Enlarge / Apple's new HomePod speaker retails for $350. Apple
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Apple released its much-hyped HomePod speaker to the masses last week, and the general consensus among early reviews is that it sounds superb for a relatively small device. But most of those reviews seem to have avoided making precise measurements of the HomePod’s audio output, instead relying on personal experience to give generalized impressions.
Further Reading Apple clarifies which audio sources are supported on HomePod speakers That’s not a total disaster: a general rule for speaker testing is that while it’s good to stamp out any outside factor that may cause a skewed result, making definitive, “objective” claims is difficult. A speaker’s sound largely depends on the room in which it’s placed. Its proximity to walls, the surface on which it’s rested, whether or not you have a carpet—all of this can alter what sounds make it to your ears and thus how you perceive its performance. And no two people’s rooms are entirely alike.
But having some proper measurements is important. Reddit user WinterCharm, whose real name is Fouzan Alam, has made just that in a truly massive review for the site’s “r/audiophile” sub. And if his results are to be believed, those early reviews may be underselling the HomePod’s sonic abilities. After a series of tests with a calibrated microphone in an untreated room, Alam found the HomePod to sound better than the KEF X300A, a generally well-regarded bookshelf speaker that retails for $999.
What’s more, Alam’s measurements found the HomePod to provide a “near-perfectly flat frequency response,” meaning it stays accurate to a given track without pushing the treble, mids, or bass to an unnatural degree. He concludes that the digital signal processing tech the HomePod uses to “self-calibrate” its sound to its surroundings allows it to impress at all volumes and in tricky environments. “The HomePod is 100% an audiophile grade speaker,” he writes. The review has plenty of terminology that’ll go over the head of casual readers—it’s r/audiophile, after all—but it’s certainly worth a read for any audio lovers interested in Apple’s latest.
To be transparent: I’m in the process of reviewing the HomePod for Ars, and my testing hasn’t entirely lined up with Alam’s results. Without giving too much away, it’s largely balanced and certainly rich for its size, but the new speaker doesn’t fall into that flat category, let alone “perfectly flat.” My ears hear a slight lift in the low midrange and some missing detail in the treble, as if it’s somewhat veiled.
For now, I'd say the HomePod is certainly impressive given its natural restrictions, but I wouldn't call it an audiophile dream machine. The fact that it can't yet do stereo pairing with another HomePod doesn't help. Consumer Reports says it has had similar results, though its testers found the Sonos One to be better, and I generally disagree with that conclusion.
The takeaway from all this? It’s difficult to say what your ears will hear from a speaker until you actually use it. Still, Alam’s testing does put in the work, and the HomePod is undeniably strong—at least when it comes to sound. We’ll have our full review soon.