Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) smart speaker HomePod was never going to be as smart as Amazon.com, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Echo or Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Home. After all, Siri has fallen behind Alexa and Google Assistant. But the $349 HomePod was going to be the best speaker. Apple built HomePod to blow competitors out of the water when it came to audio performance.
But that may not be the case, at least according to Consumer Reports.
There’s a lot riding on that assessment. The HomePod is Apple’s entry in a rapidly growing smart speaker race and a key to control of the smart home. Plus, the speaker is a potential big deal for AAPL stock.
“Apple HomePod Sounds Good, but Other Smart Speakers Sound Better”
Consumer Reports published early results on its testing of the Apple HomePod, and with the headline above, cast doubt on Apple’s chances of succeeding. The company is a very late entrant to the market. Even Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has had Cortana in a smart speaker for nearly six months.
The assumption was that Apple was hanging back to study the pain points, so when the HomePod was finally released, it would be the best smart speaker on the market.
HomePod’s audio performance would cement it as the best smart speaker for music lovers. With Apple’s design chops, its Beats audio expertise, several years to study the smart speaker market and a $349 price tag, that was a safe assumption.
And when it comes to smart speakers, audio has been the pain point. Despite the fact that these are marketed as ‘speakers,’ most are more a housing for a virtual assistant that can also incidentally play music. Until Google released its Google Home Max in December, that is.
Consumer Reports’ Audio Test
But Consumer Reports doesn’t agree that’s how it turned out. They tested several HomePod speakers in a listening room lab environment, with reference speakers for comparison. Reviewers gave the HomePod audio a ‘Very Good’ rating. They said that the speaker would “serve many music fans well,” but did point out a few flaws:
“The HomePod’s bass was a bit boomy and overemphasized. And the midrange tones were somewhat hazy, meaning that some of the nuance in vocals, guitars, and horns was lost: These elements of the music couldn’t be heard as distinctly as in more highly rated speakers. Treble sounds, like cymbals, were underemphasized.”
According to Consumer Reports, the HomePod is better than early generation smart speakers.
It’s slightly “muddy” sound placed it behind the Google Home Max, however. It also failed to match the audio performance of the cheapest offering from multi-room wireless audio leader Sonos. Ultimately, the Consumer Reports testers placed the $199 Sonos One and $399 Google Home Max ahead of the HomePod for audio quality.
Not Everyone Agrees With Consumer Reports
If you check early HomePod reviews, they have been overwhelmingly positive. At least in terms of HomePod audio — Siri’s performance is another matter.
But many of those have been subjective reviews, in a home environment without reference speakers to compare against.
What Hi-Fi?— my personal go-to source for stereo reviews — paints a picture of HomePod audio that’s a mixture of the prevailing opinion and Consumer Reports’ results. According to What Hi-Fi? the Apple HomePod “is the best-sounding smart speaker available — and by quite a margin.” They do, however, point out that the mid range is “a little muddled.”
In other words, the HomePod truly takes a Beats approach to music. Expect premium audio that’s heavy on the bass, but not as crisp as some. Depending on how you measure audio performance, that approach may or may not make it the best smart speaker for music lovers. But based on Beats’ success in dominating the headphone market, it bodes well for the HomePod’s prospects.
If Apple can just get Siri up to speed — and the Consumer Reports findings don’t cause too big a wave — the HomePod may yet develop into an AAPL stock factor.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.