HomePod First Listen Impressions: ‘Incredible’ Audio With Bass-Heavy Sound That Easily Beats Echo

Following an unveiling
at WWDC yesterday, Apple let members of the press get a
close-up look
at its new Siri-enabled speaker, HomePod, but
due to the loudness of the area it was impossible for WWDC
attendees to really determine HomePod’s sound quality. Now, a few
websites have gotten the chance to hear how HomePod sounds in a
normal environment, and shared their opinions of the device
online.

According to
Mashable
, Apple played listeners five songs across
four genres and the device had “very good audio.” The HomePod
starts up by playing 360-degree audio to itself so it can learn
the space it’s in, and then adjusts any subsequent music that’s
played with the knowledge of the size of the room.


HomePod requires constant AC power for music playback

Mashable said this worked, and “no matter where I walked
in the small listening room, the sound was consistent.”

The audio wasn’t just loud — filling a room with sound, good or
bad, is easy — it was rich. The highs were sharp, but not
broken. The lows were deep, sonorous, but not chest-thumping.

A classic song with a far less complex mix sounded warm and
true and one of Kendrick Lamar’s beat-heavy tunes showed off
the HomePod’s bass prowess, I also listened to a live
recording of the Eagles’ Hotel California on a pair of
HomePods. I noticed that the audience cheers primarily came
from one speaker, along with some ambient music sounds and
the mains came from the HomePod almost directly in front of
me. I did not feel like I was at the live concert, but I was
still impressed with the audio quality.

Mashable noted that Apple had in-room
comparisons with its competitors, including Sonos Play:3 and
Amazon Echo, and that the HomePod easily beat the two other
speakers in pure music playback quality. The site noted the
disadvantages users face if they don’t use Apple Music, and was
unsure how any of the smart home controls would work as press was
only allowed access to non-functional demo units, but was
ultimately left impressed with HomePod, calling it a “very good
speaker” and looking forward to testing it more as December grows
nearer.

CNET
heard the same five songs, including “The Greatest” by Sia,
“Sunrise” by Norah Jones, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “DNA”
by Kendrick Lamar and a live performance of The Eagles’ “Hotel
California.” The site said that HomePod’s audio was “bolder and
more vivid” than Sonos Play:3, and in general “a lot better than
Amazon Echo.” CNET was also impressed how HomePod can
separate vocals from ambient, instrument-based sounds, and how
two HomePods in one room can recognize one another and
automatically adjust playback for the best spatial sound
output.

HomePod came off as bolder and more vivid than Sonos Play:3 in
the experience I tried, and a lot better than Amazon Echo. I’d
also say the music sounded consistently vivid and crisp in a
quiet space, more so than the Sonos and Amazon comparisons
on-hand. But the one thing I didn’t get to experience was how
HomePod can listen, talk and suggest things. I couldn’t request
music, or ask for the weather, or try any smart controls.

It’s hard to tell what any of this means right now, and a
full review of the final product is the only way to determine
any real meaningful thoughts on HomePod-as-home-audio-device.
But, right out of the gate, Apple is clearly going for music
over smart assistance as HomePod’s major draw. But as the
most expensive speaker of the three — it costs almost double
the price of the Echo — its superior sound quality is to be
expected. It needs to earn that bigger price tag.

In the controlled demo environment, What
HiFi?
noted the HomePod’s strong bass and crisp vocals
on Sia’s “The Greatest,” which made the Echo “almost pedestrian”
in comparison. The site did note that throughout the session
songs felt more bass-heavy than some of the other speakers in
comparison, and it remains unclear if Apple will allow users to
tweak audio playback in some way.

As Sia’s The Greatest played out, the HomePod sounded
impressive: strong bass rang out – which was perhaps the
overriding audio takeaway for the speaker – but the vocals
still seemed sharp and crisp. In comparison, the Sonos Play:3
appeared uncharacteristically flat, while the Amazon Echo felt
almost pedestrian.

We also heard a pair of HomePods playing a live recording of
Hotel California by The Eagles. The attention to detail was
striking, with different instruments sounding discretely
realised. Did we feel like we were at the concert? Maybe not,
but it did sound powerful.

Engadget called HomePod’s audio
“incredible,” and compared to both rivals in the demo area, “it
blew them both out of the water.”

The HomePod however, sounded crisp and bright no matter the
musical genre fed through it — it rendered The Eagles as well
it did Kendrick Lamar. As a reminder, there’s a huge woofer and
seven tweeters inside, all meant to make audio sound as vivid
as possible no matter where you are in a room.

And the Echo? Well, I’ll put it this way: if listening to the
HomePod was like listening to a CD, then audio through the
Echo sounded like AM radio. In my experience it’s excellent
for audiobooks, but if given the choice, I’d rather have the
HomePod pump out my jams.

It’ll be a while before the HomePod official goes on sale,
but right now it has one clear edge over the competition:
it’s just a killer speaker.

The takeaway from most first impressions of Apple’s
HomePod appears to be that it easily beats the competition
offered up in the demo, but as many sites noted, that’s an
expected outcome. We’ll still have to wait until closer to the
HomePod’s holiday launch in December to see more true-to-life
audio tests, how voice controls work with Siri, and how
successful the intelligent assistant is at performing tasks
within Apple’s new smart speaker system.

For more HomePod impressions, check out these sites: BBC,

The Verge
,
Business Insider
,
Pocket-lint

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