Apple HomePod & HomePod mini review: Sounds fantastic but which is better for you?

By Kenny Yeo - 22 Apr 2023

How do they sound?

How do they sound?

On top of the HomePod and HomePod mini is a touch panel that lets you control playback and adjust the volume. Honestly, it's much more convenient to say "Hey Siri" and control them with your voice.

Long story short, they sound great. If you buy them mainly to play music and for the way they sound, you are not going to be disappointed. Obviously, the larger HomePods sound better and exhibit better technicalities, but the HomePod mini is no less impressive. 

Let’s talk about the HomePod first. The second-generation HomePod has five beamforming tweeters and a single large high-excursion woofer. Aiding these drivers are the Apple S7 chip and an array of microphones and sensors. The S7 chip analyses data from the microphones and sensors and adjusts the output of the drivers to ensure the HomePod sounds its best regardless of its environment. Many high-end speakers employ such room-sensing technologies but where Apple is different is that the HomePods are doing this all the time – most speakers only do this calibration once during the initial setup.

The HomePod's five beamforming tweeters are positioned below and angled upwards to spread sound across its environment.

The adjustments are more than just changes in the frequency response. According to Apple, the microphones listen out for reflections of sounds and adjust accordingly. For example, if it hears little reflections, it'll postulate that it's freestanding in the middle of a room and beam audio 360° around it. If it hears reflected sounds, it might think it's next to a wall and adjust its output so that primary vocals are beamed outwards into a room while background instruments or reverbs are sent to be bounced off the wall it's next to. And accelerometer inside the HomePod tells it if it's being moved and it can automatically recalibrate itself when it senses that.

If you have listened to AirPods long enough, you’ll know Apple has a house sound that heavily favours the bass and slightly brings up the treble. It’s a mostly U-shaped sound signature. It’s no different with the HomePods. 

The first thing most people will notice is its thumping bass. The HomePods can go really low and hit really hard. It hits so hard it sounds like it can punch a hole through your skull. It’s also, for the most part, well-controlled and fairly clean. But it can be thrown off on tracks that have strong bass like Drake’s In My Feelings and Haywyre’s Sculpted. It seems Apple knows the bass could be overwhelming for some because it has a "reduce bass" option within the Home app.

Most people will also notice it sounds very clear. This, to me, is the result of two things: the drivers’ inherent low distortion, good control, and the slightly elevated treble in the tuning. Combined, this gives the HomePod an airy and sparkly quality and a fast sound that reveals itself most plainly in piano notes and guitar strums.

The HomePods do their best work as a stereo pair.

While the HomePods certainly have a fun and exciting sound, I think most audiophiles might be put off by Apple’s tuning because it’s far from neutral and highly exaggerated. 

Where I think the HomePods really excel is as speakers for an Apple TV 4K. Here, where technical performance and frequency response is less crucial, the HomePods can put its best qualities to good use. With a stereo pair, the sound stage is widened and the thumping bass is amplified and sounds even more exciting and engaging. Furthermore, with its beamforming tweeters, the HomePods support Dolby Atmos spatial audio, making it ideal for home entertainment. 

No fancy beamforming tweeters in the HomePod mini, just one extremely capable driver and a well-designed acoustic waveguide.

The HomePod mini, because it's much smaller and packs less tech, doesn’t sound as good. But it is very impressive for its size. The key difference is that the HomePod mini only has a single driver and it relies on an acoustic waveguide to create a 360° sound. And while it has an S5 chip inside, it doesn’t have sensors or microphones to measure its environment. Instead, the chip tries to understand the audio that is being played and adjusts its output in response.

The HomePod mini’s sound signature is identical to the HomePods. Where the smaller HomePod mini differs is that it doesn't sound as clear, its bass isn’t as deep and punchy, and the treble is noticeably more uneven. Even then, it takes less than a minute of listening to tell that it is easily one of, if not, the best-sounding speaker of its size. It’s remarkably loud and even at high volumes there’s little to no distortion in the sound. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive size, it’s more than loud enough to fill your average apartment. 

Unfortunately, I only had a single HomePod mini to test but I see no reason why they would be anything other than excellent as a stereo pair and as speakers to complement an Apple TV 4K.

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