Apple HomePod…HomeTest

Here’s my experience giving the Apple HomePod a home test.

When the HomePod was announced in June of 2017, I was immediately interested.  It was to be released in November, so I told my wife it was my Christmas wish.  Instead, Apple delayed the release until February 2018, and my Christmas gift was just this photo:

On the first day it was available to order, I did.  On February 9th, the UPS man handed me the box.  It was much heavier than I expected.  I took out the nicely packed white HomePod and plugged it in.

With my iPad next to it, the setup was just a few taps on the screen, and the HomePod was activated.  From that point, no Apple device is needed.  The HomePod gets the music directly from iCloud through our wi-fi.  I asked Siri to play a particular song, and it sounded great.  There is amazing clarity throughout the frequency range.  The bass is extremely impressive, especially for the HomePod’s size, which is only about 7-inches high and 5 1/2-inches wide.

Now the reason I wanted the HomePod was for playing songs using my iTunes playlists.  Playlists are the way I’ve organized my music over the last 14 years or so.  Most of each playlist’s songs are placed in chronological order by years, and programmed with tempos, styles and meanings in mind.  Anyway, I didn’t want to just use Apple Music’s streaming service after spending so much time getting songs in order.  Plus, I have some rare versions of songs that aren’t readily available.  Here’s how the HomePod looks in our home:

And then there was a problem.  When I’d ask Siri to play certain playlists, it often couldn’t access the ones I requested.  I knew Siri was seeing the playlists, because when I asked for “Beatles 3”, she read the entire title, which is “Beatles 3 Rubber/Revolver”.  And although Siri said it was now playing, it wasn’t.  I estimated that only about a third of my playlists were actually working through the HomePod.  Big sigh of disappointment.

So, on Monday I called Apple Service, but the woman who answered said the HomePod only worked with Apple Music.  I knew better, so she passed me on to an “expert”.  Antonio was very helpful, and confirmed that my HomePod should be working, because all of my playlists were in iCloud through my Apple Match account.

We tried a few things.  The one that helped was simply starting all over with the setup.  When we were done, the HomePod was handling most of the playlists, but still having some trouble.  Antonio gave me the information for directly contacting him at Apple Service, and said he would report the situation to the Apple tech department.

On Tuesday, after unplugging the HomePod for a while, and plugging it back in again, everything worked.  It would play any playlist.  Since the HomePod automatically updates software, there may have been an improvement that had loaded.

(When Siri is voice-activated, the top has modulating colored lights.)

Before:  To play music on our large stereo system, it took:  1. Turning on the Mac in the office.  2. Going to the family room and using a remote to turn on the TV.  3. Using another remote to turn on the Apple TV.  4. Using yet another remote to turn on the Stereo Amplifier.  5. Choosing the Apple TV computer/music function, and then scrolling to the playlist I wanted.

Now:  I just walk into the living room and ask Siri to play whatever list or song I want.

Siri is also good at giving weather information, or the store hours for local businesses.  We haven’t tried many other questions.  If the HomePod only worked for music, it would be all we need.  By the way, my wife can use the system the same way, it isn’t set for just one voice.  The six internal microphones will pick up commands when spoken at a normal tone of voice, even when the music is fairly loud.  Until you activate the unit by saying “Hey Siri”, the HomePod is not monitoring what is said in your home, and then does so for just the command.  The audio is encrypted, not recorded, and never used to give advertising information to businesses.

The sound of the HomePod is very impressive.  Even though the audio is coming from a single source (with 8 internal speakers, as shown above), the instruments and voices seem separate and clear.  The bass is surprisingly full, and yet never muddy.  The volume goes higher than we’ll ever need, and it doesn’t distort at any setting.  Volume is adjusted by asking Siri, or by tapping the + and – lights on the top of the unit when it’s playing.   Basically, all stopping, pausing, resuming, and other needs can be accomplished by telling Siri.

The HomePod uses “beaming technology” to automatically adjust its audio pattern to fit any room in which it’s placed.  The circular array of the internal speakers is much better than any front-facing speaker at giving you good sound no matter where you sit in the room.  The circular array might become a common speaker design in the future, so there isn’t just one “sweet spot” for listening.

Now that we’ve had the HomePod for almost a week, we feel very good about it, even though we’ve had a few playlists missed when we’ve asked for them.  I’m guessing a software update or two will take care of any small problems.  I haven’t heard of any troubles for those simply using Apple Music streaming…which I may add later.

The HomePod is so enjoyable to listen to, we may even decide to add another one when the stereo option becomes available.  (“Hey Siri, my birthday is at the end of April.”)  If we add another HomePod, it would probably replace our large, much more expensive stereo system.  The sound of the HomePod is that good.

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