Apple’s HomePod ($349) sounds nice, however it’s shortsighted. It is a high-quality good speaker in your Apple Music account and iTunes library, with some Siri voice assistant options that assist particularly with good residence utilization. The is superb, however proper now, Apple does not have the broad imaginative and prescient for voice-assisted dwelling that the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant platforms present.
voice platforms as the subsequent world of computing, the HomePod appears very lonely. Alexa and Google Assistant are techniques, they usually turn out to be extra highly effective as they unfold by way of your own home. Your lounge Dwelling Max is complemented by your kitchen Dwelling Mini, which you employ to broadcast, “It is dinnertime,” to the youngsters’ rooms. Your bedside Echo Spot wakes you as much as music, and then you definately inform the Echo Dot within the lobby to show off the lights whenever you head out in your commute. The HomePod is priced, sized, and expert to be a lounge music speaker for different Apple units.
In that context, the HomePod comes off as extra just like the Apple Watch or the Apple TV: not a brand new, core product class, however an adjunct to boost your iPhone possession and be sure you hold paying that Apple Music subscription price. Since different voice-assisted audio system cannot play Apple Music, the HomePod is the plain selection if you happen to’re an iPhone proprietor and Apple Music subscriber and do not need to pay an additional tithe to Amazon, Google, or Spotify.
From an audio standpoint, the HomePod delivers a wealthy, balanced sound signature that highlights the mids and highs. At prime volumes, it does not distort, and its bass depth is spectacular for its dimension. It might fill a room, however it does not get fairly as loud or ship fairly as a lot deep bass response as the marginally pricier Google Dwelling Max.
And we won’t suggest it as a broad answer—at the very least not but—for people who find themselves contemplating diving extra deeply into residence voice assistants. The HomePod performs music. It sounds nice. It controls your good lights. However not like Alexa and Google Assistant, it does not but have the ambitions for extra.
Design and Setup
The HomePod is smaller than you in all probability suppose, and lined in a type of mesh cloth, aside from its shiny, touch-sensitive prime panel. It is 6.eight inches excessive, 5.6 inches huge, and weighs 5.5 kilos. Sitting alongside the Google Dwelling Max, the HomePod appears moderately small, whereas it is barely bigger and wider than the Sonos One. No matter dimension, all three audio system appear like they arrive from the identical Black Mirror prop store, which is definitely an across-the-board praise.
The one seen controls are quantity buttons on prime, though tapping the panel in numerous patterns additionally works to manage play/pause, quick ahead, and rewind. An animated LED waveform seems on prime whenever you converse to Siri—this signifies that Siri is listening to you. There isn’t any mic mute button, however you may say, “Hey Siri, cease listening,” to show off the mic, and faucet on the highest whenever you need to flip it again on.
Apple’s dedication to portless magnificence goes too far, in our view. There isn’t any aux enter for wired playback. Actually, there’s not a single connection on the speaker. Even the facility cable is hardwired, so if it goes dangerous down the highway, you may need to ship the entire speaker in for servicing moderately than simply get a brand new cable.
Internally, the speaker makes use of an array of seven tweeters firing in all instructions, each individually amplified, and an upward-firing woofer with its personal amplification as effectively. The product’s specs record all type of unique options (“inner low-frequency calibration microphone for computerized bass correction,” “clear studio-level dynamic processing”) that mainly add as much as the identical factor: The HomePod makes use of digital sign processing (DSP) to change its audio output.
Principally, which means it is going to restrict dynamics and bass response when the speaker is blasting at excessive volumes. This can be a means to forestall distortion, primarily, and it is the established norm with wi-fi audio system on this worth vary and decrease.
Like some soundbars and residential theater techniques we have examined, the HomePod additionally measures the room it is in and adjusts the audio in accordance with its acoustics—that is what that calibration mic is for. All of this, in addition to the streaming and buffering of audio, is powered internally by the Apple A8 chip. The mics are delicate, and had no downside listening to, “Hey Siri,” over loud music.
