Earlier in the year, Apple released the HomePod, their first foray into the rapidly growing smart speaker market. It was initially limited in functionality if you weren’t heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, but the phenomenal sound quality made up for a lot of its limitations. With the release of the latest iOS 11.4 update, the HomePod now adds the much-anticipated stereo and multi-room capabilities, as well as some updates to Siri’s functionality that continue to build the HomePod’s case as one of the best smart speakers on the market.
When we first reviewed the HomePod at launch, we were big fans of the room-filling sound quality that came from a speaker that was only 18 centimetres tall. The HomePod managed to sound great wherever we placed it. This is due to the built-in six-microphone array that continually evaluates its own output relative to the room it’s in, and then makes adjustments to the sound accordingly. This carries over when you pair them as a set, with each HomePod not only detecting its own placement in a room but also that of its partner.
With two HomePods together, sound fills the room with no discernable point of reference as to where it’s coming from like you’d get with a single speaker. The sound really floored us with richer bass, less cross-over spill from high and mid frequencies, and a wider soundstage. It’s not just a case of doubling the sound, paired together a set of HomePods genuinely enhances it.
Once your iOS device and HomePods are updated, you can name, connect and control them all from within Apple’s Home app. When you select a song through Apple Music, a series of checkboxes will pop-up asking you which speaker or speakers you’d like it to play through. It also allows you to adjust the volume of each HomePod individually or as a set, with the main volume slider keeping the volume ratio the same if you’re adjusting both at once. This is ideal if you have HomePods at opposite ends of a room and want to keep the volume of one at a lower level than the other. The in-built A8 chip inside features an Apple-designed wireless peer-to-peer link that pairs the two speakers directly so there are no drop-outs or interference from other devices.
Siri itself will also receive an update and will now have the ability to send messages, add reminders, notes and calendar appointments as well as play podcasts, read news updates and control a variety of HomeKit devices. You can also ask Siri to play music on a specific speaker or both with your voice by saying ‘Hey Siri, play The Strokes in the lounge room’ or ‘Hey Siri, move the music from the lounge room to the bedroom.’ It works really well thanks to the sensitive built-in microphones, but it should be noted that at this time Siri can only perform these commands for Apple Music.
The existing AirPlay 1 standard allowed you to play music from other streaming services such as YouTube, Spotify or Google Play Music on the HomePod. However, with the updated AirPlay 2 standard will now allow you to stream from these services to multiple HomePods or pair the HomePod with compatible AirPlay 2 speakers from manufacturers such as Bang & Olufsen, Bowers & Wilkins, Marantz, Marshall, and SONOS; who will be releasing an update later this year. If you do change the audio source on your iOS device, you will be asked if you’d like to replace the audio stream on all devices or just one, perfect for when you want to play a YouTube video in one room but leave music playing in another.
If you already own a HomePod, you’ll already know how amazing it sounds and believe us, when paired with another that experience is even better. But, If you were hesitant because the HomePod lacked some of the features of its Amazon, Google and SONOS counterparts then this update continues to close that gap, making the HomePod one of the most compelling choices on the market.