Review: Apple HomePod

I’ve been using the HomePod for almost a week now. The device is part technological marvel with a little bit of magic thrown in to make it a really compelling device for every home.

Before I get into specifics, I want to take a moment to acknowledge Dave Mark for his help, both in working through the content and firing a lot of questions my way.

Two topics in particular both Dave and I thought were important to cover were how friends can use your HomePod with any music service, such as Pandora, when they visit, and how Siri on HomePod knows when it should respond to your request, or when a request should be handled by Siri on your iPhone or Apple Watch.

However, the first thing I’d like to talk about is the setup, and then I’ll move on to one of the most important aspects of HomePod, the sound.

Setup is a breeze

Apple is so good at giving us a quick and easy setup for devices and HomePod is no different.

When you plug in HomePod, you just need to hold your iPhone close to it and it will open a card asking if you want to set up the device.

Tap Set Up.

It asks you what room you’re setting it up in.

It asks permission to enable personal requests.

Agree to the Terms and Conditions.

Transfer your Accounts and Settings. This is your Siri preferences, Apple Music, Wi-Fi networks, etc.

And that’s it, HomePod is set up and ready to go. It took a couple of minutes, if that, and I was up and running.

It’s a music speaker

First and foremost, HomePod is a music speaker, and it excels at that task. I’ve compared HomePod to Sonos One, Google Max, and Amazon Echo to get a feeling for how each sounds in the same environment.

To be absolutely clear, there was no comparison in sound quality. HomePod offered so much more quality that it was quite literally laughable to hear the others. The only speaker that sounded decent was the Sonos One, but even it couldn’t compete with HomePod.

It’s hard to explain the sound of HomePod, but you get a feeling that the sound is enveloping you, even when using just one speaker. There is a sense that this is how the songwriter and producer wanted the song to be heard when they recorded it.

The other speakers gave the feeling that music was just being blasted straight at me and not allowing me to become part of the experience. HomePod sounds great wherever you are in the room—there really is no particular sweet spot to hear the music, it just sounds great everywhere.

There is nothing in HomePod that is off the shelf—Apple designed it to provide what it considers to be the perfect listening experience. There are seven tweeters, each with its own amplifier and transducer, and a horn on each tweeter that allows for directional control of what you’re hearing.

One of the things I wondered a great deal about was bass. Could something the size of HomePod deliver quality bass on songs that relied on it for their sound? And how would HomePod handle the rumble and vibrations that we often get from speaker systems on songs that contain a lot of strong bass.

Apple built a woofer with a custom amplifier to handle bass in HomePod. The woofer is suspended in the HomePod so even strong bass is not going to vibrate the device. What’s more, HomePod uses the A8 chip to analyze the music that’s about to be played in a few milliseconds and then dynamically tunes the low frequencies.

I tried several songs with strong bass to see how this would work. I used “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, and “Dawn Patrol” by Megadeth—both bass heavy songs.

In both songs, you could feel the air being pushed by HomePod’s woofer, but it never distorted or vibrated, even at full volume.

I mentioned earlier that there really was no specific sweet spot in the room when listening to HomePod. That’s because HomePod analyzes the acoustics in a room and adjusts the speakers based on where it’s located. It knows where it is in every room and gives you the best sound it can based on that location.

The best part of this feature is that it does it automatically and it does it so quickly, you’ll never know it even happened. With its built-in accelerometer, HomePod knows if it’s been moved, even an inch, and will re-poll the room to make sure you’re still getting the best sound. You can move it to a different room, or just slide it over a few inches on the mantle and HomePod will automatically adjust itself.

One of the other songs that I tested HomePod with was “Demons” by Jasmine Thompson. This is just her and a piano, so there isn’t a lot of bass, but there is a lot of treble, mids, and detail in her voice that HomePod could screw up.

It didn’t.

You could hear her breathe between lyrics. Everything was very clear and warm, which is critical for such a soft, meaningful song.

The good news is that all of this hardware goodness will work even if you use another music service, but I’ll talk about that in a little bit.

Apple Music, For You, and HomePod

One thing about having multiple people access the HomePod that bothered me was that it would affect my “For You” section in Apple Music.

