HomePod Review Roundup: Excellent Sound Quality in a Restrictive Package


Apple HomePod Space Gray

The HomePod, Apple’s first smart speaker, goes on sale at the end of this week. As such, reviews for the device are now finding their way online.

One of the elements of the HomePod that Apple has been promoting since day one is the speaker’s sound quality. It was built to sound better than the competition in this regard, and, based on the reviews, the company succeeded in this goal. The lion’s share of the thoughts on the HomePod all share the same tune: The HomePod sounds incredible, especially compared to the competition, and if you care about audio quality than you won’t be disappointed by Apple’s first go in the smart speaker market.

However, there is a drawback that many reviews have pointed out in the process of trying out the HomePod: Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, still trails the competition in big ways. And, as a result, some of the things that people might expect to use with the HomePod don’t work. You can’t make a call using Siri on the HomePod — but you can send iMessages. You can control smart home devices, but they have to be HomeKit-enabled. Some reviewers pointed out that Siri can’t tell users what their schedule for the day is.

And then there is the fact that if you want to listen to music and use your voice to control music playback, you will need to be an Apple Music subscriber. If you listen on anything else, including Spotify, you will only be able to use AirPlay to control music playback — no voice control.

Apple’s walled garden never went away, but it is certainly back in the lime light.

So, from this point, we’ll include excerpts from the reviews out there.

The Verge

“All of this means the HomePod sounds noticeably richer and fuller than almost every other speaker we’ve tested. You get a surprisingly impressive amount of bass out of it, but you can still hear all of the details in the midrange and the bass never overwhelms the music. And it’s immediately, obviously noticeable: set in a corner of my kitchen, the HomePod sounded so much better than everything else that our video director Phil Esposito went from thinking the whole thing was kind of dumb to actively pointing out that other speakers sounded bad in comparison.

Compared to the HomePod, the Sonos One sounds a little empty and the Google Home Max is a bass-heavy mess — even though Google also does real-time room tuning. The Echo and smaller Google Home aren’t even in the same league. The only comparable speaker that came close in my testing was the Sonos Play:5, which could match the detail and power of the HomePod in some rooms when tuned with Sonos’ TruePlay system. But it also costs more, is larger, and doesn’t have any smart features at all.”

“You can’t ask Siri to look up a recipe. You can’t ask Siri to make a phone call. (You have to start the phone call on your phone and transfer it to the HomePod to use it as a just-okay speakerphone.) Siri also can’t compete with the huge array of Alexa skills, or Google Assistant’s ability to answer a vast variety of questions.

You can’t ask Siri to play something on an Apple TV, as both Google and Amazon’s assistants can do with their respective TV devices. It’s also very inconvenient to use the HomePod as a TV speaker: you can set an Apple TV to AirPlay to it, but it drops that connection when you play music again, and you have go back into the Apple TV’s settings to select the HomePod again every time. There’s no way to get other TV sources like a PlayStation or your cable box to play out of the HomePod at all.”

The Wall Street Journal

“The HomePod has an iPhone processor and pairs with your iPhone—yet it can’t make a phone call? To use it as a speakerphone, you need to start the call on your iPhone then select the HomePod as an audio source. You can, however, send text messages from the HomePod with just your voice.

There are more things the HomePod can’t do, despite being hooked to your iCloud account and iPhone. It can’t tell you your next calendar appointment. It can’t alert you to new emails or texts. It’s also missing crucial third-party apps like Uber and Venmo.”

TechCrunch

“I’ve been testing the Home Max, Sonos’ Play 1 and the newest Echo alongside the HomePod in order to get some basic frames of reference but also, in the end, to figure out where it’s supposed to fit.

The HomePod was the “best” sounding. It’s nuanced and subtle with great separation and clarity across all kinds of music. The Play 1, for instance, had decent mid range but an overly bright high end with just the out of the box calibration. At maximum volume, the Play 1 became shrill and painful where the HomePod maintained balance.”

The Loop

“With Megadeth playing at 80 percent volume on HomePod (Yes, that’s loud), I stood 20-25 feet away and said “Hey Siri,” in a normal speaking voice. I expected no response. However, the music immediately lowers and Siri was ready for me to ask a question or give it an instruction.

I’ve played around with this more than anything else on HomePod, trying to get Siri to fail. It just doesn’t. I have HomePod sitting on my mantle right next to a Sonos Playbar that I use for my TV. With the TV on normal volume, I said “Hey Siri” and it immediately came on. That was amazing to me.”

The New York Times

“Apple’s speaker is certainly an impressive piece of hardware. Audiophiles will appreciate that it has a woofer with a custom amplifier and seven tweeters. The result is a speaker with a deep bass and rich treble that is loud enough to fill a large room with superb sound. HomePod makes the Amazon Echo and Google’s Home sound muffled and tinny in comparison.

But Siri on HomePod is embarrassingly inadequate, even though that is the primary way you interact with it. Siri is sorely lacking in capabilities compared with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant. Siri doesn’t even work as well on HomePod as it does on the iPhone.”

Om

“Will I buy it? Not yet. What is stopping me? My only reason to not instantly upgrade will be Spotify, which has used my past listening data to create a magical hold on me. I will also wait for the software upgrades to create speaker pairs and give multi-room capabilities.

And when that happens, this is a no-doubter. For the first time in ten years since I have owned and loved my beloved Sonos, I am inclined to spend my money on the HomePod and switch loyalties. I have found the HomePod is really a big upgrade over the Sonos speakers which sit in the kitchen, bathroom and my bedroom. At nearly $349, this isn’t a cheap connected speaker, but there isn’t anything cheap about this. It will be a great addition to any home.”

USA Today

“HomePod does stack favorably on price against the $399 Google Home Max speaker with the Google Assistant that I reviewed positively in December. Indeed, Google is reaching out to the same audience of people who have a discerning ear for music as Apple is with HomePod. Until now, Google Home Max was the sweetest sounding smart speaker I’ve listened to. And Google’s speaker incorporates a machine learning-fueled feature called Smart Sound which Google says dynamically tunes the audio to its new environment within seconds, similar to Apple’s spatial awareness feature.

The audio quality between the two is very close, though I’d give a slight edge to Apple. Google’s speaker is the louder of the two though, mainly because of its bookshelf-speaker size and 12-pound heft, dwarfing the HomePod.”

Are you planning on picking up a HomePod this week?