Apple HomePod review: a Siri speaker with a bass problem
Apple’s big, high-quality smart speaker is back for a surprise second generation. But five years since the first model was launched, a lot has changed in the world of voice-controlled home hi-fi. Can the HomePod still cut it?
The speaker costs £299 ($299/A$479), £20 less than the 2018 launch price of its predecessor but more than three times the price of Apple’s other Siri speaker, the £99 HomePod mini.
The new HomePod has the same design as the old version: a marshmallow-like shape with a light-up disc at the top, fabric-covered body and a small silicone foot. The detachable power cable slots in the back but otherwise there are no ports or recesses.
As with other HomePods, this speaker is for Apple users only. Those without an iPhone running iOS 16 or an iPad running iPadOS 16 cannot set it up, while Android and PC users cannot connect to it at all.
It is designed for Apple Music, though it can play tracks bought from Apple or streamed from the iTunes Match cloud storage service, podcasts, TuneIn and some radio stations from Global in the UK. In the US and Australia it can play iHeartRadio and Audacy, too.
Other services, including Spotify and BBC Sounds, can be manually sent to the speaker via AirPlay 2 over wifi using their respective apps on your iPhone or iPad, but not played natively through voice requests of Siri such as Apple Music. The HomePod does not support streaming to it via Bluetooth nor does it have any analogue line-in.
Apple’s voice assistant works well for song requests from Apple Music and controlling playback. Its ability to hear you with “Hey Siri” at a normal speaking volume even when it is blasting music out at 100% volume is thoroughly impressive.
Siri has more limited access to general information than competitors, but performs most tasks, such as timers, calculations and conversions easily. It has access to your personal information, such as calendar, when it recognises your particular voice and your iPhone is on the same wifi network as the speaker.
Dimensions: 142 x 168mm
Connectivity: wifi 4 (n), Bluetooth 5.0, Thread, UWB, 4x mics
Controls: top capacitive touch buttons
Speakers: 4in woofer, five-tweeter array
Music, movies and spatial audio
How good the HomePod sounds is more dependent on your room shape and your listening position than any other speaker I have tested. When placed in a large open-plan area, such as on a kitchen island, it sounds great.
It has plenty of well-controlled bass, detailed highs and good mids, with excellent separation of tones. It sounds great with normal and spatial audio tracks, though it can sound a little clean and clinical.
Two HomePods can be paired up for even wider sound. Spatial audio tracks can sound fantastic if the recording has been well produced, though most songs sound better in stereo.
But when used in a four-metre square living room, with the speaker on one side of the room next to the TV and the sofa directly facing it against the wall, everything changes. Sat on the sofa, all you hear is loud, booming and uncontrolled bass that totally dominates the sound. Stand up or sit on the floor in the middle of the room and the sound returns to normal.
The problem is accentuated when used as a pair for stereo and spatial audio from Apple Music, tracks from Spotify and movie soundtracks played from an Apple TV. Moving the speakers left, right or further away from the wall makes no appreciable difference. I found the same problem in two other rooms of different dimensions but similar layouts.
The bass reduction toggle in the Home app does turn it down to less overwhelming levels but also reduces some of the fullness of the rest of the audio in the process. The proper solution is to move the sofa further into the room, but that just isn’t practical.
The HomePod contains multiple recycled materials including gold, plastic, rare earth elements and tin. It is generally repairable with an out-of-warranty service costing £239 and has an easier to access design than its predecessor. It draws less than 0.5W when idle, up to 9W at 50% volume and a maximum of 36W at 100% volume.
Apple offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.
The second-generation Apple HomePod costs £299 ($299/A$479).
For comparison, the HomePod mini costs £99, the Amazon Echo costs £110, the Google Nest Audio costs £90, the Sonos One costs £199 and the Era 100 costs £249.
The second-generation HomePod is one of the most inconsistent speakers I’ve tested. In large open-plan spaces it sounds great. But sit in the wrong place, such as directly facing a sofa that is positioned against a wall in a medium-sized living room, and the HomePod can sound entirely dominated by baggy, booming bass, which is extremely disappointing for a £299 speaker.
You cannot natively play music to it from Android or Windows, so only all-Apple households should even consider it and it needs an Apple Music subscription to get the best out of it. But if that is you, and you have the right room geometry, the HomePod is packed with neat features and works great with an Apple TV. Siri can hear you extremely well and perform most of the basic duties anyone is likely to actually want from a smart speaker.
For most people, though, there are better options from rivals such as Sonos, Bose and Amazon at similar or cheaper prices.
Pros: spatial and lossless audio, recycled material, improved Siri, AirPlay 2, can be made a stereo pair and used for Apple TV sound, good sound in big open spaces.
Cons: sound quality highly dependent on room geometry, no native Spotify or BBC radio, needs Apple Music subscription to get best out of it, no Bluetooth streaming or line-in, expensive, not cross-platform.