Apple HomePod (2nd Gen) & HomePod mini Review: Great Audio Quality for a Price
May 9, 2024 Andrew Cheng

After several years since Apple introduced its range of smart speakers, the Cupertino company is finally bringing them to the Malaysian market. Both the 2nd generation HomePod and the more affordable HomePod mini – which were released in 2023 and 2020 respectively – will be offered on our shores from tomorrow on 10 May.

I’ve tested both the HomePod and HomePod mini over the past week, and while they are not particularly affordable, the audio quality and smarts of these two speakers are excellent. Of course, this is assuming you’re already an Apple user, as the HomePod and HomePod mini are (naturally) tightly integrated with the Apple ecosystem.

What They Are

Let’s talk about prices first: the full-size 2nd gen HomePod retails at RM1,549 in Malaysia, while the more compact HomePod mini goes for RM529. In terms of features, both smart speakers are quite similar to each other, being able to act as a hub for a smart home system through Apple HomeKit and the Matter standard.

Hardware wise, the HomePod – being the costlier option – is the more well-equipped smart speaker of the two. Though the design of the new HomePod is similar to its predecessor, the glowing Siri animation on the top of the smart speaker has been expanded. It also comes with the Apple S7 chip now, which improves the HomePod’s “advanced computational audio” to improve audio quality by taking into accounts its placement in a room.

Speaking of which, the updated HomePod features a custom-engineered high-excursion woofer and five tweeters around the base. According to Apple, the smart speaker is able to deliver “rich, deep bass, natural mid-range, and clear, detailed highs.”

As for the HomePod mini, it has an Apple S5 chip that works with “advanced software to analyse the unique characteristics of the music and apply complex tuning models to optimise volume, adjust the dynamic range, and control the movement of the driver and passive radiators in real time,” as Apple puts it. In short, you can expect good audio quality out of the compact smart speaker, much like the larger HomePod.

How Good Is the HomePod?

What surprised me the most about the HomePod is just how good the audio quality is despite its relatively portable size as a home theater system. I connected two HomePod speakers to the 3rd gen Apple TV 4K to get stereo audio on my TV. This allows me to use the smart speakers for any audio output, even with the PlayStation 5. There’s minimal audio latency too despite the wireless setup.

Whether I’m gaming, watching a movie, or listening to some tunes, the HomePod offers an immersive audio experience. Vocals are clear even on busier tracks with a lot of instruments, highs sound great with a good amount of details intact, and the portable smart speaker can produce a good amount of bass too.

While I personally wish the bass is a tad boomier for added immersion, at least the HomePod can produce controlled, tight bass with a good amount of presence. I’ll take this quality any day over an overbearing amount of bass that will drown out the other sound frequencies.

The HomePod’s ability to take into account its placement in the room to produce the best audio quality is also quite impressive. I initially put it on either sides of my TV, and even as I move both units of the HomePod next to my couch – hey, I’m making full use of the wireless capability – they still sound largely similar. I don’t have to crank up the volume as much either as the speakers are physically closer to me now, which is great!

As for the smart aspect of the HomePod, I unfortunately can’t quite take full advantage of its ability to work as a hub for a smart home system in my residence, though I did have the opportunity to see it in action. Folks who have smart home products that support either the Apple HomeKit or Matter standard can simply ask Siri to perform various actions.

I can, for example, tie a scenario to a specific voice command, such as “I’m home.” Once Siri recognises the command, I can set the lights to switch on and the curtains to open up. Siri can also identify voice commands quite well while the HomePod is playing music at reasonably high volumes. I can even be across the room from where the HomePod is placed and Siri can still catch my voice.

Anything Bad About the HomePod?

Just like any tech product, the HomePod does have its fair share of shortcomings. For example, if you want to create a stereo pair for your TV with two HomePod speakers, you need the Apple TV 4K. Even to set up the speaker itself requires the use of an iPhone or iPad, which shows just how tightly integrated the HomePod is to the Apple ecosystem, for better or worse.

And then there’s the asking price of the HomePod, which is set at RM1,549 in Malaysia. If you want to get stereo audio out of the smart speaker, you’ll need to purchase two of it. For the same amount of money, you can get a reasonably capable soundbar, though it won’t quite have the smart capabilities of the HomePod.

What About the HomePod mini?

One aspect where the HomePod mini has a distinct advantage over the full-size HomePod is its value proposition. Priced at RM529, the compact smart speaker offers excellent audio quality for the money. I am genuinely surprised by the amount of bass that the miniature speaker can produce, and it can get quite loud as well to fill up, say, a bedroom.

Further increasing the value proposition of the HomePod mini is the fact that it has all the smarts of the larger HomePod. You can even set up two HomePod mini as a stereo pair like the larger model if you so desire, which I am actually seriously contemplating for my home office setup. There’s nothing quite like listening to great tunes to get through a (occasionally tough) workday.

Are They Worth It?

If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and you want a great-sounding speaker that can also act as a hub for your smart home system, the Apple HomePod and Apple HomePod mini are really the complete package. Sure, they aren’t particularly affordable, but you’re getting your money’s worth with these two smart speakers, in my opinion.

But the best part of the HomePod and HomePod mini is also their biggest weakness. If you don’t have an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV 4K already, the appeal of the smart speakers…well, diminishes. However, as mentioned, it’s a different story if you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem. In that case, the HomePod and HomePod mini will complement your home setup quite well, especially if you’re planning to set up a smart home system.