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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Ears On with the HomePod

At WWDC today I got to listen to a HomePod for a little while, and compare it to a Sonos Play:3 and an Amazon Echo.

This will not surprise you, but the HomePod sounds a lot better than the Amazon Echo. It was also better than the Play:3, but with some caveats.

In general, I found the HomePod to sound quite good, with a powerful bass and great clarity in the treble. However, in a few cases—Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” was the one that really struck me—I felt that the Sonos Play:3 more accurately reproduced the feel of the track, while the (extremely early, pre-release version of the) HomePod’s clever audio processing technology spread the bass and vocals out so much that it didn’t sound right anymore.

Of course, with the HomePod half a year away from shipping, there’s probably a lot of software tweaking yet to be done in terms of audio processing.

It’s also worth keeping in mind: the HomePod is still a mono speaker. A pair of HomePods can produce a remarkable stereo effect, with great clarity and impressive separation—as you might expect for $700 worth of speakers.

The bottom line is, despite there being several Sonos speakers in my house, my wife and kids generally listen to music on the Amazon Echo these days, entirely because they don’t have to push any buttons or launch any apps in order to get the music playing. The Echo’s audio quality is not great, but it doesn’t matter—the voice interface wins out.

The HomePod, however, provides vastly better sound than the Echo, but with the voice control that we’ve come to enjoy. This suggests to me that the HomePod will be an appealing product come the end of the year—unless its competition gets a lot better between now and then, which it might. This a fast-moving category, after all.

In any event, I can tell you this: I have heard the HomePod and it sounded pretty good—admittedly in a situation designed by Apple to show off the HomePod. I wish I could’ve had a chance to talk to it, but there are months to go before it’s ready to be sold.

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