Apple HomePod gets a $299 audio upgrade: hands on

Apple unveiled a file HomePod second generation on Wednesday, nearly two years after the first HomePod was discontinued. CNET was present at the company’s event in New York City to hear the new speaker in person.

So, first, what has changed? The new version is a full-size smart speaker with “improved acoustics” and new smart home capabilities, including temperature and humidity sensors and the ability to notify you if you hear a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm.

Both the new HomePod and HomePod Mini Rely on Siri, the company’s voice assistant, to listen to and carry out “Hey, Siri” commands.

Called the HomePod like the previous model, the new speaker is Available now for pre-order at the Apple Store It retails for $299 (£299, AU$479) and will be available February 3rd. Available in black or white.

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Apple’s second-generation HomePod is still in the pre-order phase, though we’re now seeing it listed at several third-party retailers in addition to Apple itself. The device begins shipping on February 3.

The design is very similar to the original full size HomePod. The new speaker measures 6.6 inches long by 5.6 inches wide and is about the same size as its predecessor as well. But the new HomePod has a handful of major upgrades.

Inside are a dedicated tweeter and five tweeters that use a beam configuration to direct sound and improve immersion, according to Apple. You can link two HomePod speakers to create a stereo pair, though doing so requires two HomePods of the same model. You can’t combine an original HomePod with a new one to create a pair, for example. Multiple HomePods around the home can be linked for multi-room audio using AirPlay 2.

It also supports loudspeaker spatial soundApple’s term for 360-degree effects that include Dolby Atmos Music available on Apple Music. Atmos is a surround sound standard used in both movie theaters and at home, and has recently been used to remix albums.

Apple HomePod speaker in all-encompassing view

Inside the new Apple HomePod is an internal high-frequency bass-EQ microphone and a five-woofer speaker array.

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The soundbar has some new smart home additions up its sleeve, too. A feature called Intelligent Recognition, coming via this spring software update, “can listen for smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and send a notification directly to the user’s iPhone if a voice is recognized,” according to Apple. The soundbar also has temperature and humidity sensors, and you can set up triggers to automatically close curtains or turn on a fan when the room reaches a certain temperature.

Temperature and humidity sensor and smart recognition features were also announced as coming to the HomePod Mini.

In addition to support HomeKit from AppleThe full-size HomePod also supports the new version matter standardIt is an open source protocol that works with many smart home devices.

Apple HomePod speaker next to iPhone.

Placing your iPhone close to your HomePod lets you hand songs, voice calls, and more to the speaker.

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You can move your iPhone close to the speaker to hand anything that produces sound, from a song to a podcast to a voice call, to the speaker. (This feature requires iOS 16.3.) The phone will also display personalized song and podcast suggestions when held near the speaker. The HomePod supports Apple’s Find My feature, so you can ask Siri to play a sound on a misplaced device, or request the location of friends or family they share via the Find My app.

friends Apple TV 4K A streaming device can make the HomePod its own TV speaker for all devices connected to the TV, thanks eARC cross connect HDMI port. Siri voice commands that HomePod hears can also control Apple TV hands-free.

ears with the new HomePod

CNET’s Ty Pendlebury attended the Apple event and provided a personal perspective.

It’s always difficult to be sure of the speaker’s sound quality in a canned show like this, and I’ll save any specific ideas until I get a review unit to test out for myself. Overall, though, the song snippets I heard sounded good, and the speaker should appeal to people who already have, have, or were interested in the original.

The company kicked off its proceedings in a Tribeca loft with some pop hits — including The Weeknd — and was initially surprised to hear how small the speaker sounded. Despite offering 360-degree surround sound, I found the audio to be quite intertwined with the speaker itself. With the next track, Boomerang by Yebba, the company wanted to emphasize the HomePod’s spatial acoustic compatibility. And while there was a circulatory effect in the thirty seconds they played, it wasn’t very obvious.

The most impressive part of the demo, though, was when the company added a second speaker, making it a stereo HomePod pair. When playing Mystery Lady by Masego and Don Toliver, the loading platform instantly expands – and not just by creating a stereo field. A percussion effect can be heard to the far left outside the physical location of the tanks.

I finally heard about the original HomePod in 2017 when company reps used the live version from The Eagles’ Hotel California to highlight the bass response. However, when the bass drum got about a minute into the song, it sounded unintentionally terrible. The huge drum seems to overburden the speaker and results in a “blet” sound.

At today’s event, there were no such issues, and the drum sounded just as massive and deep as the company had hoped.

Entering a competitive market

It was Apple Rumored to work on ‘HomePod 2’ Since at least June 2022, this will be the company’s fourth speaker in the past 20 years. The company has only released three other speakers – the iPod Hi-Fi, the original $350 Apple HomePod, and the Apple HomePod HomePod Miniwhich is still on sale for $99.

The new $299 HomePod will compete directly with high-end smart speakers like Amazon Echo Studio And Sonos one, and both cost $200. Meanwhile, the current HomePod Mini is competitively priced Google’s largest Nest Audio devicethough it’s been undercut by the $49 Google Nest Mini and most Amazon Echo models.

Apple’s Siri voice assistant may be dominant in mobile devices, but the company has struggled to translate that success into smart speakers. In terms of competition, Amazon’s Echo series and Google Nest speakers are vying for first and second place.

I look forward to reviewing the new Apple HomePod soon.

CNET’s Sean Kane contributed to this report.

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