When you love songs, play songs and add songs to your library, Apple Music will suggest similar music, assuming that is what you want. If someone else, or a group of people come over and start playing genres you don’t like, it would screw everything up.

Well, it turns out I didn’t have to worry about that after all. There is a setting in the Home app that allows you to prevent the music played on HomePod from affecting the “For You” section of Apple Music.

I was very happy to see that.

Siri

One of the most amazing things about HomePod is the one thing I wasn’t sure would work so well—Siri.

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.

I use Siri for more than just playing music. Since I recently tried to improve my cooking skills, I’m forever adding things to my Groceries Reminder list. I just say “Hey Siri, add eggs to my Groceries List,” and it’s done. I can even say, “Hey Siri, what’s on my Groceries List” and Siri will read all the items back to me.

One of the fun things about Siri on the HomePod is how she responds. I have HomePod on my mantle, so I can’t see the light on top of the device that shines when Siri has been activated. That could obviously be a problem and a bit confusing, but Apple thought of that too.

When you say “Hey Siri,” and wait for a second, saying nothing, Siri will say “Uh huh” or “Um hmm,” to alert you that she’s listening. It’s a very subtle, but effective cue that lets you know Siri is ready for you.

One thing to note is that Siri’s volume is the same as the volume of the music that is playing, so if the music is loud, Siri will be too. If you’re not sure if you had the music loud the last time you used HomePod, you can adjust the volume before using it by saying, “Hey Siri, adjust the volume to 30 percent.”

I love that I can ask Siri questions about the music that’s playing, like “What song is this?” and “Tell me more about this artist.”

There are so many things you can do with Siri to enhance the listening experience. It’s like having the old album liner notes read to you.

It’s important to note that all communication between Siri and Apple is encrypted, so they have no way of knowing what you’re asking HomePod or what the response is. Privacy is important to Apple on all of its products.

Which Siri will answer?

If you have a number of different devices in the same room, you may wonder which Siri will respond to your request. For example, you set up a new HomePod, you’re wearing an Apple Watch, an iPad is on the table, and your iPhone is in your pocket.

Then you say, “Hey Siri.”

This is one of the really smart things that happens that we expect Apple to be able to figure out, and they did.

Siri polls all of your devices over Bluetooth to figure out which device should handle your request. Everything being equal, HomePod will respond. However, the system is smart enough to know if HomePod or another device should answer.

For instance, if you raise your wrist and say, “Hey Siri,” the combined devices will assume you want Siri on your Apple Watch. If you’re using your iPhone, then you probably want that device to respond. If you’re just sitting, not touching any device, then HomePod will take over.

That is very smart.

Touch interface

If for some reason, you didn’t want to use Siri, HomePod has a touch interface built-in on the top of the device.

You can tap to play or pause, double-tap to go to the next song, triple-tap to go to the previous song, touch and hold to use Siri, and adjust the volume.

I’ve only used these controls once—Siri can handle everything you do with the touch interface, so I didn’t see the point.

It’s not just for music

I mentioned earlier that I use Siri and HomePod to add items to my Groceries List. Because everything syncs to all of my devices, anything I add to that list will go to my iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

What’s more, anyone in the house can add items to that list and it will sync with my devices, so my shopping list will be complete the next time I go to the store.

HomePod can also read your Messages when they come in, and you can send Messages just using Siri on HomePod. I did this a few times, just to test it out, but most of the time I still use my iPhone to send Messages. Maybe it’s just habit on my part, but it’s nice to have the option.

If you accept a phone call on your iPhone, you can easily hand it off to HomePod using the audio button on the call screen. It’s not surprising that with its six microphone array, HomePod makes for a great device to use when chatting with someone.

You can ask HomePod other questions too. It can get the latest news, traffic, sports, weather, measurements, and currency conversions, among many other things.

If you have a smart home setup, HomePod can control those devices too, and it does it intelligently. For instance, if you’re in the kitchen and you want to raise the blinds, you can just say, “Hey Siri, raise the blinds,” and it will do it. You don’t have to tell HomePod where you are, it already knows what room you are in, so the blinds throughout the house won’t go up.

