I am a fan and a daily user of the new generation of “conversational” computers like the Amazon Echo range and the Google Home series. And I absolutely love the long-awaited newcomer from Cupertino, the Apple HomePod, even though at the time of writing it has not been a big hit with reviewers or the public. Alexa and Google Home are very good at performing day-to-day tasks such as timing cooking, pinging reminders, checking spellings, and turning lights and heating on and off in response to voice commands. The HomePod can do this smart home stuff, but Apple’s Siri is less nimble at it than Alexa or Google Home – and the HomePod’s version of Siri is not as good as the one on the iPhone. But the HomePod isn’t really about answering questions and adjusting the temperature. It’s about music – and it does it fantastically well. Whoever designed the long-travel woofer and array of seven beamforming tweeters deserves a Nobel Prize for audio.
The sound is huge and precise, with a bass completely out of proportion to its elegant 17cm-high pot-shaped form. In the autumn, a software upgrade will mean you can run two HomePods together to play in stereo or go multiroom. Right now a single HomePod provides quite a spatial sound, but it’s still essentially mono. I have already heard two HomePods together in stereo, though, and I’m seriously thinking about buying a pair as my main living room sound system. Another great feature is that the six microphones on the HomePod are remarkably sensitive. Even when music is playing loud, they can hear you say, “Hey, Siri, stop” – unlike the Amazon Echo, which deafens itself when at full throttle.
There are downsides to HomePod: it is wedded to Apple Music, and works brilliantly with it, but not so with Spotify, which is many people’s favourite music provider. But you can still AirPlay Spotify to it from a phone or iPad. And a second issue: while Amazon Echo sounds pretty basic, Google Home worse, more great-sounding devices are coming from the likes of Sonos, Onkyo and Google itself – and these have the superior Alexa or Google Home system on board. I’ll be reporting on more hifi-quality Alexa/Google devices in upcoming columns, but for sublime sound, good integration with other Apple iDevices and superb looks, I think I’ll stick with HomePod.