The second-generation Apple HomePod looks similar to the original, but it costs $50 less and features a tweaked external design, improved audio functionality, and brand-new smart home powers to rival alternatives from Amazon and Google. While still pricey at $299, it brings a room-sensing feature that adjusts audio on the fly, seamless integration with the Apple TV 4K, and plays nice with both HomeKit and Matter smart home devices. And sonically, it delivers impressively rich bass depth for its size and can be paired with a second speaker for true stereo audio. While the second-gen HomePod isn't flawless, it's a well-designed product that earns our Editors' Choice award for Apple-first smart speakers.
Simple Design Choices
Available in Midnight or White, the cylindrical, 5.2-pound HomePod measures 6.6 inches by 5.6 inches (HW). The speaker has a textured wraparound grille with an intricate mesh pattern. The exterior surface has a little bit of give to it, sort of like stiff memory foam, but it's quick to recover its original shape. It's a clean design that can stand out from or blend in with your home decor.
The top panel is a touch-enabled screen, now with edge-to-edge color lighting that glows various hues when you use Siri voice commands—it looks like an animated nebula captured by the James Webb Telescope. The screen glows white when playing music and green when on a call. Plus and Minus controls are visible whether the screen is dark or in aurora borealis mode, and the center of the screen acts as an unmarked multifunction control. A single tap controls playback, two taps skip forward a track, three taps navigate backward, and a long press summons Siri—which of course, you can also do by saying, "Hey Siri." Covering the touch screen with your hand lowers the volume drastically, but not entirely, acting as a quick mute function. You'll still hear muted audio, but it's quiet enough to allow you to hold a conversation if needed.
The included power cable has a braided sleeve and connects near the base of the speaker. While the cable looks classy, it’s possible to get clever with speaker placement; the HomePod’s body is wide enough to essentially block the cable from view.
Behind the grille, a four-inch, upward-firing woofer is complemented by an array of five neodymium tweeters that are situated near the base, firing outward at an upward angle (the original model had seven tweeters). Apple doesn’t share frequency range specs for the woofers or tweeters. A bass EQ mic monitors your surroundings to optimize bass response for your environment.
Also under the hood is an Apple S7 chip, which is the driving force behind the computational audio and the various custom tuning models the HomePod employs to deliver "stereo" audio and Dolby Atmos mixes.
You can stream a host of audio sources on the HomePod, including Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, Apple Music Radio, Audacity, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. You can also access third-party music streaming services, including Deezer, Ganna, JioSavvn, KKBox, KuGou, NetEase, Pandora, QQ Music, Spotify, and YouTube Music, as well as live radio from around the world. And, of course, you can stream audio via AirPlay from Apple phones, tablets, and computers, though there’s no wired aux input (an unfortunate norm for most smart speakers).
The HomePod supports 802.11n Wi-Fi (also known as Wi-Fi 4) with peer-to-peer discovery, so guests using your Wi-Fi network can stream to the speaker if they wish. It includes Bluetooth 5.0, but only to assist with setup and Handoff experiences.
HomePod App Experience
After connecting to Wi-Fi, you’ll need to update the HomePod (and your iPhone/iPad) to software version 16.3. The speaker will eventually ship with 16.3 installed, but there's no word on when that will happen.
The Apple Home App (for iOS/iPadOS) is the app that controls the HomePod, but we’re not completely sold on this concept. We have no qualms about the HomePod's settings being included in the Home app, but if there isn’t going to be a dedicated HomePod app, we’d prefer to see seamless iOS integration like you get with Apple's AirPods. For instance, paired AirPods Pro get their own settings menu section, as well as a quick access screen via the Control Center. You do get a HomePod icon on the Control Center, but a press-and-hold on the volume slider reveals no extra features (as it does with AirPods).
To find the HomePod's settings and controls you must open the Home app, tap the HomePod icon, scroll (way) down, and tap the Settings icon in the lower right corner. Here you can manage accessibility settings, audio preferences, and more. It’s simply not as quick as the Control Center access granted to AirPods—and arguably, most iPhone users already know how to navigate to their Settings app more quickly than they do the Home app.
Another omission, albeit an expected one, is that there’s no EQ. In fact, not even Apple's own preset EQ options are available. Other than a Reduce Bass function, there's no way to fine-tune the sound on your own. With the HomePod, what you hear is what you get, which could be a deal breaker for some.
