Audio

Fantastic sound from Apple’s sleek smart speaker, HomePod

Minimalist and sleek, Apple's HomePod has seven tweeters, each with its own amplifier.
Minimalist and sleek, Apple's HomePod has seven tweeters, each with its own amplifier.PHOTO: APPLE

HomePod, Apple's wireless smart speaker, is not available here. It is currently sold only in three countries - the United States, Britain and Australia.

I managed to buy one during a recent work trip to the US. So, this review comes with a caveat - many features of the HomePod might not be supported in Singapore.

The HomePod's design is minimalist and sleek. Available in black and white (version tested), it looks like a downsized Mac Pro wrapped in fabric mesh. Its clean design means it can fit anywhere in your home.

You will not find any buttons on the HomePod. Instead, a touch-sensitive panel on the top handles the smart speaker's controls.

Tap on this panel to play or pause tracks. Double-tap to play the next track. When tapped, the panel will display a pair of "+" and "-" signs. Tap or press and hold on the "+" or "-" signs to turn the volume up or down.

The panel will also glow with a waveform-like light when Apple's voice assistant Siri responds to your questions.

  • Background Story

  • SPECS

    PRICE: US$349 or S$460

    CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0

    WEIGHT: 2.5kg

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Inside the HomePod is a hefty arsenal of audio hardware. There is an upward-pointing woofer with a custom amplifier and an array of seven tweeters - each with its own amplifier - located at the bottom.

There is also an internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction.

A six-microphone array allows Siri to hear you even when the music is playing, while direct and ambient audio beamforming technology lets the HomePod emit sound waves in pretty much every direction.

A built-in accelerometer lets the HomePod know when it is moved to another part of the room, so it can reconfigure itself for optimal audio performance in the new location.

Processing all of the HomePod's smarts is an Apple A8 chip.

As with many Apple products, the set-up process is a breeze. First, hold an iPhone or iPod next to the HomePod. Next, tap on the HomePod window that appears on the iPhone to begin the set-up.

During set-up, you will be asked to put Siri in either US, UK or Australian English. I set it to US English. But HomePod was able to decipher my Singapore accent most of the time. I was also impressed that it was able to pick up my voice commands from across the living room while music was playing.

You can ask the HomePod to set reminders, send iMessages, read the news (if you are using a US iTunes account) and tell you the day's weather.

If you have home accessories that support HomeKit, you can use the HomePod as a home hub. You can ask it to switch off the lights, turn on the air-conditioner or tell you the room temperature. But you cannot ask it to read news from The Straits Times, unlike Google Home.

In terms of audio quality, the HomePod is unmatched among smart speakers. No matter where I placed it, it sounded fantastic for a speaker so compact.

From Mandopop to classical music, I heard clean and detailed sound that wasalmost always spot-on in the bass, mids and highs. There were a few instances when the bass got a bit overwhelming and the mids were slightly muddled.

On the downside, the HomePod can play from only Apple Music's streaming service natively. There is no native support for Spotify or other music-streaming services.

You can stream your music library or Spotify using only AirPlay. But you cannot do so using Bluetooth 5.0, even though the HomePod is equipped with it.

So, if you do not have an iPhone or Apple Music subscription, you probably have to look for other smart speakers.

In addition, you cannot link two HomePods to create a stereo pair. But Apple has said this feature will be available soon.

• Verdict: The Apple HomePod is a fantastic-sounding smart speaker, but it works best if you are an iOS device user and Apple Music subscriber.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2018, with the headline 'Fantastic sound from a sleek smart speaker'. Print Edition | Subscribe