HomePod early impressions

After a few days with the HomePod I have a few impressions: setup is easy, using it is fun, it sounds great, and it works with our Family Music subscription. No surprises. At first, amusingly, a few people were tongue-tied while adjusting to “Hey Siri” instead of “Alexa.” That was entertaining. To watch. The biggest absence I’ve noticed from the HomePod is audiophile pretentiousness. I’ll explain.

I’m not an audio professional but I have mixed sound for bands. I’ve built a sound booth. I’ve recorded albums. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars each on used mics and monitors. I found that my limited musical talent was in listening. I enjoy carefully positioning my studio monitors and parking myself in the sweet spot. I can also count on my digits the hours in a year spent listening this way. That is my audiophile pretentiousness. To most everyone else, my monitors are just the speakers that sound good with movies. That system is normally switched off with a power strip because it draws 10 watts even when “off.”

In our home with two tweens, there are typically concurrent activities in progress and music is often emanating from the tiny speakers of a “smart” device someone is using. Even when playing back music I enjoy, hearing it from more than a few feet away on those crappy little speaker(s) is as much painful as it is enjoyable.

We also have a Sony RDP docking station / AirPlay speaker. It gets hauled to where someone(s) will be working (garage, basement, etc.) for a while. The sound quality is quite good when listening in front of it. Unfortunately, its power cords, adapter, and enclosure are too large and too directional to earn a spot in the prime real estate that our lives revolve around. It also requires a separate “smart” device to stream to it. As an auxiliary speaker it gets used many dozens of hours per year.

Last year we added an Echo to the kitchen and we’ve settled into a usage pattern. In the past month we averaged 5 requests per day (play song X, set a timer, set an alarm, what is an acute triangle?, etc.). Alexa is VERY good at alarms and timers. She’s less good at answering questions. Requests to Alexa about information are usually followed up by asking Siri the same question. Alexa is even less good at playing music. The speaker quality is terrible, if we’re far from the Echo or the volume is loud we have to shout at it, and it lacks access to our iTunes library and/or Apple Music subscription. Yet we’ve listened to hundreds of hours of music on Alexa. It’s used because voice control makes it easy, it listens to everyone, and it’s in the kitchen.

I purchased the HomePod to displace this frequent pattern of listening to music on a cacophony of lousy speakers (Echo, tablets, laptops). The HomePod cleared that low bar brilliantly. On arrival day my middle schooler walked in the door from school, listened, looked about, saw the HomePod, and issued a “Hey Siri” command. She squealed with delight, “Siri finally listens to me!” (Siri on our iPhones does not listen to the kids, to our delight). We are all pleased.

Saturday my brother-in-law visited and spent a handful of hours listening. We picked songs we knew and loved and walked around the kitchen and adjoining living room listening. We agree with most honest (non-click-bait generators) reviews: the sound quality and stage is excellent. We can both identify areas where the experience is slightly different than standing in the sweet spot of our favored color and distortion free speakers or studio monitors. That ignores Apple’s achievement: everywhere else in the room the HomePod sounds substantially better than any comparably priced speaker.

The HomePod is less for the audiophile “soothe the hole in my wallet” listening that requires sitting in the narrow sweet spot of a tuned and expensive stereo system with expensive speakers. HomePod is for the every day listening done while cooking dinner, sweeping the floor, rescuing Roomba from misadventures, and the myriad other activities we do while moving about the house. As WinterCharm said well, with HomePod “the room is the sweet spot.”