I have previously noted I’m a big fan of AirPods for music on the go, but how about in-home audio? For the Tortillaphilia Editorial Board™, it’s all about HomePod.
Apple does not profile HomePod as a
smart-speaker, but rather a premium audio device that comes bundled with Siri. Evil tongues would suggest the reason is that Siri isn’t too smart to start off with, but I don’t really buy into that. One thing is that Siri has overtaken Alexa and is gaining rapidly on Google Assistant—check out Loupventures for more—another is that Apple always has had music in its D.N.A. The iPod is the example that first comes to mind, but I also recall my musician-cousin switching from a PC to a Mac in the mid-nineties. That was before Jobs came back to the company. Positioning a speaker as a speaker for a company like Apple, in other words, makes sense.
It should come as little surprise, then, that HomePod’s sound quality is top notch. Much has been made about its spatial awareness capabilities, and for good reasons. The speaker can learn the optimal way to play audio as it is moved around (compared to Sonos which requires some crazy phone-waving configuring), and it sounds as good in a bookcase as it does out in the open, creating lush soundscapes with a well-balanced bass.
Streaming sound from Apple TV, too, creates a depth usually associated with expensive soundbars. Even if you’re not a huge audiophile (which would put you in the same category as me), you’ll notice how good HomePod sounds, right off the bat.
And Siri… I’m not sure how most people use their smart-speakers, and maybe my usage is more on the fringes, but I find what I get from Siri to be fully adequate. Should I not recognize a song from a playlist, I can ask Siri about it, and it will not only serve up the name of the track but also give optional information about the band behind it. Simple functionalities like asking for
background music or
electronica work just fine, as do requests like
never, ever play Michael Bublé. Inquire about the latest news, and HomePod will default to N.P.R.—other outlets like C.N.N., Fox News, and Washington Post are also included.
Driving directions for take-out spots can be sent to your phone, and if you have a
smart-home, anything that works with the Home app can be controlled through Siri. Podcast integration works as expected.
Perhaps most impressive is how well HomePod can pick up on your voice. I’ve been on the other side of the house and barely raised my voice to ask Siri to play the news, no problem.
Not that there aren’t any hick-ups and downsides. HomePod is tied to the Apple ecosystem, and an iPhone (or iPad?) is required to set it up. Only Apple Music works seamlessly with it, though you can use the iPhone (or iPad?) to stream Spotify and Pandora through AirPlay.
HomePod also only works with one iCloud account, with no voice recognition, That can cause some issues. If you have your messages connected to HomePod, anyone within talking range can ask for them to be read out loud. And, while it’s nice that HomePod can learn about your musical tastes to help curate recommendations, odds are different people in the household like different music. The single entry recommendations for everyone can end up skew any which way, and even if you have banned Michael Bublé, an outsider can still come in and request him, just to soil your history.
These are all software limitations, mind you, and it’s entirely possible they will be taken care of down the road.
At $349 (plus a highly recommended $40 AppleCare+ plan) HomePod is not a cheap pleasure, but it’s worth the price of admission for anyone who wants to invest in top of the line sound from a speaker that also is a good listener. Importantly, it is frequently on sale from outlets like BestBuy for $100 off. At $249, it’s a no-brainer if you’re in the market for this kind of product, provided you’ve bought into Apple’s ecosystem. It is, of course, also beautifully designed hardware, and it’s incredibly straightforward to use.
Looking for some sick beats to blast through your HomePod? Look no further than the seminal Easter Hour classic,
For more audio hardware, check out our AirPods write-up.