The new Home Pod sounded fantastic in our hands-on testing, but its $299 price tag limits its appeal to Apple enthusiasts with sizable budgets.
Right towards the end of the smart speaker boom in 2018, Apple released the original Home Pod, which was quickly followed by the Home Pod Mini. The new second-generation full-size Home Pod, also known as the Home Pod 2, has suddenly appeared out of nowhere from Apple after a self-imposed hiatus during which the original was cancelled.
I was impressed by this speaker’s sound quality after testing it out at home and in CNET’s audio test lab. The exterior of the second-generation Apple Home Pod is quite similar to that of the first generation, but as is customary for Apple, the interior is where the significant advancements are found. Due to the company’s emphasis on spatial audio, the technology is prominent on the current version, and I experienced a larger sound than the speaker’s apparent size. The Home Pod 2 has a more sophisticated sound than the first model and is more musical than the rival Amazon Echo Studio.
There are many different smart speakers available, and the Home Pod 2 is still on the more costly end of the scale at $299 (£299, AU$479). If you’re an Apple fan, the new Home Pod introduces a few nice changes to a tried-and-true recipe. The Home Pod, on the other hand, is not for Android users because you need an iOS device to set it up. For non-Apple users, the Echo Studio or Sons One are better choices and both are less expensive than the Home Pod. The Home Pod Mini is also a fantastic value if you want the majority of the functionality of the Home Pod at a lower cost. For the money, it is superior to the other two Apple speakers.
Home Pod 2: Sleek design, Apple-centric features
Amazon launched the first Echo in 2014, ushering in a brand-new market segment known as the smart speaker. Since then, a number of companies have attempted to develop a smart speaker, all to varied degrees of success, including Google, Sons, Apple, Samsung, LG, and more.
The design of the Home Pod gives it an edge over competitors. The large Home Pod looks beautiful in either white or black, which is something I can’t say for the Echo Studio, for instance. Fisher-Price buttons and a garish light ring give the Echo Studio a cheaper-looking appearance than it actually is.
You’ll need to use an iOS device, such as an iPhone or iPad, to set up the Home Pod because it is powered by Apple’s well-known speech assistant Siri. The speaker can stream music and podcasts from your phone and function as part of a multiroom speaker system because it is Apple Air Play 2 compatible.
Home Pod plays well with Apple Music but not Spotify
Although you are no longer required to make Apple Music your preferred service, your options now include iHeartRadio, Tune IN Radio, Deezer, and Pandora. You can only hear the music you want on the last two, and even then, only if you pay a monthly subscription price.
The best music streaming service, Spotify, cannot be made the default, and Spotify Connect will not work with the Home Pod. The “Air Play and Bluetooth” button must be tapped in the Spotify app in order to stream music to a Home Pod. In other words, the majority of Home Pod users would benefit more by purchasing Apple Music.
Although they must be of the same kind and generation, two Home Pods can be paired to play in stereo. For instance, you cannot play music in stereo by pairing a new Home Pod with a Home Pod Mini or an older Home Pod. To play back the audio from your TV, the speaker may also connect to an Apple TV streamer.
Additionally, the Home Pod is compatible with Apple’s Find My function, allowing you to ask Siri to play a sound on a lost device or to find friends or relatives who have shared it using the Find My app.
The Home Pod 2 shares all of these features with both the original Home Pod and the $99 Home Pod Mini. What exactly has changed, then?
Upgraded speakers, spatial audio and new sensors
It’s tough to tell at first glance that the Home Pod 2 isn’t the identical thing that Apple debuted five years ago. It is basically the same size as its predecessor, measuring 6.6 inches tall and 5.6 inches in diameter. It still has the appearance of a packed Asian pear. If you look closely, you may also see a smaller display that is now edge-to-edge when you are engaging with Siri, as well as a detachable charging cord rather than a captive one.
However, the new Home Pod includes a few significant improvements, such as a modified speaker array with five tweeters as opposed to seven. These tweeters use beamforming to enable the other significant improvement: spatial audio, and they project upward from the bottom of the chassis.
