Ap­ple HomePod

SIM­PLY THE BEST-SOUND­ING SMART SPEAKER ON THE MAR­KET – IF YOU’RE WILL­ING TO BE LOCKED INTO AP­PLE MU­SIC

PC & Tech Authority - - CONTENTS -

Ap­ple’s late ar­rival in the smart speaker mar­ket means it’s play­ing catchup with Ama­zon and Google – but the HomePod might be spe­cial enough to per­suade Echo or Google devo­tees to switch.

It doesn’t look par­tic­u­larly as­sum­ing. Ac­tu­ally, it looks rather bland. A fab­ric mesh (in ei­ther white or “Space Grey”) cov­ers the en­tire ex­te­rior, save for a black plas­tic blob on top. Nei­ther brand­ing nor con­trols are vis­i­ble – the only phys­i­cal con­nec­tor is the power ca­ble. Ad­dress it with “Hey, Siri!”, though, and a fa­mil­iar lu­mi­nes­cent cir­cle ap­pears on the top sur­face to show it’s lis­ten­ing. Touch­sen­si­tive vol­ume con­trols also ap­pear on the same sur­face as needed.

Not blown away? Start play­ing some mu­sic and you just might be. We don’t just mean that the HomePod is loud – al­though it cer­tainly can be. On pa­per, its max­i­mum vol­ume level of 77dBA may look merely av­er­age, but un­like most speak­ers it doesn’t dis­tort at all even when pumped up to ten, mak­ing it feel much more pow­er­ful than its ri­vals.

What’s re­ally stun­ning is how vi­brant, ar­rest­ing and per­fectly con­trolled ev­ery­thing sounds. Ap­ple’s cus­tom speaker ar­range­ment gives dance mu­sic an ir­re­sistible driv­ing kick; in­die rock grinds and roars as it should; and the tim­pani in Verdi’s Re­quiem have a pal­pa­ble im­pact. Even at mod­er­ate vol­umes, the HomePod has a mus­cu­lar mu­si­cal­ity that eas­ily out­shines any­thing else this month.

Per­haps the clever­est part is that the HomePod can lis­ten in on its own out­put, and au­to­mat­i­cally ap­ply acous­tic pro­cess­ing as needed to en­sure you get the best sound no mat­ter where it’s placed. If a nearby wall is pro­duc­ing nasty res­o­nances in the mid-range, the HomePod will ad­just those fre­quen­cies to com­pen­sate. Tre­ble get­ting muf ed by a nearby cur­tain? Again, the HomePod will sort it out.

The up­shot is that you can stick the HomePod care­lessly on a shelf, or in a cor­ner, with­out the slight­est re­gard for its acous­tics, and get an ef­fect that sounds like a high-end hi- sys­tem. All that’s miss­ing is a stereo sound­stage – and The bland de­sign be­lies the vi­brant, dis­tor­tion-free sound

Ap­ple’s work­ing on adding that fea­ture right now. Once it’s avail­able, we sus­pect there will be no short­age of au­dio en­thu­si­asts queue­ing up to buy HomePods by the pair.

For the rest of us, the HomePod isn’t quite such a straight­for­ward propo­si­tion. First of all, $500 is a heck of a lot of money for a de­vice that does the same ba­sic job as the ev­ery­day Ama­zon Echo. Sure, the dif­fer­ence in au­dio qual­ity is night and day – but whether it’s worth the gap­ing price gap will de­pend on your pri­or­i­ties and your dis­pos­able in­come.

Then there’s the un­com­fort­able ques­tion of com­pat­i­bil­ity. Alexa and the Google As­sis­tant will both work with ei­ther An­droid or iOS, and you can hap­pily use ei­ther to ac­cess Spo­tify, Net ix and so forth. The HomePod, by con­trast, works only with iOS – An­droid users are shut out – and ser­vices such as Spo­tify, mean­while, get treated very much as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens. You can kick off Spo­tify playlists man­u­ally from your iPhone (us­ing Ap­ple’s pro­pri­etary AirPlay trans­port), but if you’re look­ing for voice con­trol of stream­ing mu­sic, you’re lim­ited to your own pur­chased iTunes songs, plus Ap­ple Mu­sic and Beats 1 ra­dio – as­sum­ing you have obe­di­ently paid for your sub­scrip­tion. There’s not even a Blue­tooth op­tion for play­ing tunes from a nonAp­ple phone or lap­top.

If that doesn’t put you off, there’s one last con­sid­er­a­tion to bear in mind: com­pared to its es­tab­lished ri­vals, the HomePod is a some­what lim­ited de­vice. As be ts its de­sign, it’s at its strong­est when it comes to mu­si­cal func­tions. Siri does a su­perb job of pick­ing out new mu­sic you’ll like, or as­sem­bling killer mixes within a given genre or era.

For gen­eral smart speaker du­ties, though, the HomePod lags be­hind Ama­zon and Google. You’ll look in vain for fea­tures such as phone calls and multi-user voice recog­ni­tion. It works with smart home de­vices only to the ex­tent that Siri can con­trol them via HomeKit, and right now you can’t even use it to con­trol an Ap­ple TV. Oddly, there’s also no man­ual mi­cro­phone-mute con­trol: you can tell Siri to stop lis­ten­ing, but then you have to use the Home app on your iPhone to en­able it again.

What you make of all this will de­pend on what you want from a smart speaker. If you’re look­ing for a con­ve­nient voice hub that will work with your An­droid phone, Spo­tify ac­count and mish­mash of smart home de­vices, the HomePod clearly isn’t a good t. It’s al­most in­so­lent how point­edly it re­fuses to in­te­grate with non-Ap­ple ser­vices.

If you’re pri­mar­ily a mu­sic fan who’s al­ready de­voted to the Ap­ple way of do­ing things, how­ever, the HomePod will likely make you vastly, qual­i­ta­tively happier than any of this month’s ri­vals. It’s not per­fect, and it’s far from cheap – but you’ll be lov­ing the sound of it long after the ex­pense is forgotten.

$499 • www.ap­ple.com/au

An opales­cent cir­cle shows that the HomePod is hang­ing on your ev­ery word

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