While HomePod excels at playing music, and for me, that’s its main job, it’s not just a one trick pony.

Sharing HomePod with friends

I always have people come over and want me to listen to a new song they heard, or sometimes, that they wrote. HomePod makes it easy for those people to share the device.

There are a couple of ways that the owner of the HomePod can control who is able to use the device. In the Home app, just go to Settings and you will see a section called “People.” You can manually add people that will be allowed to control your accessories, so you can really restrict access to the HomePod.

If you scroll down in settings a little more, you will see “Allow Speaker Access.” You can set this to “Everyone,” which is open, “Anyone On the Same Network,” which is your Wi-Fi network, and “Only People Sharing This Home,” which are the people you invited to control you devices.

There is also an option to require a password, so even if you did grant someone access, you can just change the password and they will not be able to access your HomePod.

If your friends are on your Wi-Fi network, they can start to play a song from any other service, and then tap the audio button in the app. One of the items you can choose to AirPlay the music to is HomePod. It’s very quick and simple to use.

I played a song from one of my Playlists on the iPhone to HomePod and I was still able to use Siri to skip songs, but once I asked Siri to play Classic Rock, it reverted back to Apple Music on HomePod, which is the way it should work.

The great thing is that even when people share music from other services, HomePod will still perform all of the advanced audio monitoring that it does for you. The hardware is still going to perform, regardless of the audio source.

The inevitable comparisons

I don’t own an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or any other home assistant device. The main reason is that I could never justify the expense when I couldn’t figure out how it was going to help me in my daily life.

I have used an Echo when at a friend’s house, and what intrigued me is that they used it a lot to play music.

As I’ve said already, there is just no comparison when you compare these devices to HomePod’s sound quality—they suck. For me, having Siri control my music with access to Apple Music and the superior sound would have been enough. Adding in the ability to access other synced tasks in the Apple ecosystem just added that little bit extra.

There may be things that the other devices can do, like shopping from Amazon or adding items to Google Express shopping, but none of those are that important to me. I have access to my Groceries shopping list, I can add notes, take phone calls, send Messages, control my home, and ask Siri tons of questions. On top of all that, I have one of the best sounding speakers on the market.

It’s hardly even a fair fight.

Two strange things

Through my week of using HomePod, I only ran into two things that really made me scratch my head and wonder why.

The first is that Siri on HomePod doesn’t have access to my calendar, so I can’t set an appointment. This seemed weird to me because it does have access to my Reminders, Notes, and Messages—why not Calendar?

When I asked Siri to set an appointment, she simply responded and said she didn’t have access to my calendars.

The other oddity was when I was playing music on my HomePod and how my Apple Watch dealt with that.

When you play music on your iPhone, the song and other information shows up on the screen of your Apple Watch. That’s convenient because you can control what’s playing, volume and other settings directly from your watch.

However, when a song is playing on my HomePod, it showed up on my Apple Watch as coming from my iPhone, even though there is nothing playing on my iPhone. When I try to skip the song, the screen on my watch reverts back to the last song that was playing on my iPhone.

It doesn’t do anything bad or affect the way HomePod works, it’s just a weird little thing that happens and I have no explanation why.

Bottom Line

I’ve been very impressed with HomePod in the week I’ve been using it. The sound when playing music is incredible, and certainly many times better than any smart speaker on the market today.

With its access to Reminders, Notes and Messages, HomePod was able to add some functionality, but for me its number one job is as an amazing music speaker.

HomePod is smart, it looks great, and it sounds incredible. I don’t know what else you would want in a home smart speaker.



  • Jim

    Great review. One question: With its directional speakers, can a single HomePod produce a stereo field?

    • per apple it perform channel separation including left & right:

      Direct sound is beamed to the middle of the room, while ambient sound is diffused into left and right channels and bounced off the wall.

      https://www.apple.com/homepod/

      • Alex Hon

        Humans only have 2 ears so I suppose it makes sense to bounce sounds “just” left and right. But does the HomePod know where the TV is positioned, relative to the room and the HomePod(s) in the same room?

        • it’s not a sound bar. it’s primary use case when used solo is for music.