To arrange the HomePod, you want an iPhone 5s or later, an iPad Air or later, an iPad mini 2 or later, or an iPod contact. You additionally have to be in a spot with a Wi-Fi community; it will not run with out Wi-Fi. You’ll be able to’t set it up with out an iOS machine, even in case you have a Mac.
Setup is useless easy—simpler than Amazon or Google, and much simpler than Sonos. Simply wave your cellphone close to the speaker, and it will borrow your cellphone’s settings and get going.
Taking part in at Dwelling
The HomePod is designed for use with an Apple Music subscription. With no subscription, it might probably play Beats 1 radio, music to procure from Apple, podcasts in Apple’s library, or something through AirPlay. When you have an iTunes Match subscription however not Apple Music, it is going to additionally play the uploaded or matched music in your iCloud Music Library. It doesn’t have Bluetooth or a three.5mm enter. (The speaker itself has Bluetooth, however solely makes use of it for pairing.)
Technically, it helps HE-AAC, AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF, WAV, and FLAC music, however that is all processed by way of AirPlay or Apple’s cloud.
When you’re an audiophile, do not forget that if you happen to play your synced music by way of the cloud out of your iCloud library, it is going to play at 256kbps AAC. AirPlay is 44.1kHz lossless streaming, although, and you’ll AirPlay any file that iTunes can play. We even AirPlayed from a Home windows PC and not using a downside. If you wish to play from an Android machine, although, you may battle; there are third-party AirPlay apps for Android, however they’re unreliable and fall out and in of compatibility.
The speaker will not work in tandem with others, or as a part of a multi-room set—but. Apple says that later this 12 months, it is going to supply the choice to pair two HomePods for stereo sound (like Google permits with its Google Dwelling Max), and to make use of AirPlay 2 to create multi-room sound phases.
Not like with different voice assistant audio system, the HomePod will solely allow you to request songs from Apple by voice—not from Spotify or different radio providers. However you may AirPlay different streaming providers out of your iPhone or laptop. We tried Google Play Music, Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube Music, all on an iPhone X. All of them allow you to say issues like, “Subsequent monitor,” to skip a monitor, pause and resume songs, and ask the title of a track. However they’d a number of bugs. YouTube Music would generally begin in the course of a track after I mentioned, “Subsequent monitor,” and Pandora had a noticeable delay in quick forwarding.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content material, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the HomePod delivers a strong bass thump that’s spectacular contemplating its dimension. At most quantity, the bass does not distort, and the speaker will get fairly loud, although it is not as loud or highly effective because the Google Dwelling Max. The Dwelling Max is ready to present extra palpable subwoofer-like depth, whereas the HomePod sounds extra mids- and highs-focused whereas nonetheless delivering some wealthy, full bass response. At reasonable volumes, the bass response right here is commonly stronger, because it’s much less affected by DSP.
Bass response is one space the place the calibration mic in all probability helps. Relying on the place you place a speaker—how shut it’s to a wall, the vibrations of the floor it is positioned on—can actually influence bass ranges, generally in a constructive manner, however most frequently not. The HomePod goals to control this variable and offer you constant bass depth, in order that what you hear if you happen to place it within the nook should not range wildly from what you hear whenever you place it in the course of the room. Theoretically, that is nice, however having no management over it in any respect is certain to drive some audio lovers insane.
Invoice Callahan’s “Drover,” a monitor with far much less deep bass within the combine, offers us a greater sense of the HomePod’s general sound signature. The drums on this monitor can sound overly thunderous on techniques that closely increase the bass, however by way of the HomePod, the drums sound extra modest—by no means skinny, however not as heavy as some bass-centric audio system make them. The extra apparent bass depth is as a substitute present in Callahan’s baritone vocals, which sound particularly full and wealthy right here. This might make the HomePod’s sound signature muddy, had been it not for a wonderful high-mid and excessive frequency presence that provides some treble edge to the vocals and lends some extra brightness to the guitar strums and further snap to the upper register percussive hits. This can be a balanced, wealthy sound signature—Apple’s DSP is probably not clear, however it honors the essential intentions of the combo and does not overly exaggerate low frequencies or add an excessive amount of sibilance or brightness.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church within the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives the best quantity of high-mid presence, permitting the loop’s assault to retain its punchiness and push by way of the layers of the combo. The loop additionally will get some nice decrease frequency depth added in, nothing too intense, and largely within the lows and low-mids. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with strong presence, however particularly at increased volumes, we get much less deep sub-bass from them and listen to extra of their raspy prime notes. In different phrases, the DSP kicks in and limits the bass response within the sub-bass frequencies. At reasonable volumes, the DSP does much less of this, and so the bass can truly sound extra full and deep than whenever you crank issues up. The vocals on this monitor sound crisp and clear, and by no means veer into overly sibilant territory. Usually talking, vocals sound nice by way of the HomePod throughout the board—the DSP does a effective job of prioritizing high-mids and highs, and this ends in a crisp supply.
