Apple doesn’t plan to ship its HomePod speaker until December, and its presence at WWDC is a little, well, muted: There were a couple of them in the post-keynote demo room, but they just sat there being attractive rather than showing off their stuff. However, the company is also doing listening tests for members of the media in a living room-sized space with a sofa and chairs, some potted plants, and four devices: two HomePods, an Amazon Echo, and a Sonos Play:3. The demo included music such as Sia’s “The Greatest” and Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA” played on the Apple, Sonos, and Amazon speakers. And it wrapped up with a live version of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” on two HomePods configured to work as a pair.
You can’t come to any definitive conclusions from demos done in a setting and with music controlled by one of the manufacturers in question. With that caveat, a single HomePod did sound better than the Sonos and Echo—it pumped out music that was rich, with bass that didn’t distort and a surround sound-like effect that belied the fact it came from one (fairly) small gadget. The $349 HomePod is a much pricier, more music-centric device than the Echo, so it’s no shocker that it performed better. But it also outdid the more musically inclined Sonos. And two HomePods really filled the room with music.
One thing to pay attention to once more people have heard HomePods for themselves: Apple is using lots of advanced technology, including post-processing, to make music sound like it’s not coming out of a compact cylinder that could be placed anywhere in a room. I’ll be curious to see if audiophile types with discerning ears are as impressed as those of us who just know when something sounds good.