on the history of the gaming industry, and why the judgement heaped upon one person may have been unfair and reactionary. It began when the Game Developer’s Conference announced Nolan Bushnell would receive its Pioneer Award. Within hours, dozens of people on Twitter were calling for the GDC to rethink its decision. They cited several interviews and written sources that describe the Atari offices of the seventies (Bushnell’s era) as more lax in nature than would…

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ALAC vs FLAC: The Best for Listening to Lossless Music on Mac and iOS

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Sound quality isn’t dead. Casual fans may be okay with a badly encoded MP3 streamed over a slideshow on YouTube, but if you’re really into your music, you want something better. There is FLAC, but that requires a whole new set of players and a new library. That’s where ALAC comes in: Apple’s lossless codec. It is compatible with iTunes and iOS, so you can change formats without changing your routine. Lossless vs. Compressed Codecs Whether it’s AAC or MP3, most of the music you’re buying/streaming is encoded using a lossy codec. That derives from how they compress data. The…

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How to Prevent Anyone From Listening to Your Messages on HomePod

HomePod is a smart speaker that’s designed to work best with Apple Music. But it runs Siri and it can do things like reading and replying to messages, take notes, add reminders and more. But right now, HomePod doesn’t have any sort of Voice ID technology. So anyone in your house can just walk up to it (when your iPhone is on the same network) and reply to the latest message or add a reminder to your list. That’s a huge breach of your privacy. Continue reading
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HomePod’s Sound Continues to Receive Top Marks After Listening Demos in New York and London

Apple last week invited select reporters to one-hour-long HomePod listening demos in New York City and London, resulting in several first impressions of the speaker’s sound quality being shared online over the past few days.


We’ve rounded up all of the first impressions we’ve come across so far, and highlighted some excerpts that we thought were interesting below. If you spot an article not listed here, let us know in the comments section.

The consensus is that the HomePod sounds very good, although some felt the quality isn’t exactly worth the price. A few reporters were more impressed by upcoming stereo sound capabilities of two HomePods in the same room.

Keep in mind these listening demos were conducted by Apple in controlled environments, so we’ll have to wait for more in-depth reviews once reporters and customers get the speaker into their hands and try it out.

Business Insider’s Avery Hartmans

After spending an hour demoing Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker, I can say one thing with confidence: it sounds incredible.

Overall, HomePod is both louder and better-sounding than I expected. The bass was strong without being too heavy, vocals were crisp and clear, and the overall sound felt somehow bright and energized. I also got a demo of a stereo setup using two HomePods — that functionality is coming later on through a free update — and was blown away. So while I can’t give a definitive verdict until testing it for myself, I will say that HomePod gives a great first impression.

Wired UK’s Jeremy White

We will have much more to say in a full review, but on first impressions while the HomePod looks great, is super simple to set up and is undoubtedly powerful, the sound produced does not immediately match up to its £319 price tag.

What becomes immediately apparent is the formidable bass the HomePod kicks out. What’s more, the sound remains constant as you walk around the room, no doubt thanks to those beam-forming tweeters. The vocals are clear as a bell, too. It’s not all good news, however. There is a distinct lack of mid-range, leaving you feeling that something is missing in the mix.

TechCrunch’s Brian Heater

As advertised, the thing sounds great.

Apple’s engineers were able to get a lot of rich and full sound out of that little footprint. The speaker is particularly adept as isolating vocals and maintaining often muddled aural aspects, like background singers and audience sounds in live recordings.

CNET’s David Carnoy

Ultimately, my initial impression is that the HomePod sounds very good for the type of speaker it is and it certainly stacks up well against the competition — some of it less expensive, some of it more.

But like all speakers, it has its limitations and the HomePod left me wanting for true stereo sound. Which is probably why the only time I got truly jazzed during the demo was when they paired the two HomePods together and delivered some real separation.

iNews UK’s Rhiannon Williams

While it’s difficult to get a proper grasp of how a speaker sounds in a short space of time, a second listen to the HomePod reinforces my earlier favourable impressions.

While at just under seven inches tall it’s undoubtedly on the small side, it’s capable of incredible volume, easily filling a room and reinforcing its house party credentials. This is particularly true when two of them pair to play the same song simultaneously: it’s a bassy tour-de-force.

Apple began accepting HomePod orders through its online store and Apple Store app on Friday in the United States, Australia, and United Kingdom, with the first deliveries to customers estimated to arrive Friday, February 9.

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Yes, you’ll be able to mute ‘always listening’ HomePod

New icons uncovered in the latest iOS 11.2.5 developer build confirm that, yes, folks will be able to disable the microphone on Apple’s HomePod speaker should so they wish to do so. Given Apple’s privacy conscious policies, and the fact that rival speakers made by Amazon and Google allow the same to be done, it’s […]

(via Cult of Mac – Tech and culture through an Apple lens)

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