See How We Check Audio system
For orchestral tracks, just like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel Based on the Different Mary, the lower-register instrumentation will get a modest quantity of boosting, however the stage nonetheless belongs to the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals. That is one style that appears to sound much less adjusted by the DSP than others—there’s little in the best way of sub-bass right here, however when it seems within the combine, its presence is modest. The decrease register strings on different classical tracks have a beautiful wealthy high quality to them, and issues typically sound fairly pure on orchestral tracks throughout the board.
Taking part in all of those tracks through Apple Music versus streaming them, say, from a cellphone with AirPlay, the distinction in audio efficiency is nearly too refined to say. When you’re enjoying high-res lossless information over AirPlay (from an iOS machine or Apple laptop), you are technically listening to the next high quality stream than when listening to Apple Music, however keep in mind: All of it goes by way of the DSP, and the DSP cannot be disabled. Thus, the idea of “lossless” so far as the HomePod is worried have to be married to the idea of a considerably sculpted sound signature—even when your supply file is pure as could be, will probably be topic to Apple’s sonic sculpting. This can be a adverse for purists, however loads of listeners will discover the general audio efficiency and DSP to be fairly favorable.
Check out our record of HomePod alternate options to see the way it stacks up towards different high-end choices within the good speaker market.
The HomePod makes use of Apple’s Siri as its voice assistant, though its model of Siri is not as highly effective because the one in your cellphone. It is very, very targeted on what Apple thinks you need to be doing with it, which is enjoying music and controlling your good residence.
Based on a report from IFTTT, most individuals use good audio system to stream music, management lighting, set timers, and get the climate. The HomePod does effective with three out of these 4 duties; it is simply awful with timers.
However that is smart, at the very least, contemplating the HomePod’s dimension and price. It is designed to be a music speaker on the focus of your lounge. It isn’t purported to be a bedside alarm clock, not like the Amazon Echo Spot, or a kitchen timer, or a multi-room intercom system like Echo Dots and Google Dwelling Minis are.
I got here up with 25 queries to ask the HomePod, Amazon Echo, and Google Dwelling, to take a look at the distinction between the techniques.
All three audio system had no downside enjoying songs by title. When requested to, “Play 80s new wave music,” or, “Play old-school hip-hop,” all of the audio system got here up with customized playlists that labored with the style. Honest sufficient.
Issues obtained somewhat odder after I requested to “Play one thing upbeat,” “Play one thing sleepy,” or, “Play some quiet music.” For upbeat, Alexa picked a poppy playlist, Google picked jazz, and Siri picked funk. For quiet, Alexa gave me Ed Sheeran, Google selected a Janet Jackson ballad, and Siri went with Steely Dan. And for sleepy, Alexa delivered nature sounds, Google had some stress-free electronica, and Siri gave up and performed Wiz Khalifa.
Lastly, I requested the audio system to, “Play one thing I might like.” Alexa and Google gave up there, looking for songs by that title. Siri obtained the intent appropriate, however launched into an emo monitor by Rise In opposition to, which I don’t like.
Dwelling and Kitchen
HomeKit is among the HomePod’s nice strengths. Something you will have arrange by way of your iPhone, now you can management by voice, together with scenes and zones. We simply turned lights on and off utilizing the HomePod, even with our iPhone turned off.