  • Boback

    Thanks Jim.

  • GS

    The NYT’s Brian X. Chen pretty much trashes it, making it all about the assistant part, with just this weak mention of the audio, “HomePod got a higher score in audio with its superior sound quality factored in.” Clever way to diminish the importance of the actual quality of audio. Ranks it last, by his standards of course.

    • Chen is a pro-troll and has been trying to trash apple since his days at WIRED, where he wrote an article claiming Japan hated the iPhone. The comments blew this stupid piece out of the water so badly WIRED’s editors had to correct the story and make a permanent note about it. those readers comments have been since removed, unfortunately tho.

      other pro-trolls: Nillay Patel of Verge, and Joanna Stern of WSJ. (its a shame to see Daring Fireball’s John Gruber fall over for Stern on his podcast, evidently desperate for female participation.)

      • jonathanbaldwin

        I love that Wired article. I remember it fondly and use it as an example to students of the danger of being too opinionated in writing.

    • CCAvatar

      I often disagree with Brian, but you’re out of line here. He gives plenty of praise to the sound quality. His point was Siri sucks: “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.” That’s not good enough for you? “But Siri on HomePod is embarrassingly inadequate, even though that is the primary way you interact with it.” That’s a damn good point. I gave up using Siri on my iPhone because it is so bad.

      • But Chen also said, “Apple has long emphasized that the smart speaker is first and foremost a music player.” Yet he continues to “review” it as a smart assistant.

        And, “The $349 HomePod…costs roughly three times its competitors.” You mean like the Google Home Max which costs $399? He sucks at math.

      • rick gregory

        He says this:

        “On my second day with Apple’s new HomePod, I asked the artificially intelligent speaker to play some music. Siri, the virtual assistant that powers HomePod, enthusiastically replied, “O.K., let’s get going with some Dashboard Confessional.”

        I cringed. “Hey, Siri,” I said. “Nobody likes Dashboard Confessional.”

        Siri replied, “Sorry, I couldn’t find the song ‘Nobody Likes Dashboard Confessional.’” Then to my horror, HomePod continued playing a track by the emo rock band.”This shows one of two things. Either he still has no idea how Siri works or he’s an idiot. “Hey Siri” is the trigger phrase you use to tell Siri to pay attention. The command is what you say next… but ‘Nobody Likes Dashboard Confessional’ isn’t a command so of course Siri didn’t understand. Since he was asking for music on a device meant to play it, she tried to interpret it that way but the fault lies with Chen, there.

        Then he says “But after a week — during which I asked HomePod to play my favorite tunes from artists like Beck, Talking Heads and David Bowie — the smart speaker still did not learn.” Now, the HomePod Siri COULD suck… but I just asked Siri on my phone to play some Bowie and… she did. Not the song I might have picked, but I just said “Play some David Bowie” so… eh.

        • “Either he still has no idea how Siri works or he’s an idiot.” Or, as is typical for Chen, he’s not a very good writer and/or has an axe to grind about Apple.

          I thought the same as you did with his, “Hey, Siri, nobody likes Dashboard Confessional.” I “hope” he was trying to be clever but he’s not that good of a writer and ends up making himself look stupid instead.

  • timothyalvin

    It’s too bad they didn’t nail down the Watch support. I’ve had the Watch since release and I still seem to misunderstand whether music I try to play (especially via Siri) will start on the Watch or the iPhone. I think they tried to simplify this by taking away the ability to start iPhone music directly from the Music app on the Watch, but you can still control it via the “Now Playing” app… if you can find it, since it doesn’t appear on the honeycomb jumble and is usually absent from the Dock. With HomePod apparently making this more of a mess I hope they will revisit this area more successfully soon.

    • you can always quickly access the Now Playing app on your Watch by tapping the side button once — if you’ve seen it recently it will be there at or near the top of the cards.

