Apple HomePod 2nd Gen review: Yes, it’s better
- Good soundscape
- Works nicely as a stereo pair
- Matter compatibility should add more smart home devices over time
- Won’t pair with the 1st Gen HomePod
- Pricey, especially for a stereo pair
- AirPlay only if you’re not using Apple Music
It was something of a surprise when Apple announced it was bringing the HomePod back.
The company made a lot of finely tuned noise about the OG HomePod when it first launched into the smart speaker category, only to dump the HomePod entirely in favour of the smaller HomePod mini. Was it not selling? Was Apple having supply chain problems? It never said, so we never knew.
The HomePod mini seemed to make a lot of sense for Apple, but now the bigger, bolder and more expensive HomePod is back. Actually, it's slightly cheaper than the original HomePod was when it launched, which is always nice.
Nice is the right word to use here, because after testing out the second-generation Apple HomePod, I'm impressed by its general audio quality and some of the smart steps that Apple's taken to make it a more complete part of a smart home.
However, it's also a tough smart speaker to really recommend unless you're already deep in the Apple ecosystem – and even then for some – the HomePod mini might be a better buy.
Buy Apple HomePod 2nd Gen products
Design: Sure looks familiar
Unpacking the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen gave me an eerie feeling of déjà vu. While they're "new" smart speakers, it's hard not to compare them to the original units, because they certainly look very similar indeed.
The Apple HomePod 1st Gen came in Space Grey or White finishes, or black or white finishes if you're not into fancy marketing words.
The Apple HomePod 2nd Gen comes in Midnight or White finishes, or black or white finishes if you're still not into fancy marketing terms.
I didn't have an original HomePod to compare colours against, so maybe there's a tiny hue difference between Space Grey and Midnight that I'm not appreciating here. Most folks will just look at the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen and think it's a black speaker no matter what Apple might want to call it.
There are some smaller differences between the units that won't be immediately apparent. The biggest – and most welcome – change is that the power cable for the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen is entirely removable, whereas it was a fixed component on the original model. If that cable frayed or died, you were out of luck, but not with the 2nd Gen model.
Were you to bust the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen open, you'd 100% invalidate the warranty, so maybe don't do that.
But if you did, you'd discover that Apple has made changes in the intervening years, even if they're ones that might not seem to encourage better sound quality.
Internally, the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen features 5 internal tweeters, down 2 from the original model. Of course, audio quality isn't just about how many internal tweeters or woofers you throw into a speaker, but that's an interesting move given how similar the new unit is to the old one.
Installation: Have your iPhone or iPad at the ready
Apple prides itself on keeping matters simple and consumer-friendly, and that's mostly the case for the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen when it comes time to set up.
The catch here is that the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen won't set up at all in any way if you don't have an iPhone or iPad nearby. Specifically an iPhone SE 2nd Gen or better, or an iPhone 8 or better and on the iPad side a 5th Gen iPad, 3rd Gen iPad Air, or 5th Gen iPad mini or newer. Everything has to be running the latest iOS or iPadOS respectively too.
I get that the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen is an Apple product and Apple wants to keep it all in the family and all that, but the weird outlier here is that you can't set it up with any Mac at all. Once set up, I can use Apple Music on a Mac to send sound directly to a HomePod of my choice – or even a pair of HomePods – but not for actual set-up.
Performance: Good sound, Matter will eventually matter
Apple supplied me with a pair of Apple HomePod 2nd Gen speakers for testing. That gave me scope to test not only direct audio output from 1 HomePod 2nd Gen but also as a stereo pair and as an ad-hoc soundbar for a TV with an Apple TV connected.
The Apple HomePod 2nd Gen works with most music streaming services over AirPlay, but to the surprise of absolutely nobody, it's absolutely best matched with Apple's own Apple Music subscription service. That's both because the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen can take advantage of Apple's Spatial Audio system, but also because Apple Music is the only music service that Siri actually understands.
If you can find a track on other services such as Tidal or Spotify, you can fairly seamlessly throw it to an Apple HomePod 2nd Gen via AirPlay. But if you're after the lazy simple satisfaction of asking the speaker to play it for you, it'll only do so on Apple Music.