For timers, the HomePod falls quick as a result of it might probably solely set one by one. You may get round that by setting alarms for particular occasions of day (as an example, ask Siri what time it’s, after which set an alarm for 3 minutes later), however Amazon and Google each help a number of named timers, which is far smoother.
Siri falls flat on recipes, too. Alexa and Google each learn out a spread of recipes and elements, step-by-step. Siri simply says, “I can not get the reply to this on HomePod.” Do not use it in your kitchen.
Information and Normal Information
Here is the place Siri actually begins to fail.
The HomePod will get its climate information from climate.com. All three voice techniques responded to, “What is going to the climate be tomorrow?,” “Will it rain tomorrow?,” “Do I would like a coat?,” and “Do I would like an umbrella?”
When it comes to information, the HomePod is extra restricted than the competitors. It’s going to play you a information temporary from CNN, Fox Information, NPR, or the Washington Submit. Each Alexa and Google have lots of or hundreds of stories sources.
When you ask for calendar occasions, Siri says, “I can not entry your calendar right here.” Alexa has numerous calendar expertise; Google will inform you your Google calendar occasions, so long as you do not have a G Suite account.
As for common information queries, which I am lukewarm on testing anyway as a result of they really feel gimmicky, Google did significantly better than both Alexa or Siri, spelling the world querulous appropriately (the opposite two misunderstood what I used to be saying), and telling me what number of albums Belle and Sebastian made.
Siri additionally falls manner quick in terms of third-party, branded expertise. Alexa and Google can order you an Uber, as an example, or purchase you film tickets, or plug into third-party notes and to-do providers. Siri, at the very least for now, cannot.
It actually is not clear what number of third-party providers plug into Siri; Apple would not give us a listing. But it surely’s actually many fewer than the two,000 expertise for Google Assistant, or the 24,000 for Alexa.
The Echo and Google Dwelling units could make outbound cellphone calls; the HomePod can not, though it may be used as a speakerphone for an present name in your iPhone. All three units can ship texts.
The HomePod will solely join to at least one Apple account, and it does not confirm voices. (Google Dwelling can robotically reply to as much as six totally different folks utilizing their accounts; Alexa could be requested to modify accounts.) Meaning if you happen to hook up SMS messaging, anybody will have the ability to ship texts out of your cellphone quantity by way of your HomePod in case your cellphone is in vary.
Additionally, until you inform the HomePod to, “Flip off use listening historical past,” everybody’s music picks might be taken under consideration whenever you ask for customized playlists, which might add as much as some odd outcomes if folks in your own home have totally different musical tastes. Alexa and Google Dwelling are significantly better at balancing the wants of households.
The HomePod is a sonic success. Purists could thumb their noses on the DSP and general lack of ability to disable the room-adapting expertise in favor of an unadulterated sign, however we are able to at the very least verify that, whereas the audio efficiency could also be steeped in digital processing, it virtually at all times sounds wealthy, full, and clear. The speaker is simple to arrange and easy to make use of, so long as you are enjoying Apple Music.
However whereas the HomePod makes an awesome lounge speaker in your Apple Music subscription, it is neither the core of a voice-activated residence nor the perfect good speaker obtainable. Our Editor’s Selection for high-end good audio system, Google’s Dwelling Max, is bigger and extra highly effective, with higher quantity, higher bass depth, a greater voice assistant, and extra flexibility with music providers and inputs. The Dwelling Max can even turn out to be a part of a family system with numerous smaller Google Assistant audio system. Apple does not have such a spread obtainable. For now, the HomePod stands alone.
We’re additionally irritated at how the HomePod does not play effectively with others. The dearth of Bluetooth enter, aux enter, or help for extra music providers feels to us extra like a advertising and marketing transfer to lock you out of non-Apple music sources than a consumer-friendly, quality-oriented selection.
The HomePod feels unfinished, however we would not rely Apple out. The primary iPhone felt unfinished, too, with its poor-quality cellphone calls, lack of 3G, and lack of apps. The primary iPod did not help Home windows. The HomePod is an admirable first strive. It is coming into a realm the place the competitors has been engaged on its merchandise for years. Let’s have a look at how briskly Apple can catch up.
This text initially appeared on PCMag.com.