Even a mild update to an Apple audio product is enough to perk up my ears, considering how much the brand cares about music. The new HomePod is a resurrection of the OG smart speaker launched in 2018, but in the ensuing years, its evolution seems to have stunted a bit.
Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) review
Smart speaker for the uncommon folk
The overall stance and aesthetic remain similar, and the new HomePod is still dense in its construction. Still covered in recycled mesh fabric that is soft and squidgy to touch, the only apparent difference to the untrained eye is the larger and slightly recessed touch panel on top. It glows with a more vivid plasma that visualises Siri’s whimsical responses and makes for a more entertaining visual experience than before.
In terms of actual acoustical prowess, Apple claims they have made more progress by increasing computational power and reducing components. You have two fewer tweeters and two less microphones and yet, within the first five minutes of using this new HomePod, it’s easy to tell that it possesses more clarity and listens to you more keenly across the room. So Apple isn’t mucking around. The shift to the S7 SoC (borrowed from the Apple Watch) from the earlier A8 chip could be part of the reason why Apple is able to crunch numbers and spatial data faster. The HomePod still calibrates itself based on where you plant it in the room and even moving it by an inch will trigger its room-sensing nature, but it all happens seamlessly, in the background.
You still get a 4in top-firing woofer that sits right under the touch panel and an array of five beam-forming horn tweeters mounted near the base but angled upwards to avoid surface reflections. The HomePod automatically anchors vocals to the front-firing tweeter while the other tweeters are used to reflect and bounce sounds off nearby walls to create ambience and spaciousness.
New bits in the hardware include a removable power cord and a couple of new sensors that monitor temperature and humidity. These can sync up with other automation-based appliances to turn on the AC for example, if the temperature rises beyond 28 degrees, for example. Handy stuff and along with Matter support, the HomePod is trying to be more inclusive of third-party support. Speaking of, musically, it still is exclusively tied to Apple Music and if you want to stream Spotify, Tidal or Amazon Music playlists, you’ll have to AirPlay them via your iOS device. Siri requests directly to the HomePod will result in a no-show.
At home with R&B, pop and electronic music, the HomePod now has a more balanced sound that at first, may not sound as bass-heavy as its predecessor, but you eventually appreciate the tonal accuracy. Bear in mind that once placed in its final position, it may set itself up for the best sound possible, but as a listener, you are still moving around the room. What the HomePod provides is great sound at some locations around the room and a brighter, thinner sound at others and this is just how all speakers work. There are only so many laws of physics that you can bend and Apple may have used up all the tricks in the 2023 edition of Hogwarts Guide to Spatial Sounds.
As with my experience with the earlier HomePod though, I’ve realised that pairing up two of these in stereo mode creates a sound that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Suddenly, the soundstage opens up and there is a much greater sense of depth to the recordings. It even sounds better than most soundbars with a separate subwoofer at the same price point, but with the added advantage of a wider stereo image that works wonders for Dolby Atmos tracks too! Stereo pairing can happen only with two identical HomePods, so don’t get your hopes up if you have an older gen model lying around or even a HomePod Mini.
Without any EQ controls, the HomePod is limited in its ability to be tweaked and Apple’s controlling nature means that you’re stuck with the one sonic signature. Not that it needs much tweaking, but for Classical and Rock, depending on where you’re seated, some amount of basic EQ would’ve gone a long way. Thanks to the new processor, Siri works considerably faster with requests and even the Handoff from your iPhone to the HomePod is decidedly quicker. What is truly commendable about the HomePod are its built-in mics and their sensitivity to picking up commands and wake words even from across the room, over reasonably loud music.
Without a doubt, the new HomePod is a step up in terms of sonic qualities over the earlier gen model. It sounds more accurate, even though the perceived bass response is lower. It’s faster to respond, and easier on cable management but also dearer than the last gen. Even though the price for the HomePod has been slashed in other markets, we in India end up paying more than before. While it’s even better at making music, the inherent limitations of Siri and Apple’s closed-wall approach make this harder to justify this time around.
Still one of the best-sounding smart speakers around, but one that will appeal only to the Apple fanboys.
|Apple AirPlay, Siri voice control
|1 x 4in woofer, 5 horn-loaded tweeters