We should also note that we experienced some quirks in testing. For instance, if we were to originate playback from an iPhone (instead of by Siri) using AirPlay, the Home app screen graphic would simultaneously display the HomePod’s status as “not playing” while also showing the album art and an in-progress timeline for the song the HomePod was definitely playing.
Siri, Mic Clarity, and Voice Control
The HomePod's four-mic array is designed for far-field voice control. Siri had no trouble picking up voice commands, even when music was playing loudly and we spoke relatively softly from across the room.
We tried to trick the HomePod by blasting music at maximum levels and mumbling Siri commands. The HomePod picked up these mumbles from a few feet away, though this varied a little from song to song. The farther you are from the HomePod, the less the mics will be able to pick up vocal commands. Even from a distance of twenty feet, though, we didn’t have to yell or even speak up that much to pause music playing at top volume.
The Home app lets you control how Siri interacts with the HomePod. For example, you can enable or disable the mic for Siri voice commands, enable or disable the touch-and-hold gesture for Siri control, turn off the light that illuminates when Siri hears commands, and enable or disable the sound Siri plays when acknowledging a request. Siri can also identify your voice, and—if you enable Personal Requests—curate music, send messages, and make calls for up to six different family members.
You can also use Siri as a speakerphone. Callers thought we were speaking through an actual iPhone, not a speaker. The HomePod's mic array is clear even as we conducted calls from several feet away. Calls were solid on our end as well.
Smart Home Support
With support for Apple's HomeKit platform and the smart home interoperability standard Matter, the new HomePod works as a smart home hub, or a central command center from which you can control compatible third-party accessories using Siri voice commands.
To give us an opportunity to test the speaker's smart home capabilities, Apple sent a third-party Matter-compatible accessory, the Eve Energy Smart Plug & Power Meter(Opens in a new window), along with our HomePod review units.
Matter is supposed to let you set up and control compatible smart home products via the app or voice assistant of your choice, so you don't need a different app/assistant for each device. In testing, we had some trouble setting up the Eve accessory, but eventually found a solution.
The first time we attempted to set up the smart plug via the Apple Home app, we received a "Thread Border Router Required(Opens in a new window)" alert (even though the HomePod natively supports Thread). To troubleshoot this, we paired the HomePod with an Apple TV 4K (which also supports Thread natively), then attempted to set up the Eve smart plug again via the Apple Home app. This time we received a different error message: "Unable to Add Accessory. Pairing with accessory failed."
We then rebooted the HomePod speakers, the Apple TV 4K, and our paired iPhone; factory reset the Eve plug; and ensured that all of our Apple devices were running software version 16.3. We then tried again to connect the plug to no avail. In a last-ditch attempt, we unplugged all of our Apple devices except for one HomePod, and then the accessory finally connected. Apple didn't have an explanation for this behavior other than to provide the troubleshooting steps.
While the initial Matter-powered accessory setup experience was a struggle, we had no trouble controlling the Eve smart plug using Siri voice commands via the HomePod once properly enabled. Commands like "Turn my plug on" and "Turn my plug off" worked as expected, with almost no delay.
We were also able to control the HomeKit-compatible Yale Assure Lock 2 via the HomePod. In response to queries such as, "What is the status of my front door," Siri accurately responded with whether it was locked or unlocked. We were able to lock the Assure Lock 2 with voice commands via the HomePod, but when we attempted to unlock the door, it said to continue on an iPhone.
Siri lets you set up automations for your HomeKit- and Matter-compatible accessories by voice. We easily created a recurring automation for the Eve smart plug, using the command, "Hey Siri, turn off my outlet every day at 5 p.m." We also created an automation for the Assure Lock 2, using the command, "Hey Siri, lock my front door every night at 9 p.m."
You can also set up, view, and edit automations via the Apple Home app. With the right accessories, the HomePod promises to let you enable automations like, "Hey Siri, turn off the patio lights in an hour," and, "Hey Siri, lower the blinds every night at dusk."
The HomePod offers a selection of ambient sounds, including fireplace, forest, night, ocean, rain, stream, or white noise. We set up a Good Night scene that plays the fireplace ambient sound and locks the front door. If you have an Apple Music subscription, you can add music from the service to smart home scenes. You can only set up smart home scenes on the HomePod via the Apple Home app, however, and not with Siri voice commands.