The majority of the company’s new devices, including the MacBook, Air Pods, and Apple TV, feature spatial audio, which Apple refers to as 360-degree audio. The Home Pod mostly refers to Dolby Amos, which is supported by the majority of streaming services and the Dolby Amos music that is accessible on Apple Music. Amos is a surround-sound format that has lately been used to album remixes and is used in both home theatres and cinema theatres.
Temperature and humidity sensors up the smart home game
Temperature and humidity sensors, which have also been hidden on the mini for a while, are the other intriguing feature that will be available on the Home Pod. Now, you can use the Home app or Siri to find out the temperature indoors as well as outdoors. Thermostats in particular will benefit from this information, as would other smart home appliances.
The full-size Home Pod not only works with Apple’s Home Kit but also with the new Matter standard, an open-source protocol that is compatible with many smart home gadgets. Additionally, a software update this spring will include a function dubbed Smart Recognition that, in accordance with Apple, “can listen for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and deliver a notification directly to the user’s iPhone if a sound is identified.”
To send whatever is creating audio, such as a music, podcast, or voice call, to the speaker, you can move an iPhone close to it. (iOS 16.3 is required for this feature.) When placed close to the speaker, the phone will also present personalized song and podcast recommendations.
Listening tests: How does Apple Home Pod 2 sound?
The first Home Pod was marketed as a music speaker even though it coexisted with podcasts at the time. From my testing, it appears that the new Home Pod has been created with a lot more use cases in mind, such as podcasts and movie watching. I put the speaker to the test using a variety of Apple Music tracks, Spotify, and lossless FLAC files played from a MacBook, all of which were Dolby Amos when available.
My first request to Siri was to “play some music.” It chose the Duran Duran song Planet Earth, and I wasn’t even angry. I contrasted the new Home Pod’s audio with that of the Amazon Echo Studio, which is a direct competitor. While the Echo Studio threw the song’s emphasized upper midst across the space, the sound was a little thin as a result. I found the Birmingham lads to be more fun to listen to thanks to the Home Pod’s more relaxed sound and persistent backbeat.
I continued with Runner by Alex G, which produced a powerful echo but had instruments that weren’t securely positioned in space even though it was “stereo-like.” The Home Pod produced a bubble of sound that was larger than the cabinet’s dimensions but not quite stereo. Gianna coli’s voice could be heard more clearly on the Apple speaker than on the Echo, where he was seated a little further back and the vocals seemed a little more muddled.
Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, which features baritone vocals, slick bass, and harsh percussion, was the next test track I played. When the Reduce Bass option was turned on, the bass guitar’s initial sound was a little distorted. However, I preferred the Echo Studio for this tune. The Home Pod was unable to give the audio a room-size scale.
Comparison: Home Pod 2 vs. original Home Pod
I then contrasted the new Home Pod with the first Home Pod in terms of various musical genres. With a more personal vocal response than the first Home Pod, the Home Pod 2 sounds better. Red Right Hand’s sound was energized by the second-generation Home Pod’s heavier bass. You couldn’t run a party with either one, even if the Home Pod 2 was a little louder than the first. Both beat The Echo Studio for raw power.
I also listened to certain movie soundtracks, such as the Mad Max Dolby Amos mix, which had crystal-clear dialogue. The beginning of the movie had strong Amos height effects, but adding a second speaker in stereo made the effects much more noticeable. The explosions had a powerful but not overpowering bass. Although a dedicated subwoofer is necessary for a home theatre system to be complete, I thought the sound was still good enough for watching movies.
Home Pod Mini holds its own against Home Pod 2
The Home Pod Mini astonished me by performing much better than the new Home Pod when I compared the two speakers. The Mini provided forward vocals, lots of bass, and not too much tambourine with Spoon’s U Got Yr Cherry Bomb. The Mini sounded excellent for a third of the cost, despite the fact that it lacks spatial effects. For individuals who only need a speaker for their voice assistant and some background music, it’s totally acceptable.
The Home Pod has excellent audio quality overall, but it is simply too expensive and has too many Apple-specific features to appeal to a wide audience, including Spotify members and Android users. Additionally, the Mini is likely big enough for Siri speakers that Apple enthusiasts crave.