I am not an audiophile, and neither do I play one on the internet. I can’t describe what good sound is, but I can certainly tell bad sound when I hear it. From the get-go, HomePod checked a bunch of boxes for me. It sounded better than my previous bulky and expensive 5.1 surround sound system, it was easier to use, and it was also much more esthetically pleasing.
For about 6 months now, I have been taking advantage of new feature in tvOS that lets you default your sound output to a couple of HomePods set up as a stereo pair.
It wasn’t such a breeze to use at first because I experienced a bunch of issues with pairing the two speakers and keeping them paired together, but a fresh install eventually fixed everything, and I can’t say I have had any issue at all with this setup since then. This is to date a setup that I am completely satisfied with.
Why I chose paired HomePods as my sound system
There are several reasons for my choice.
First and foremost, I must disclaim that I gave a fair try to a Sonos Beam soundbar placed directly under my 65-inch TV. Despite being ugly, I was immediately underwhelmed by the sound experience. There was no room-filling, warm and deep bass-y sound to be heard. A few tests with various movies quickly confirmed that the Sonos Beam was nowhere close to satisfying my very basic needs in terms of sounds. Hours after installing it, the return label was printed and the device packed back into its box.
Then I briefly looked into the Sonos Arc, a setup starting at $800, which might sound much better than the Beam, but would look just as ugly under my TV, if not more. I didn’t pull the trigger on that one because I wanted to give HomePods a try first.
Price and esthetics are a big deal to me. I already had two HomePods (one in the living room and one in the kitchen) and I was just using them to play music, so it eventually occurred to me that I could just create a stereo pair, and use that as my main TV sound system since I use Apple TV for all my TV needs anyway.
Initial set up was quick and simple and allowed me to confirm that not only the sound quality was up-to-par with my needs, but it was also an esthetically pleasing experience. The HomePods would just sit in corners of the rooms, away from the TV screen itself, and blending in my living room that one may think Jony Ive himself decorated (it’s white, bright, and minimalist, yet cosy).
And at the end of the day, this setup didn’t cost me anything extra since I already had the two HomePods. But even if I had had to buy two new HomePods at full price, the setup would have been less than a Sonos Arc.
It just works
As I said before, the initial setup was a bit shaky, but after some basic troubleshooting, I haven’t had any problem with it since.
To me, this setup is the perfect example of something that you set and forget, yet enjoy every single day.
On any given day, I would turn my TV on, turn the Apple TV on, and then don’t think about sound. It’s automatically output through my stereo pair, providing amazing sound that sometimes even tricks my wife and I.
See, the sound is so good that you can hear things in movies or TV shows that appear to be in the same room as you. It can be someone knocking at the door, or people talking in the background. Or maybe it’s a jet flying by. I swear it sometimes tricks us into thinking this is happening in our room, but it’s just on TV, or rather in the HomePods.
Sounds vs smarts
When I don’t use my HomePods as the default sound output, I do use them with voice commands. This has always been the point of contention with HomePod because, well, Siri sucks. No matter what you think of it or how you use it, it sucks and you will not change my mind about this. It’s something I’ve learned to live with over the years.
All this to say that if I initially bought HomePods in 2018, it wasn’t for the smarts. I knew the device wasn’t any smarter than Siri on my iPhone or iPad. Again, I’ve made peace with that a long time ago. But I knew the sound quality was going to be top-notch for the price and that these speakers would play nice with the rest of my Apple gear, all the while looking great in my house. I wasn’t wrong about any of that.
The other speakers in my home
I recently bought a Sonos Move to replace the HomePod of my kitchen. I chose this specific device because I want to be able to easily pick it up and bring it in the backyard. While the sound quality isn’t as fulfilling as the HomePod’s, I feel the Move is doing a great job. It sounds great, it is super portable, it has a long-lasting battery, it comes with a charging dock, and it has support for Amazon’s Alexa, which in some cases is better than Siri, and in others is not. After plugging in my credentials, Alexa can play anything from Apple Music. It can also answer basic questions, set multiple timers, and well, that’s about all I need my smart speaker to do. Am I happy with this purchase? Absolutely.
We also have a HomePod mini that my 9 year-old daughter got for her birthday. While it’s beautifully made, the sound quality is sub-par when you come from the full-size HomePod. But, it’s only $99! You can’t have your cake and eat it too! Would I buy a HomePod mini for myself? Nope.
Where do you go from here?
With Apple revealing Friday that it is discontinuing the original HomePod, my main concern at this point is about what will happen to HomePod and HomePod mini going forward.
Apple said it will continue to offer support and firmware updates for the original HomePod, and it will focus its efforts on HomePod mini. But what does that mean?
We can assume HomePod will not receive additional features, but what will happen to its existing ones? What about my stereo setup? Is that something that Apple will continue to support for the foreseeable future? I am afraid not.
What about the HomePod mini? What does “focusing its efforts on it” mean? Does that mean new features added on an annual basis? I’m skeptical.
Is it worth investing any money at this point in any HomePod product? I probably wouldn’t bet on that. But then we are back to where we were pre-HomePod era.
The only light I can see at the end of my tunnel is Apple opening up AirPlay support even more to outside companies and letting them do things that only Apple could do before.
Imagine AirPlay 3 implemented in Sonos products, allowing you to use four Sonos speakers as the default sound output for your Apple TV. Like paired stereo HomePods, but Sonos (or whatever speaker brand).
This is not necessarily a bad idea. It’s actually not too far from what Apple is doing with HomeKit. It provides a playground for other companies to play on. AirPlay 3 could be an extended playground.
Yes, I’m bummed out Apple is discontinuing the original HomePod because it puts my beloved setup at risk of becoming obsolete in the very near future. At this point, I can only hope for some sort of extended AirPlay support for speaker manufacturers.
At the end of the day, HomePod was just a speaker and what set it apart was how nice it played with my other Apple devices. But if Apple can open up a bit and let others pick up where it left off, it could be a win-win for everyone.