One Month with HomePod: What If My Ears Can’t Hear Retina?

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

After a month1 with the HomePod, I felt it was about time to share some general thoughts I have on Apple’s newest hardware. I reviewed the HomePod after about a week with it, and was mostly positive about it. HomePod sounds great and has some nice music features, but some of its software shortcomings soured the experience a bit for me at the time. Now that I’m out of “review mode” and have just used it as a part of my life for a month, here’s where I stand.

I still like my HomePod, but a lot of the magic has worn off for me. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is I care very little about the sound quality of the speaker. It sounds great, don’t get me wrong, but I just don’t appreciate it the way some people seem to. I get that it sounds good, but I feel like someone who looks and retina and non-retina screen and says “what’s the difference?” I can see (hear, I guess) that there is a difference, but I’d just as quickly save some money and get something similar that costs less and sounds marginally worse to my ears. I’m exactly the opposite with screens, and can immediately tell the difference between a bunch of screen resolutions, but I kind of throw my hands in the air when it comes to high-fi audio.

One reason for this I believe is that I live in an apartment and have neighbors on all sides of me. Because of this, I can never really let the HomePod get over 20% or so of it’s max volume. I know the HomePod does well with distortion at high volumes, but that’s completely worthless to anyone who shares a wall with someone. That’s not Apple’s fault, but it’s a factor in my personal use.

A quick note on apartment use: the HomePod has a lot of bass and this makes me have to turn it even further down. I know you can sort of control the equalizer via the Music settings on the iPhone, but that ruins the audio in every other device I use, and even with those adjustments, it’s only impactful when I AirPlay from my iPhone to the HomePod, which is not how I like to use it. Again, a personal thing, but it’s how I prefer to interact with a speaker with voice controls.

Also, on the few occasions I’ve felt okay about turning up the volume a bit, the sound does impress. Again, it’s not knocking my socks off, but it is considerably nicer than my Google Home that I typically use to listen to music and podcasts. It sounds great, and maybe if I was able to listen at louder volumes I’d be more into it.

The best part of the HomePod in my opinion is the omni-directional sound that means things sound good no matter where in the room I am. I like being able to have it sit in the same spot and sound just as good anywhere in the room. There’s no noticable separation between audio channels, and hooking this up to your Apple TV won’t simulate 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, but it’s nice.

What I really miss is multi-room support. Even in my small apartment, the HomePod is really only useful if I’m in the living room. If I’m in the kitchen, literally 10 feet away, it’s useless to me. Same deal if I’m in the bedroom 15 feet away. This isn’t a knock on the HomePod itself, I understand how sound works and no single speaker is going to work in all rooms at once. This is why I love my array of Google Homes that I already have: one in the living room, one in the kitchen, and one in the bedroom. This setup means I am never more than 10 feet from a working speaker. I can ask any of them to play something or I can cast from my phone using basically any non-Apple app. No, they don’t sound as good as my HomePod, but for $230 for the 3 of them (2 regular and 1 mini) in some ways they provide more audio value to me than one really nice HomePod.

I’ve been down this road before, but this is where I think a less expensive HomePod, a HomePod Mini, makes a lot of sense. I don’t have $1,050 to fill my one bedroom apartment with sound, but I would certainly be interested in filling my home with 3 $149 HomePod Minis. I’d likely hardly be able to notice a difference in quality, but I’d adore the ability to always be close enough to use one of them. As it stands today, I use my Google Homes to listen to audio almost as much as the HomePod simply because they’re everywhere and work in places that my HomePod just can’t.

I like the HomePod, I really do. I have a lot of thoughts about what Apple needs to fix on the smart speaker side, but I decided to just talk about the audio experience today because I’m waiting for WWDC to see what Apple has in store for HomePod updates over the rest of the year.

Because of my buy in to Apple’s ecosystem, HomePod is the most compatible and convenient smart speaker for me to own and I want it to be the best out there. As of right now I have zero interest in buying a second HomePod, it’s simply too expensive for the value I get from it. But if Apple unveiled a sub-$200 model I’d be first in line to buy one. As it stands today, my music listening is going to be bifurcated across Apple and Google speakers because neither one gets me everything I want.

  1. And some change.