That annoyance aside, I've got a few complaints about the audio quality coming out of the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen.
I no longer have a first-generation model to compare with to see what differences are apparent, but across a bevy of tracks the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen delivered crisp and clear sound.
Elvis's "Are You Lonesome Tonight" delivers his high distinctive vocals with the guitar and harmony backing very nicely separated.
Switching to something a little heavier, Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" loses very nearly nothing in its wonderful heavy guitar intro, with just the right amount of head-jarring base to boot.
Prince's "Purple Rain" is one of my go-to tracks for audio testing because I'm so very familiar with it. The Apple HomePod 2nd Gen managed the 2015 remaster edition very well indeed, giving just the right amount of reverb to Prince's vocals without losing the drums, guitars or delicate violin parts.
The Apple HomePod 2nd Gen supports Apple's Spatial Audio for supported tracks. Testing with the Beatles classic "Come Together" and both HomePod 2nd Gen units paired for stereo gave an impressive and highly immersive experience. Sure, it didn't bring John Lennon back, but it was very close.
One big caveat here is that if you invested in an original HomePod 1st Gen and you figure you'd only have to buy 1 Apple HomePod 2nd Gen to get a stereo pair, think again. Apple's new gear won't talk at all to an older HomePod. How rude!
Speaking of that stereo pair, if you do drop the necessary bucks for 2 of the 2nd Gen models and already have an Apple TV, you can opt to use them as a replacement for your TV speakers.
This works fairly well, but I couldn't help but think that for the nearly a thousand bucks you'd be spending, you could score an even better dedicated soundbar.
The other half of the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen's value equation is in smart home control. That was present on the original model as well as the smaller HomePod mini, but the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen does have a few new quirks.
Like the Apple HomePod mini, there's an integrated humidity and temperature sensor, but this time Apple's remembered to turn it on. Okay, I'm being slightly unfair there. The HomePod mini is now also capable of addressing its internal humidity and temperature sensors. It just wasn't when it first launched.
So why do these matter? You can use them to see the detected temperature and humidity in the Home app or ask Siri directly just why you're sweating like it's going out of fashion, although I accept that might just be me right now and not your specific circumstances.
Where it gets smarter is that you can tie particular limits into other smart actions. So if you've got a smart plug on a fan, you could get it to kick into gear if it gets too hot in a room. No prizes for guessing what automation I checked out.
The Apple HomePod 2nd Gen can also talk to any HomeKit-enabled gear you've already set up, as well as having support for the emerging Matter standard for wider compatibility. I didn't have any Matter gear to compare or test with the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen, and for most, that's likely to be more of a future-proofing matter (pun not intended) in any case.
Should you buy the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen?
- Buy it if you're heavily in the Apple ecosystem and want higher-end speaker audio than the HomePod mini offers.
- Don't buy it if you want to use alternate sound sources or don't own an iPhone.
The Apple HomePod 2nd Gen does improve the general HomePod story for Apple, bringing back higher-fidelity audio that compliments the higher-quality audio that Apple serves up via Apple Music for selected artists and tracks these days.
However, it's very much an Apple product for die-hard Apple fans. If you just want the smart speaker life for controlling your home, the HomePod mini is a considerably more affordable option.
It's nice that the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen is $20 cheaper than the 1st Gen models were when they launched, but $479 per speaker still marks the Apple HomePod 2nd Gen out in premium territory, especially if you wanted to play around with multi-room audio or any level of stereo pairing.
Pricing and availability
The Apple HomePod 2nd Gen retails in Australia in Midnight or White finishes for $479.
How we tested
Apple loaned me a pair of Midnight Apple HomePod 2nd Gen units for the purposes of testing. I tested with a variety of music tracks playing through Apple Music, including tracks with lossless and spatial audio features to assess its audio quality, as well as its general smart home feature set.
As a product reviewer, I've got more than 20 years of experience covering the consumer tech space including all Apple products released in that timeframe. I'm a multi-time Australian IT Journo award winner, including winner of the 2022 Best Reviewer award.
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