Apple HomePod—Six months in

 Photo credit: ZDNet

Photo credit: ZDNet

I've had a cute girl in my house talking up a storm for the past six months. She tells me the weather, changes my music selections, turns on repeat when I want more of one album, changes my lighting from bright white to lavender, depending on my mood. She has a lovely voice, is always cheery and tells me a joke now and then. But, that's about it. Her casing looks good, way better than others I've used, and she can sound quite divine when playing music. But, is Siri in her HomePod guise a keeper?

Apple's Siri smart speaker, the HomePod, has been a mainstay in my living room lifestyle system for almost six months. This place is usually the domain of a full on SONOS system. As it is now finally sold in Canada (about time, CRTC) it's time we had a talk. At US$349, she ain't cheap. Other smart speakers cost far less. And in truth, do far more. But the one musical truth is most pale in comparison to Siri's best quality, her quite exceptional sound. More on this a little later. 

Because Apple and Google are terrible at making deals, many of the mainstream products (including Nest) owned by Google (not forgetting the lack of 4K YouTube on the Apple 4K TV!) do not work with HomeKit, the app Apple uses to combine and manage all its associated smart products. Because of Apple's serious commitment to security, the HomePod won't lock/unlock my new, expensive Yale WiFi lock (HomeKit approved!). Change the temperature on my Nest thermostat? Forget it. So, it'll do Philips lighting, local weather, Apple Music only, and a few other things. She's pretty good at knowledge based questions, but fails more often than not. 

The latest Apple update gave us stereo pairing (a very good thing) and AirPlay 2. But the fact is that Apple, in its stubbornness and quest for technical purity, is years behind Google and Amazon. If you are buying solely for speaker smarts and functionality, the HomePod should be the last product you buy. But, that's not where the story ends. 

Sound

The Apple HomePod is not an audiophile product. 

On release, the internet went nuts about its sound and cuddled up to audiophiles. Oh, now they like us. Usually, most civilians think of us as crazy, money guzzling freaks!

Yet, the sound is very good for a single point source speaker. Please understand the context. It’s way ahead of Google's products. Amazon's sound even worse than Google’s. Dreck sound with no aforethought.

Apple spent millions on the HomePod's sound and worked the physics like Einstein slapping his theories on a bad day. With its beam forming, adaptive audio and computational sound (via sensitive microphones—it can hear me talk through loud volumes—a custom 7 tweeter array, with each tweeter boasting its own driver, and an Apple-designed 4-inch upward-facing woofer), the sound is warm, very defined, with exceptional bass for such a small enclosure. Mahler and Bruckner suffer from single point sources and small enclosures, but just about everything else sounds splendid. Cool jazz, most anything popular, voices and chamber music were superb. 

My HomePod sits behind me when I'm writing at the kitchen island. The main floor is very open plan (ignore the 'it doesn't matter where you place it' nonsense—try lots of different positions to get the best sound). Playing a relaxed mix always sounds wonderful. So much so, that my full SONOS system has been on for 5.1 surround movies only.  The HomePod's sound is full, rich and can impress even jaded audiophiles. It's very balanced. Can this single enclosure better a full on SONOS experience or my reference system in my music room? C'mon! But for targeted areas and requirements, it's a winner. 

So, Siri does have a trick up her sleeve. Buy the HomePod for sound, buy it for the Apple ecosystem, but understand you're getting an inhibited girl that may take years to climb out of her shell. 

As for me, she's staying. 

Further information: Apple