First listen: Can Apple HomePod change how we listen to music at home?

Apple's next big product is due to launch in December.

The headline announcement from Apple’s WWDC conference was the much rumoured smart speaker, one that we now know is called HomePod.

Apple made it clear during the unveiling of the HomePod that the new speaker is predominately focused on giving users a better music experience.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Talk of the hub as a rival for Amazon Echo and Google Home are inevitable and valid, but Apple maintains the key comparison should be in audio quality.

The tech

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The specs of the HomePod certainly reinforce this idea – the Apple-designed sub woofer inside the speaker is paired with an A8 chip (from the iPhone 6).

This means the HomePod is able to manage sound in real-time as its playing, tweaking the audio as needed.

There are also seven “beam-forming tweeters” – read as speakers – each with their own amplifier, running around the entire circumference of the HomePod.

The speaker is then also able to detect its surroundings, Apple says, using room-sensing technology to become aware when it’s placed in the centre or corner of a room and quickly adjusting its output as a result.

So how does it sound?

Putting all this into action, the HomePod does on first impressions appear to back up its specs with how it sounds.

The sound distribution is noticeably impressive – audio flies out in all directions and fills the room no matter where you stand or sit in relation to it.

What was perhaps most interesting was how much more powerful the HomePod sounded in relation to the dedicated speaker also in the room – a Sonos Play:3.

The HomePod’s sound was bigger and bolder than the Play:3, one of the current market leaders when it comes to home speaker systems.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Unsurprisingly, it also far outstripped an Amazon Echo for sound quality – but both that device and the Google Home are more geared towards AI than sound quality.

The general clarity of the HomePod was good, however at times the bass did sound a little too heavy, verging on uncomfortable.

But for the most part the different layers of each track we heard (four in total) were well defined and crisp, with the vocals and music balanced well.

Acoustic and live tracks sounded best from what we heard during the short demo – a live version of Hotel California by The Eagles, which was played using two HomePod devices paired together.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

The resulting experience was hugely impressive – paired HomePods work together to fire balanced audio out into the room, having first detected each other’s presence.

HomePod has been optimised to work with Apple Music, however it does also house AirPlay 2 technology, so in theory other streaming services could be used to play music through it.

AirPlay 2 also enables several HomePod units throughout a house to be paired together.

And what about Siri?

What remains unknown about HomePod is just how well Siri works within the speaker – it is still yet to be shown off within HomePod.

It’s here that a lot of attention naturally remains too because of the high profile success of the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

The artificial intelligence within those two exceeds Siri’s current capabilities, but with Apple having announced a wide range of updates to Siri at WWDC, the virtual assistant’s power by the time HomePod launches remains unknown.

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