At a glanceExpert’s Rating
ProsExcellent sound qualityDolby Atmos & Spatial AudioMics pick up voices wellLossless streamingConsSiri is badMust use Apple Music for voiceNo line in portLimited EQ optionsOur Verdict
If you have an iPhone and plan on staying in Apple’s ecosystem then a HomePod (or two) is a sound investment for various home audio needs, serving music and TV setups well.
Price When Reviewed
Best Prices Today: Apple HomePod (2nd generation, 2023)
Apple discontinued the original HomePod in 2021 after launching it two years prior. We don’t really know why but now there’s a new HomePod, and it looks almost identical.
Got it? OK. It’s weird that Apple did it, and all the more so that little has changed, but it doesn’t change the fact the HomePod is back in stores and Apple clearly thinks it has a reason to be.
I tested two second-generation HomePods in my living room to see if these fabric covered blobs are worth your time and money. One will set you back $299/£299/€349, placing it firmly against established home audio brands such as Sonos.
Design & build
The HomePod 2 comes in either black or white fabric, a design that looks odd at first but makes a lot of sense. It’s a 360 degree design, so why not cover it with the mesh you’d find on the front of a traditional hi-fi speaker?
On the top is a flat circular sort-of screen but it doesn’t display any text or information. Instead, it lights up with the Siri glowing orb when you talk to the HomePod, and has plus and minus symbols printed on it which are permanent volume buttons.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
I like the look of the HomePod, particularly in the white colour. Both colours look clean and the design feels very considered despite its simplicity, which reminds me of old, classic Apple design values.
The power cord matches the colour of the ‘Pod and is detachable so you can feed the cable through small holes in the back of TV cabinet or the like, but there’s no line in port for connecting to audio sources via cable.
Build quality is excellent with a real premium weight to the speaker, so much so that one weighs a considerable 2.3kg, so you’ll need to place on a sturdy surface. Unlike the first-gen HomePod, I had no issue with either colour leaving a mark on a wooden surface.
There are also recycled materials in the construction with 100% of the rare earth elements in the speaker magnet, gold in the plating of multiple printed circuit boards and plastic in the Midnight mesh fabric. Sadly, it’s only 30% of the white colour mesh.
Apple’s marketing for the HomePod pushes it as a music-first Bluetooth speaker despite its Siri smarts, and I can understand why. Compared to Google Assistant, I’ve found Siri annoying to use, often misunderstanding commands.
It’s quick on the draw for simple queries like asking the weather forecast or your local news bulletin of choice, and things run smoothly on Apple’s S7 chipset.
But try and get it to play specific tunes and it’s a much more frustrating experience at times.
The HomePod is designed for voice-first use with Apple audio apps. It’s an amorphous mesh blob without a display! Several times I asked Siri to play a specific track or album and it’d hear me wrong and play something completely different or play an obscure live version of a song when it should clearly default to the famous studio version.
You can control music using your iPhone or iPad either through the Apple Music or Home apps, but it’s a little delayed sometimes in finding the HomePod and you have to manually select it so it doesn’t just play out of your phone. You’ll need an iPhone 8 or later – older iPhones won’t work.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Handoff works really well using iPhones with a U1 chip (iPhone 11, 12, 13, and 14) where you’re playing through Apple Music on your phone and simply hovering your phone over the HomePod will transfer the music to it.
Compared to the first-gen HomePod, this newer model has built-in temperature and humidity sensors. I found this accurately gave me readings for both, which you can view in the Home app or ask Siri about. If you have smart blinds, for example, you can set Siri to close them if the room gets too hot. It’s pretty smart.
Smart too is how the HomePods quickly link to make a stereo pair, and how a network through a larger house of several HomePods, including the first-gen or the HomePod mini, can be used for features like Apple’s Intercom that lets you send quick audio messages to specific rooms or play audio from all or specific HomePods.
There’s also new sound recognition for things like fire alarms, so if yours sounds when you are not in, HomePod can alert you to it so you can investigate further.
There are only two ways to play audio through the HomePod. Route one is using Siri and Apple Music or Apple Podcasts in the way described above, meaning you must have an Apple Music subscription and an iPhone or iPad to fully enjoy all the product’s functionality.
For audio from any other app, including Spotify, you have to use Apple’s AirPlay 2 wireless audio tech. There’s no way to connect to the HomePod using just the Bluetooth menu on your phone or tablet, and nor is there an auxiliary input, meaning you can’t connect to audio sources such as vinyl turntables.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
You’ll only be able to use a HomePod if you have an iPhone or iPad, but if you have an Apple TV box you can use two HomePods as stereo speakers for your home entertainment system. This could well be my favourite use, as the audio upgrade from my TV’s terrible speakers to the surround sound stereo bass boost afforded by the HomePods is night and day.
It works with any app using an Apple TV, but if your TV is compatible with the ARC standard you can also route the audio from other hardware such as a games console. Buying two costs a lot, so you might want to simply buy a soundbar instead. You also can’t create a stereo pair with the first-gen HomePod or the HomePod mini – you have to get two second-gen units. Maddening.