Keep in mind that unless your existing smart home devices are HomeKit- or Matter-compatible, they won't work with the new HomePod for voice control. Finding new accessories that work with the HomePod won't be a challenge, though; most smart home brands have promised support for Matter, including Amazon, Arlo, Belkin, Eve, Google, LG, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Yale Home, and more. Apple maintains a list of supported smart home accessories on its website(Opens in a new window). You can also browse compatible third-party gadgets in the Discover tab of the Home app, or look for the Apple Home and/or Matter badges on product boxes.
Like the $99 HomePod mini, the HomePod features built-in temperature and humidity sensors and lets you easily monitor the climate of the room it's placed in using voice commands.
Depending on how many HomePods you have, you can use a speaker in one room to check the climate in another room. When we asked the office HomePod for the temperature in the living room, for instance, Siri said it "ranges from 75 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.” When we asked the office HomePod for the humidity level in the bedroom, Siri said it was "high at 67%." You can also include HomePod climate data as part of automations, so your smart blinds close any time the temperature reaches a certain threshold, for example.
Apple says the HomePod's climate sensors are optimized for conditions between 59 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with relative humidity between 30% and 70%. In testing, we found its readings to be accurate, but Apple says measurements may be off in some situations when audio is playing for an extended period of time at high volume levels.
In the next few months, Apple plans to roll out a Sound Recognition feature (via a free update) so the HomePod can detect smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and send notifications to your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch when it hears one. If you receive the alert on an iPhone or iPad, you'll have the option to check in and hear what's going on at your home (and view video if you have a connected camera).
AirPlay and Handoff
Playing music from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac on a HomePod will be a familiar process to anyone who’s used AirPlay at home before. In the Apple Music app, tap the AirPlay icon to reveal your available AirPlay choices and the HomePod should be one of them.
Handoff, available on iPhones with a U1 chip, is another useful feature. (Handoff and Transfer to HomePod both need to be enabled in the AirPlay & Handoff menu under Settings > General.) Once enabled, whatever music you have playing on your iPhone will send audio in progress to the HomePod’s drivers when you hold your phone over the speaker's control screen. Hold your phone over the speaker's control screen again to transfer audio from the HomePod back to your iPhone. This feature worked well in testing, though we were able to trip it up by switching back and forth rapidly (which you likely won't do in a real-life situation).
Computational Audio and Room Sensing
Back when it was introduced, the term computational audio felt like Apple giving existing technology—DSP (digital signal processing)—a new marketing name. But the tech is taking significant steps forward with the new HomePod. Depending on speaker placement (in a corner, near a wall), the HomePod's five tweeters output different aspects of the same mix. Reverb will sound through the tweeters that face a wall, for example, while lead vocals and guitar are sent through the tweeters facing into the room.
Apple doesn't provide firm details for this feature, but it seems the HomePod will honor the mapping of an Atmos mix when it’s available, using rear-facing tweeters for surround or non-direct audio, while filters and effects are applied to music that wasn't mixed in this way, with speaker placement guiding what sounds are mapped to the various drivers.
In practice, it basically takes what is usually considered the finished product and applies an algorithm to it that changes the directional path certain aspects of the mix might take. Vocals, guitars, and drums might go through the front tweeters while reverb and backing vocals are sent to the rear-firing, wall-facing tweeters. Move the speaker to the center of the room, however, and suddenly all the tweeters might output the same signal. For a single speaker, it’s one way to add an extra dimension to the audio in the absence of wide stereo separation.
Will you notice that ambient aspects of the mix are firing against your back wall while the vocals on a track are coming through the tweeters pointed in your direction? It’s possible, but it might only be obvious if you play detective and try to hear the drivers up close while they’re near a wall. And if we’re talking about dramatic differences, simply adding a second HomePod to achieve stereo output will have a more noticeable impact than room sensing with a solo HomePod, in terms of room-filling sound.
