The original HomePod never officially arrived in Ireland. Instead, we got the HomePod Mini, which despite its small size performed admirably well as both a speaker and a smart assistant. Plus it came in some great colours, which you wouldn’t think mattered much to the overall package but surprisingly, it does.
And it seems to have done well, so much so that Apple has decided an updated version of the larger HomePod is in order. The second generation HomePod has some impressive sounding specs, including five tweeters around the bass, an S7 chip, a 20mm built-in bass EQ mic and a custom-engineered woofer.
If you aren’t up on your audio tech, it means that there’s a lot working in there to help give you the best audio you can get. Sure, there are two tweeters fewer than the original HomePod, but given the inevitable tech developments that have taken place since the original was launched, you have to ask yourself if you really miss them. Honestly? I didn’t. The sound was detailed and anything but bland, at least to my non-professional-audio-trained ear.
The speaker is broadly what you expect: a cylindrical mesh covered speaker, with a touch panel on the top to activate Siri or control volume. It comes in two colours, midnight and white, with a colour-matched detachable power cord. Although the idea of a detachable power cord left me a little anxious – with small children and pets around, there have been plenty of small electronics saved from an untimely end by the power cord – the connection is quite sturdy. It also means you can put the HomePod in more places than before, without needing space to feed through a larger plug, such as a shelf or cabinet.
That’s not the only thing to help you place the speaker. The HomePod will sense if it is up against a wall or free-standing, so it can adjust the sound accordingly. The difference it makes is marked. After initially setting up the speaker in a corner of the room, where it sounded great, I shifted it mid-song to a more open location. The audio immediately sounded off, without the wall reflecting it back, before the speakers adjusted to their new position. That comes courtesy of the S7 chip and some software, delivering computational audio to help customise the sound for each space. You don’t have to do anything, the system works for you.
Also on the audio tech side, the HomePod supports spatial audio, which gives you immersive, 3D sound. That is good for the audio tracks on Apple Music that support spatial audio, and also if you want to use a HomePod as part of your home entertainment set up with the Apple TV 4K.
If you have two speakers, you can create a stereo pair. It‘s an easy enough process; if you are adding the speaker to a room with a HomePod already registered, the set up process will prompt you to create a stereo pair. Likewise, if you have speakers set up in different rooms and you decide to relocate them to the same room, you will be prompted to use them as a pair. It works well, but there is one caveat: the speakers have to be the same type – HomePod second gen won’t work as a stereo pair with a HomePod Mini or the original HomePod, if you happened to nab one.
The new HomePod also brings some new features for your smart home. It has a temperature and humidity sensor built in, so you can keep an eye on what’s going on inside various rooms in your house. The inclusion of these sensors make the HomePod smarter than before. You can use the speaker as the hub for smart home automations – turning a fan on, for example, when the temperature reaches a certain point, or switching lights on at sunset.
A new feature you hope you’ll never need, sound recognition, can also listen for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, alerting you to alerts from your non-smart, non-connected devices while you are out of the house. That same function is coming to the HomePod Mini though, so it’s not a compelling reason to upgrade from the smaller speaker.
Still, it is Matter compatible, which is the new standard for smart homes to make it easier for devices to talk to each other.
This fits neatly into the Apple eco system. You can ask Siri to create your reminders, play your music tracks or manage your calendar. It recognises up to six different voices too, so each family member can manage their own profiles.
Sound quality is great. For everyday use, the HomePod will tackle everything from podcasts to your favourite music, and you can also integrate it into your livingroom for home entertainment with the Apple TV 4K.
Set up is simple, and the ability of the speaker to adjust to its surroundings means you don’t have to manually readjust EQ settings if you decide to relocate the speaker.
If you were looking for a more compact speaker, the HomePod is not for you. It needs space, both to sit comfortably and to project its sound properly. It is also more expensive than the Mini, or rival speakers from Google and Amazon.
For Apple users, there are the usual benefits. The Ultra Wideband technology allows you to hand off audio from your iPhone to the speaker, for example. You can also use the HomePod to locate your items on Find My – invaluable every morning for hunting down the Apple tagged car keys. It also works with AirPlay for multiroom audio, meaning you can blast your favourite tracks in as many rooms as you have HomePods.
If you value spatial audio and customised sound for your room, the HomePod is a good investment. But it will face stiff competition from within its own ranks.