So, to the main event. The HomePod isn’t the smartest (or platform-inclusive) of smart speakers but it’s certainly one of the best sounding with a 4in woofer accompanied by five tweeters.
Apple has done a phenomenal job creating a well-rounded soundstage and the HomePod 2 tends towards very bass-heavy character, though it’s less bassy than the first-gen HomePod.
It means the second-gen HomePod is superb for hosting a raucous house party (as if I’d have one of those!) but also means at low volumes the great rumble of the low end can audibly drown out some detail in the rest of the mix.
This is particularly evident on rap and hip-hop tracks where the bass is prominent. On the plus side, I heard synth and bass sounds in songs I didn’t know were there. You just might get some complaints from the neighbours at the same time.
Using the HomePod with Apple Music means you can take advantage of full Dolby Atmos support with thousands of tracks available in the popular virtual surround sound standard.
I’m a white British male so I predictably and uninterestingly love The Beatles – but playing Come Together through two HomePods sounds very good indeed, with the mic effect on John Lennon’s voice crystal clear and instruments well placed.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
The HomePods are circular, but Apple has fitted proximity sensors so they can tell when they are placed against a wall or near to other objects. The speakers then adjust for this so they are directing sound into the room.
The bass wins out again when playing Love Sick by Bob Dylan, but the reproduction was almost too trebly. It’s not that the treble and mids are piercing but the bass is so good at times that it can overpower the other frequencies. I found moving two HomePods in a stereo pair a little further apart, at a distance of at least two metres from each other, helped to balance the sound in the room.
Taboo by Gabriels rumbles and creeps with the intended taught menace of the artist thanks to the deep rumble of drums that lesser speakers simply can’t reproduce.
But when you play tracks that Apple Music has in Dolby Atmos with Spatial Audio, the HomePods kick up a gear. Mystery by Turnstile sounds absolutely enormous, the speakers producing echo and reverb simply not possible on any headphones.
The tightly compressed track has more room to breathe with its Dolby Atmos treatment. Guitar jumps out of the speakers with the stereo set-up, but it even sounded well-rounded when I listened with just one.
It would be great to control the frequency response but Apple also limits your control over the EQ settings – there basically aren’t any. The Home app has a ‘Reduce bass’ toggle hidden in a settings menu, which does just that. If you are using your voice to play songs, you’ll hear it how Apple intended.
You can change the EQ of the Apple Music app’s output (in the settings menu on your iPhone or iPad, confusingly), so if you opt to play music using AirPlay then it reflects that choice, but by and large, you can’t control EQ here.
The new HomePods next to an orange HomePod mini
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
The HomePod 2 also sounds superb with classical music, Glenn Gould’s recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations sounding particularly lively. Jazz is also well represented thanks to the expansive soundstage and good handling of frequencies.
There’s no doubt the HomePod is a better music speaker than any smart speaker from Google or Amazon – bar the discontinued Google Home Max – it’s more one to consider instead of the best Sonos speakers out there.
The HomePod 2 is also one of the few Apple audio devices that can actually playback Apple Music tracks in high quality lossless format. You see that ‘Lossless’ tag on your song in Apple Music? No AirPods on the market can actually play those back at true lossless quality. This is off by default and the toggle to turn it on is buried in the Home app settings.
Price & availability
The HomePod 2 costs $299/£299/€349, putting it at the pricier end of the smart speaker scale.
You can buy it direct from Apple.
It’s comparable in sound and features to the $199/£219 Amazon Echo Studio, though that’s now long in the tooth having launched in 2019 and is out of stock in the US at the time of writing.
The HomePod 2’s main competitor is the Sonos One, superb in sound and price at $219/£199/€229. It links together to different Sonos speakers easily and plays much nicer with Spotify, plus you can choose between Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
Bear in mind Sonos has also released the new Sonos Era 100 at $249/£249. If you don’t need the oomph, you could opt for a $99/£99 HomePod mini or two.
The HomePod 2 is an excellent speaker for music, with amazing bass response and, when paired with Apple Music, can sound phenomenally good.
Spatial audio and Dolby Atmos support along with clever obstacle detection help create a pleasing, room-filling sound – though one HomePod will always sound better as half of a stereo pair, meaning you have to spend $600/£600/€750 to truly get the best HomePod experience.
Do so paired with an Apple TV and a compatible TV and they act as premium TV speakers too, at less than the cost of some soundbars.
Downsides are the cutting out of smart functions if you want to use Spotify, and Siri is still not clever enough to rely on as a voice assistant, though it has some handy features.
If you live in Apple’s walled garden and don’t plan to leave, the HomePod 2 is a good choice for a smart speaker. For everyone else, there’s the Sonos One at two-thirds the price.
Apple S7 chipset4in woofer5x tweetersRoom sensingSpatial audio with Dolby AtmosFour mic for SiriMultiroom audioAirPlay 2Touch control sensorSound recognitionTemperature and humidity sensorsAccelerometer802.11n Wi-FiBluetooth 5.0Apple U1 compatible168 x 142mm2.3kgMidnight or white colour