Look, I’d go to more gigs if it weren’t for the cost, crowds, and rigmarole of getting there. Now, however, after too short a listening session with the new Apple HomePod 2, I may not need to go anywhere. The music experience is so good.
While Apple’s new HomePod 2 looks like its predecessor, it really is quite different. After Apple’s surprise launch, I looked at pictures of new audio components versus old ones. Basically everything is different.
Inside the new HomePod 2 is a long-excursion woofer with a custom amplifier, five tweeters (each paired with a custom amplifier), and a four far-field microphone array. There’s even a sensor that monitors the system’s performance (including its internal temperature) to see if it can boost power even further…
Inside the original HomePod compared to the second generation HomePod. It looks like a cleaner design and some repositioning of audio components like the tweet board for example. pic.twitter.com/FdsUgqfnkSJanuary 18, 2023
Yes, that’s two fewer tweeters than the original HomePod, but it’s new hardware, and the tweeters are all angled upwards to avoid sound distortion from reflections off whatever surface the speaker is placed on.
The mesh fabric is about the same as the last HomePod, although it is made of recyclable materials and is designed not to muffle sound.
That’s all you can find out by reading the publicly available specification page of the new audio equipment. But after my listening experience, I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for the HomePod 2’s exceptional sound quality.
Due to the HomePod 2’s design, you’d expect 360-degree sound, but this simplistic term is misleading. Based on my listening experience, HomePod 2 uses its versatile audio skills and supporting technology to create an impressive and immersive soundscape.
We started with the song “Everybody” by Ingrid Michaelson. I was sitting about two meters away from the speakers in a medium-sized living room with a high ceiling. It’s a beautiful melody, with Michealeson’s clear, bright, pitiful voice front and center. What I noticed right away was from one HomePod 2 the perfect separation of acoustic instruments and her voice. I could clearly pick out the tambourine, guitar, and drum kit as separate pieces in the air. I wish I could listen to the whole song, Michealeson’s voice is a bit magical.
Next was the funky Six or Seven More by Cool Sounds. Thanks to this, I had the opportunity to experience surprisingly strong, rich and warm bass. I noticed that even with solid bass, the music was never muddy. The HomePod 2 gave me a sense of where the original instruments might have been during the recording session.
Some of the HomePod 2’s musical prowess can be attributed to the S7 chip (yes, same as the Apple Watch 7) and the use of Advanced Computational Audio. The HomePod 2 essentially listens to itself and makes adjustments on the fly to improve audio quality just like the first – but now with more processing power.
The HomePod 2 was adept at delivering audio clarity at everything from 30% to 90% volume. 90% was loud but not in a bad way. That was the moment I thought I had walked into a bar to listen to a really amazing indie band.
One of the interesting things about the new HomePod 2 is its spatial awareness. When listening to music from a single then stereo pair of HomePod 2s, I noticed that the sounds often didn’t seem to come directly from the HomePods (thanks Spatial Audio!). Some came from the left, some from the right, and still others (usually, but not always, vocals) from a dead center. However, the most interesting sounds were those that seemed to overwhelm me; they bounced off the back wall (maybe a meter from the HomePod 2) and then went up and I guess bounced from walls to ceiling to my ears.
The HomePod’s spatial awareness comes from all those microphones that can read a room in about 20 seconds and adjust the sound to suit the space. The HomePod 2 even has an accelerometer, so it knows when it’s moving, and when a new song is played in a new space, it’ll quickly adjust.
Listening to Faith The Weeknd, I could really hear that soundscape of the electronic building in the area behind the HomePods 2, then slowly moving forward until the entire soundstage blew over me. And of course, the bass was smooth and moving, not once getting in the way of the bright falsetto vocals.
I really enjoyed listening to Boomerang Yebby. There are so many different acoustic instruments you can pick up right down to human hands beating a drum.
A pair of HomePod 2 speakers were even more impressive.
Lady Mase and Don Toliver’s Mystery sounded like it was coming from behind and in front of me. The soundstage was so wide and deep that it didn’t matter where I stood in the room. That’s not to say that the dead center in front of the speakers wasn’t an optimal listening experience. It was, but I might as well have turned my face or stood in the corner and listened.
A live recording of The Eagles’ Hotel California highlighted the speaker’s ability to elevate the individual instruments in the introduction. I anxiously waited for Don Henley to start singing, not realizing that the preamble lasted almost a full minute in the song. [Note from our Audio Editor: “Ah, first time?”] The separation of the left and right sides in the song, and the ability of the HomePod 2 stereo pair to place applause and reactions from the audience to the side, made it sound like a real live performance.
Taken in the vacuum of this little experience, the new HomePod 2 offers impressive audio chops for a $299 / £299 / AU$479 smart speaker. That’s right I said smart speaker because there’s a lot more than the HomePod 2 can do but if you don’t want it for anything more than the best music you’ve listened to in a while then it’s probably worth checking out and the HomePod 2 could make it onto our list of the best smart speakers.