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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Apple HomePod 2 Review

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After Apple discontinued the HomePod in 2021, we thought we’d never see a large smart speaker from the iPhone maker ever again – and yet here we are with a new and improved HomePod 2nd Generation. It might look almost identical to its predecessor, but internally there’s been plenty of changes, including a new arrangement of tweeters and added internal sensors.

Additionally, this new HomePod can create a stereo pair with a second unit, and with the latest Apple TV 4K, it can also become the audio center of your home theater. But to get there you’ll have to buy three pieces of Apple hardware and spend as much as you would on a high-end soundbar. The HomePod is certainly a great speaker on its own, but unlocking the full functionality of Apple’s latest smart speaker is too expensive for most people.

Apple HomePod 2 – Photos

HomePod 2 – Design and Build Quality

From the outside, the HomePod 2 is still the same old cylinder with what looks like the foam wrapping you’d find on a piece of fancy fruit. Without an extremely keen eye, you wouldn’t notice Apple’s new smart speaker is 0.2 inches shorter than its predecessor.

The top of the speaker also features a slightly smaller touchscreen that displays animations across its entire surface instead of a small circle. The display also features permanent volume buttons that don’t disappear like the older model’s backlit virtual controls. Lastly, the display is slightly recessed, which leads to an issue of dust collecting all around the top of the HomePod.

The only other change you’ll notice on the new HomePod is the removable power cable. As small a change as this is, it’s a big relief you don’t have to worry about trashing or replacing the entire $299 unit because of a broken power cord. This change also allows you to replace the original power cable with any figure-8 cable.

Behind the layer of crisscrossed mesh, Apple has redesigned the entire speaker's layout with a woofer on top and five tweeters below it. That’s two fewer tweeters than the old HomePod, but they’ve been angled more aggressively to direct sound down and away from the device.

The reduced number of tweeters also makes room for a new pair of temperature and humidity sensors that work like a charm if you want to know how warm and moist it is in your home.

Additionally, there are four microphones that work with the internal S7 chip to detect how the speaker sounds and adjust itself for optimal performance. It’s a feature seen on the previous HomePod and almost all Sonos speakers, but the speed of the second-generation HomePod’s adaptive audio is almost instantaneous. While testing the smart speaker, I would move it from an open space to an enclosed corner and the sound would stay consistent without virtually any lag.

Of course, those microphones also allow you to summon Siri from across the room even while the speaker is playing at high volume. With Siri, you can make voice commands like play music, adjust the volume, set timers and alarms, ask random questions, dictate messages, and use it to act as an intercom to other HomePods in your home.

HomePod 2 – Audio Quality

If you like bass you’re going to love the 2nd generation HomePod. That said, the low-end that comes out of this speaker doesn’t overwhelm everything else that's playing. Still, there’s plenty of noticeable oomph when you play a bass-heavy song like Coi Leray’s Players and Ayra Starr’s Rush.

At the same time, the HomePod 2’s five tweeters are designed to fire sound in every direction and bounce them off walls so it sounds great no matter where it's placed or you’re sitting. It’s pretty impressive to hear almost the same quality audio whether you’re sitting right next to the speaker or across the room.

The HomePod 2 only sounds better when it gets to take advantage of Dolby Atmos music tuned for spatial audio. Playing any spatial audio on the HomePod 2 generates much more separation for you to clearly hear the multiple voices in a chorus in songs like The Suffers’ Take Me to the Good Times. Alternatively, the bass guitar strums apart from the beat of drums and all the other instruments in Miley Cyrus’ Flowers.

Generally spatial audio and Dolby Atmos make music sound much fuller and more harmonious. It’s almost like being in the room where the song was recorded.

Now, unfortunately, spatial audio on the HomePod 2 only really kicks on with Dolby Atmos music on Apple Music or movies tuned for the same standard. The competing Sonos Era 300 speaker, meanwhile, lets you play spatial audio from Apple Music and Amazon Music.

HomePod 2 – Usability

Apple Music is set as the default streaming service for Siri, but you can swap the default over to another service like Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Deezer. But that leaves out other major alternatives like Spotify, Amazon Music, and YouTube Music, which you’re pretty much left to AirPlaying to the HomePod 2.

The HomePod 2 doesn’t have any Bluetooth support so you pretty much need to have an Apple Device to AirPlay other audio sources to it. It also doesn’t have an aux input so you can’t connect your turntable or other playing devices to it either.

That said, if you’re willing to go all-in on the Apple ecosystem, the HomePod 2 does get way better when you pair it with another unit to create a stereo pair. A pair of HomePod 2 units sound seriously great with even more three-dimensional sound that fills your entire living room, creating even more distance between voices and instruments.

Then if you throw in an Apple TV 2nd or 3rd Generation into the mix you could also use its eARC support to use those two HomePod 2s to act as your main audio source for all your consoles, Blu-Ray players, and anything else you have hooked up your 4K TV.

I was blown away by how good a pair of HomePod 2 speakers are for gaming. All of the ample bass out of Apple’s smart speakers translates perfectly for explosion-heavy games like Just Cause 4. Meanwhile, the speakers deliver crisp and nuanced sounds at the quiet points when you’re sneaking around and heavy instrumentals when you’re getting into combat in Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

Of course, it’s an incredibly expensive proposition to put together this whole setup. You’re spending $600 on two HomePod 2 speakers, plus $109 to $129 for an Apple TV 4K 2nd or 3rd Generation. That almost adds up to the price of a serious soundbar like the $899 Sonos Arc or $699 Sony HT-A3000 that’ll play better with other devices due to more inputs and Bluetooth support.

Still, Apple's first sort of foray into the home theater setup space is compelling for its own reasons. With this whole setup, you get a speaker system that sounds great no matter where you’re hearing it from in your home, and it’s flexible enough to work with music, movies, and games. You still can’t quite create a complete multi-channel hi-fi setup with Apple hardware right now, given the ecosystem is still lacking dedicated subwoofer, rear channels, or other speakers – though I’ve got a strong inkling it's all on the way.

The only thing that spoils the HomePod 2’s total home theater experience is it’s so centered around Apple devices and Apple Music.

Verdict

The HomePod 2 delivers great sound that’s further bolstered by spatial audio and Dolby Atmos music. It’s an expensive smart speaker to be sure, but the room-filling audio it delivers sounds great – no matter where you or it are in relation to each other – is a very compelling reason to get one. And if you decide to go all-in on an Apple-themed home theater with a second HomePod 2 and Apple TV 4K, then you’ll get an even better experience for music, movies, and games. Just know this sort of setup has its shortcomings on non-Apple support and true surround sound, plus the whole initial investment cost.

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