HomePod Audio Performance
It should be noted that while the HomePod can get relatively loud for its size, a single unit isn’t necessarily going to blow the roof off of your house. At maximum volume levels, the speaker sounds powerful when you’re in close proximity, but a bit more modest if you’re more than about 15 feet from it.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the HomePod delivers powerful thump at all volume levels. At moderate to high volume levels, the bass response is powerful and deep. At maximum volume, the speaker avoids distortion and the DSP doesn’t thin the bass response out. However, the bass sounds less than transparent, as if you can hear the DSP working to prevent any distortion. Perhaps this is the sound of the bass EQ mic being tested. Regardless, it doesn't sound bad, it’s just not the same sonic delivery you’ll get with the volume slightly lower.
The HomePod reproduces most of the sub-bass beginning at the 34-second mark of Kendrick Lamar’s “Loyalty.” However, this sub-bass synth line gets progressively deeper, and while the first notes are delivered with some laudable rumble, the final note of the progression is simply too low for the HomePod. It doesn’t distort, but it also doesn’t deliver this note nearly as loudly as the previous two. Really, we’re just butting up against the limit of the four-inch woofer's low-end range. The various vocal performances on the track are delivered clearly and crisply, and aren’t overshadowed by the deep bass presence when it's reproduced. It’s no surprise a speaker this size has its sub-bass limits, and to its credit, the HomePod does deliver robust lows for the most part, just not the very deepest, subwoofer-realm lows.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the HomePod’s general sound signature. The drums on this track get some substantial added bass depth. They're large and heavy, but avoid sounding too thunderous. Callahan’s baritone vocals also get some low-mid richness, and things could get muddy were it not for substantial high-mid sculpting and presence lending some added definition. The acoustic strums and higher percussive hits have a bright delivery to them as well, and the sound signature here starts to emerge: bass-forward, bright, and somewhat scooped out in the mids. It’s not for audio purists, but it’s an exciting presentation that focuses on high-frequency detail and low-end body and depth.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get a healthy added dose of low-mid richness and deeper bass. It would sound overly bass-heavy if the tweeters weren’t also delivering a bright, detailed representation of the higher-register brass, strings, and vocals. Plenty of listeners will enjoy the bass-forward and bright sound signature, while others will find it too sculpted. That said, even those who don’t care whether it’s an accurate sound signature might want more (or less) bass or treble, and as mentioned, there’s no EQ other than the Reduce Bass function in the Settings menu.
If you have two HomePods, you can choose to group them as a stereo pair (this is done in the app), which will assign one as the left speaker and the other as the right. Once paired, the speakers can be easily switched from left to right to suit your orientation in the room at that time.
There’s no denying that two HomePods sound better than one. Bass response is more robust and the system sounds more full. With true stereo separation, you can place the speakers far apart, if room size allows, and get a wonderful sense of space from most mixes.
Since it’s not a surround system, the HomePod (even two of them) can’t deliver the full Dolby Atmos, 5.1, or 7.1 experience when watching movies or listening to music. They can, however, offer a sort of hybrid solution: Atmos audio is delivered, in most circumstances, with surround and height channels being sent out via the rear-facing tweeters while the rest of the mix is delivered forward.
Consider the latest Bjork record, which features Atmos audio mixed specifically to rear or surround channels. It doesn't sound like the rear channels are coming from behind you, but those rear channels are delivered through the rear-facing tweeters, which is interesting. Does it make for a more enveloping experience? We’ll say it makes for a more interesting experience, if not quite a surround one.
A Smarter Siri Speaker
The second-generation HomePod is the best Siri-compatible smart speaker yet, as well as the best smart speaker designed to work within Apple's ecosystem. Beyond this, its room sensing and computational audio features definitely add some liveliness to its audio presentation, and it delivers some genuinely crisp highs and impressive lows. Apple's HomeKit platform has trailed Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in terms of compatibility with smart home accessories, but the inclusion of Matter helps narrow that gap.
Ultimately, the best smart speaker for your home depends on which system your devices are best suited for. The $99.99 Google Nest Audio works well for Android-centric homes, while the $99.99 Amazon Echo is best for most Alexa-based abodes. If the latest, most refined Siri-compatible speaker is what you’re after, the second-gen HomePod is a notable improvement over the original and delivers far more bang than the HomePod mini, earning it our Editors' Choice award.
Apple's second-generation HomePod carries over the elegant design from the original, but improves the audio and smart home experiences to better compete with speakers from Amazon and Google.
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