  • David J Holmgren

    Thanks for a positive review of what it CAN do. So many Apple hates have written reviews tearing it apart. Phil was right, this is first and foremost a QUALITY music player that lives in the Apple eco-system. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t appreciate how good music can sound through a quality device then stick with your battery powered bluetooth speaker because the quality of the sound doesn’t matter to you. If on the other hand you, like the guy in the old Maxell ad sitting in his chair being blown away by the music, you are a music lover. Then join us lucky early adopters who would rather listen to music than watch the boob tube,

    This product reminds me of the first iPad that I purchased. It wasn’t quite right at first but after continued development it became the tablet de-facto standard. It will keep getting better and better making it worth more than the $349.

    • Jeanice

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  • saretzky

    Nice write up… hoping it sound like a full room version of the AirPod sound. Did you try to play audio from your AppleTV to it? I saw that was supported but wanted to know how the experience was.

    I’ve used AirPods with my AppleTV and it works nicely but I have to keep selecting it as an output in bluetooth settings. Also, can you use Siri on HomePod to control AppleTV?

    • you dont need to keep going into the ATV settings to select your AirPods. When you wish to use them:

      • go to the Home Screen
      • press-hand-hold the Play/Pause button
      • from the list of audio endpoints, select your AirPods

      …done. You can even pair multiple APs to the ATV and select the appropriate pair for the session.

  • Mo

    Good information here. Thanks, Mr. D.

  • John David

    I’ve had a Sonos for a couple of years and like it, but this is the speaker that most interests me. Audio quality is very important to me and even the asshat Apple hater reviews have all stated just how good the sound quality is.

    Thanks for the thorough write up as usual Jim & thanks to Dave as well!

  • Meaux

    It’s pretty amazing how consistent the underlying reviews are. The only difference is how much each reviewer weighs “smart” vs. “speaker”. Additional weighting to how much one wants to use services outside of Apple services.

  • I came here without knowing it for the Megadeath 80% “Hey Siri” paragraph. Thanks for sharing that. 🙂

  • pvr4me

    AIUI, HomePod tears apart the audio stream it receives and routes bits and pieces of it to each of the seven tweeters (and the woofer). And adjusts volume, EQ and delay on each of those streams because it is actively listening to the audio characteristics of the room via the microphone array. At least, I presume that is how “the whole room is the sweet spot” has to work.

    I think it is astonishing that this audio processing magic works as well as it apparently does. We each have our own favourite songs that we’re intimately familiar with. None of the reviewers so far have complained that HomePod butchered their favourite. That’s exceptional to be able to do near-real-time audio processing without pissing anybody off!

    Damn, I really want to hear for myself.

  • franksspam

    Did you try pairing the HomePod with your Apple TV to see how the sound was with movies?

  • Dan Kelly

    Quick question – every photo I’ve seen of Homepod has it on a clear table / dresser / surface with wall behind it.

    I assume it needs the wall to “bounce” the sound into the room, but how does it cope with a “real world” clutter surrounding it?

  • jirjen?!

    Only thing missing to me: a radio directory like TuneIn, without another device connected…

  • ncenzano

    Thanks for the great and detailed review! Had you tested with Siri in other languages? I believe that understand only one language at a time no? (can you connect it with two different iphones so can have two siris on different languages and depending the language choose witch user use? -maybe in the future hahaha)

    • You assume the reviewer speaks more than one language. I can assure you, he barely speaks passable English, let alone any other language. 🙂

      • ncenzano

        Hahaha Thanks Shawn, anyway you can always ask a friend or someone else 😉 I will try it myself

  • jonathanbaldwin

    My first impressions aren’t so positive, in terms of sound quality. I find it rather boxyand bass heavy, and it’s clear the sound is coming from a single source – I’m not getting the room filling others report. It really doesn’t handle classical music well, especially orchestral and choral. Maybe I’m spoilt because I have a decent hi-fi system and am comparing it to that rather than to what I suspect most people have. Renee Ritchie for example claims not to be an audiophile so as good as his review was, I didn’t put much faith in his claims other than its relative superiority to other smart speakers. Your opinion I take more seriously, and I’m keen to hear what Andy Ihnatko says as he listens to a lot of opera. I’m going to keep listening and hope it’s a case of acclimatising to it, and putting it in a different room from the hi-fi. But I’ve put a minder in my calendar for when I need to initiate a return – a first for me and Apple.