Apple’s HomePod smart speaker has always sounded surprisingly good for its size, whether mini or regular. Even those who own one for years, find their eyes widening in amazement when music first begins playing on one of these speakers. The original 2018 HomePod has however long been discontinued. And only now, after a gap of two years, the second generation of the regular sized smart speaker has just been shipped to the market. 

The new HomePod is not easy to tell apart from the older one, at first glance. It’s about the same design and dimensions, except for some nuances. The new speaker is a little shorter, but that’s barely detectable. It’s lighter, but these speakers are not designed to be portable, so that doesn’t matter. The colour of the mesh covering is either white or a blueish-black called midnight. Among the differences from the earlier device, the new HomePod has a cable that is easier to pull out. It’s amazing how much this has been written about, making one wonder just how little products tend to change over the years. Another difference is that the touchscreen on top now covers a smaller circumference but more of it lights up on invoking virtual assistant, Siri.

Setting up the HomePod is an Apple-guided process and very quick. Anyone outside the Apple ecosystem can forget about a HomePod. You need an iPhone to set it up and use it and it works best with Apple Music, though it does support other services such as Spotify.

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While a single speaker will be ready to play almost immediately, you may want to stereo-pair two HomePods, specially with an Apple TV 4K. This too doesn’t take too long, but there’s no point attempting to set up an original HomePod with a new one. They will play in sync and one switch from one to the other easily from the phone, but there’s little point because the internals are different and there will be no stereo pairing. Two second gen HomePods however sound great for sound with movies, given that spatial audio is supported. In fact, reviewers everywhere recommend getting at least a pair of HomePods, not a single speaker. Multi-room setups also must consist of same generation speakers. You can add Mini speakers to spread the sound everywhere and of course use it to communicate.

Surprising sound

The new HomePod actually has fewer tweeters and microphones, but incredibly, the components have been redesigned to listen better and result in better sound quality. The difference isn’t dramatic, but it now has better mids and highs. It sounds clearer. It’s been configured to allow all frequencies to increase when volume is increased beyond a point. Right at the top, the bass also increases. The original HomePod puts out more bass.

Both HomePods apparently have the tweeters at the bottom at woofers at the top, which is an arrangement that adds to the impactful sound. The shape of the speakers allows for 360 degree audio and the spread of sound in a room is quite impressive and room-filling.

Apple’s computational audio senses the speaker’s placement and uses the feedback to preserve dynamic range and boost acoustic performance.

Smart Siri

Not forgetting that the HomePod is actually a full-fledged smart speaker, it houses Siri, who makes for a great DJ when you want music need answers to questions on this and that. You can ask for different tracks to be played in different rooms, if you have a multi-room setup. You can also have Siri play you podcasts, and you can move from one device to another because the lot are in the same ecosystem and network.

Siri can’t be considered in the same league as Alexa in the home and Google while out and about, but is able to control smart lights and other compatible devices both with voice commands and routines that the user sets. In the US, there are more smart home devices available that work with Siri, but in India, not the same number. Of course there are smart plugs that can act as a go-between and allow more devices into the ambit. A new feature is that the speaker senses the temperature and humidity indoors, so routines can be set to do things like turn on air conditioning when the temperature goes beyond a selected level.

 All said and done, Apple has fine-tuned the new HonePod to sound better than any of the other smart speakers, but Siri is a step behind the other assistants. It’s also only for those in the Apple ecosystem and those considering it should decide what they want to do with their existing setups. It costs ₹32,900 in India.

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