Apple’s HomePod is the best-sounding wireless smart speaker available, and you can control it by voice using Apple’s virtual assistant, Siri. It does a lot of things right, but because it also has a long list of flaws, we don’t believe it’s the best smart speaker for most people.
Nothing about the HomePod when you see it in person is what you’d expect. It’s been both smaller and larger than people I’ve shown it to have thought. It’s so minimally designed that it’s hard to get a sense of scale from photographs.
The HomePod’s power cord is built in and wrapped in fabric, and on top, there are LED-backlit volume buttons and a “display” that isn’t really a display at all. There’s no obvious way to make this area show anything with precise lines, like an interface; Apple told me it was designed to be a touch surface, not to display text. On the bottom is a hard, rubbery material. You need to place the HomePod on a hard, flat surface. Most of its speakers fire down, and it sounds pretty bad if you set it on something uneven or soft.
The HomePod isn’t just one speaker, it’s actually eight of them. All controlled by Apple’s own A8 processor and tons of custom software. There are seven tweeters that fire down and out from the bottom, and a single four-inch woofer pointing out of the top for low frequencies. There is also a total of seven microphones: six around the middle for Siri, and a seventh inside that measures the location of that woofer so Apple can precisely control the bass.
What’s important to understand is that all of these speakers and software aren’t trying to add anything to music; you’re not getting 3D audio or wacky surround effects or anything like that. Apple’s goal is to eliminate unwanted extra sounds you might get from reflections in the room the HomePod is sitting in. It’s then trying to tune to the speaker to sound as neutral as possible in that room.
The HomePod is a remarkable new kind of audio device. It does more to make music sound better than any other speaker of this kind has ever done before. But unless you live entirely inside Apple’s walled garden and prioritize sound quality over everything else. I think you’re better served by other smart speakers that sound almost as good and offer the services.