In advance of HomePod pre-orders, which began earlier today, Apple invited a handful of writers to hear the HomePod in action. Apple’s smart speaker was met with universal praise for its sound quality but also, some skepticism.
By all accounts, the HomePod produces exceptional sound for a 7-inch-tall device.
I came away from that test both impressed and shocked by the engineering Apple has put into making this tiny 7-inch speaker a musical powerhouse in your living room.
Audio quality is beautifully warm, yet the bass is not overpowering, even though it was still quite rich. If you close your eyes, it’s easy to feel like you’re at a live performance. We could pick out the vocals and instruments clearly. The speaker allows each instrument to shine through; you can hear precise guitar plucks. No, it doesn’t have that crisp sound you’d hear from very expensive high-end speakers, but then again, the HomePod doesn’t cost thousands yet still pushes brilliant sound quality out of a single, small enclosure.
The sound stage is deep for such a small device and the separation (the ability to hear individual instruments, details and vocals) is superb. There’s no rattling or distortion that we could hear in our early look, which is a testament to the HomePod structure’s design. And in case you’re wondering about the frequency range, we asked, and Apple told us that the HomePod’s range is 40Hz to 20kHz.
Instrument and vocal separation were a common highlight for many listeners:
The speaker is particularly adept at isolating vocals and maintaining often muddled aural aspects, like background singers and audience sounds in live recordings.
Whether it was a bass drum kick, crisp vocals or a muted guitar note, each layer sounded cleanly separated and as if it was emanating from various parts of the opposing wall rather than a 7in speaker.
Although it isn’t coming until later via a software update, dual-HomePod stereo pairing received rave reviews too.
Apple previewed this ability for me, and the two HomePods filled a huge room with very clear sound with impressive volume. The bass lacked the thump of dedicated subwoofer, but had everything else.
We had a chance to audition the upcoming stereo pairing feature of the HomePod. Running a pair of HomePods sounds significantly more robust. We were impressed with the spatial quality of having two HomePods working together in a stereo pairing.
Of course, the HomePod, the release of which was delayed, has some significant limitations too. AirPlay 2, stereo pairing of two HomePods, and multi-room support are all previously-promised features that will come after the first HomePods ship. Nor does the HomePod’s Siri integration support as wide a variety of voice commands as competing products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Those issues, along with the HomePod’s sticker price, left some writers questioning how well the device will be received by consumers.
After spending a good chunk of the afternoon with Apple’s new Siri-controlled speaker, listening to tunes in the company’s tony Tribeca apartment meeting space, I’m more convinced than ever that Apple has built an aural triumph in its initial entry to the “smart speaker” space.
What I’m less convinced of, however, is whether customers will care.
The fact that Apple is finally entering the smart speaker race is cause for muted celebration. It’s attractive, sounds amazing and is an excellent Siri ambassador. And it’s $349. Is better sound and solid iOS integration (plus the added cost of an Apple Music subscription) worth spending nearly four times as much as a decent sounding Echo?
Guess we’ll have our answer when the HomePod goes on pre-order this Friday.
The question for iOS fans is whether that’s worth the price tag or potentially switching to an Apple Music subscription. With multi-room music and stereo pairing not available until ‘later this year’ Apple is, like the original Apple Watch, asking you to buy into the HomePod’s potential.
Unlike smartwatches in 2015, the difference here is that there are already some fantastic, versatile smart speakers out that work with equally fantastic music streaming services. We’ll bring you our final verdict on the HomePod very soon.
Overall, the initial impressions of most writers seem in line with the comments of those who heard the HomePod at WWDC last June. Although the most recent demonstrations showed off more functionality than ever before, including Siri, they were still held in an Apple-controlled environment. It will be interesting to see how HomePods perform once they are set up in a wide variety of homes on February 9th.