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Is HomePod Actually the Best-Sounding Smart Home Speaker?

Apple-HomePod-CNET Credit: CNET / Andrew Hoyle
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HomePod has been consistently rated as the best sounding smart home speaker since its announcement and its release. But you might not know that if you’ve only read Consumer Reports’ review — which rated HomePod’s audio quality lower than competitors like the Sonos One and Google Home Max..

CR wrote that HomePod’s sound was, overall, a “bit muddy compared with what the Sonos One and Google Home Max delivered.” That’s because, as CR puts it, HomePod overemphasized the low-end of music, calling it “boomy,” and added that the mid-range and treble elements weren’t as clear.

But that conclusion is in sharp contrast to most professional critical reviews of HomePod. So what’s going on?

Difference of Opinion (or Bias?)

To be clear, most media outlets and tech sites have rated HomePod very favorably. That includes Mashable, The Guardian, Recode, Pocket-Lint, Engadget, The Verge, TechCrunch, and What Hi-Fi, among others. Most of these tout HomePod as the best-sounding smart home speaker. By a long shot.

But, of course, there are exceptions. Along with CR, BuzzFeed and the Wall Street Journal didn’t concur with other reviews.

And David Pogue, a writer for Yahoo! Finance, conducted his own blind test and found the results inconclusive. Different listeners rated HomePod as the best for different songs, but they did not rate it the best across the board.

Interestingly, Pogue also noted that, to the best of his knowledge, no other publication had conducted a blind listening test of HomePod and other speakers. Looking over early reports, Pogue seems to be right.

Bias could certainly be a factor in how HomePod is being rated compared to other speakers — and it’s hard to account for that. And on that note, keep in mind Consumer Reports’ history of allegedly being biased against Apple products, as can be seen in a recent AppleInsider editorial.

The Bottom Line

It’s important to preface any discussion about audio quality the fact that audio hardware testing results can be contentious. Even if a speaker is rated consistently as “the best,” there will always be outliers. Any speaker is going to handle music differently, and music is also incredibly diverse. That goes for music listeners, too. Audio preferences are inherently subjective.

That was the general conclusion of Pogue’s review and blind test. And despite the inconclusive results of his testing, Pogue did note that HomePod “generally sounds better than any other smart speaker — but only somewhat.”

The truth of the matter is that, unless you were directly comparing HomePod to other speakers side-by-side, you’d be hard-pressed to declare a clear winner.

What that means for consumers is this: HomePod is going to be one of — if not the — best sounding smart home speaker on the market. Any difference between it and other comparable, excellent-sounding speakers is going to be nominal.

Frankly, audio quality is secondary compared to other concerns about HomePod’s features (and lack thereof). So, if it makes sense for you and your ecosystem, get a HomePod. Rest assured that you’d have to split hairs to find one that actually sounds better than it.

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