There are many, many reviews of Apple HomePod which began shipping last week. They almost universally fall into one of three camps:
- The sound quality is great and you should buy it.
- The sound quality is great, but it is so expensive you should buy something less costly.
- Siri is so far behind as a voice assistant, you should buy another smart speaker.
Many of the purveyors of these evaluations do test a lot of consumer products. However, few have reputations that can match Consumer Reports’ record for fair-minded product comparisons. Here is something worth considering. Consumer Reports has tested Apple HomePod and determined that Google Home Max is superior in audio quality.
Our testers found that Apple’s speaker does deliver very good audio performance, though it’s not the best-sounding wireless speaker in our ratings—or even the best-sounding smart speaker…While the world was waiting for Apple’s speaker to go on sale, Sonos and Google raised the stakes with the Sonos One and the Google Home Max, which launched last fall. Now Apple’s smart speaker is entering a marketplace with several options for discriminating music lovers.
Evaluating Smart Speakers for Sound Quality
There is no mention in this comparison about the performance of the voice assistant even though Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant were represented in the evaluation. This was to Apple’s advantage since Siri has been scoring poorly for smart speaker use cases compared to its peers. However, even when isolating the comparison to HomePod’s strength, Consumer Reports says the product still comes up short.
The bottom line? Overall the sound of the HomePod was a bit muddy compared with what the Sonos One and Google Home Max delivered. All three of these speakers were impressive compared with other smart speakers we’ve tested, but they fall significantly short of our highest-rated wireless speakers, such as the Edifier S1000DB, $350, which earned an Excellent sound-quality rating.
You can say that Google Home Max is $50 more expensive and twice the size so it should outperform HomePod. It is worth noting that Sonos One retails for only $199 compared to a HomePod price of $349. Sonos is known for audio quality and mass marketing wireless speakers which may offer them an advantage today. In addition, the company has been offering a discount that means you can purchase two Sonos One devices for the price of a single HomePod. The bigger surprise is that Google Home Max did so well given Google’s recent entry into the high-end audio segment.
Not Everyone Agrees
Yahoo tech reviewer David Pogue came to a different conclusion. Although he also spoke highly of Sonos One, he thought HomePod was equal in performance and Google Home Max trailed both significantly in audio quality. After a side-by-side demonstration of HomePod, Google Home Max, Sonos One and Amazon Echo, Pogue concluded:
“The HomePod sounded the best. Its bass, in particular, was amazing: full and deep, but also distinct and never muddy — you could hear the actual pitch of the bass notes, not just the thud…The Amazon Echo is a much smaller, slimmer device, one-third the price, so it’s forgiven for sounding thin compared with the HomePod. The Sonos One came awfully close to the HomePod’s rich sound; you’d really have to hear the A/B test to declare a difference. The real shock was the Google Home Max, a massive, 12-pound machine that’s supposed to be all about the sound; it sounded like cardboard compared with the HomePod and Sonos.”
So, everyone seems to think Sonos One is very high quality. Individual reviewers like Pogue have come to a different conclusion than Consumer Reports’ panel participants. Of course, the demonstration Pogue witnessed was conducted by Apple so that could have impacted the results. It would not be surprising for any vendor to choose a demonstration that portrayed their product in the best light. There could be situational variances that materially impact sound quality.
No matter how you assess the various reviews, the Consumer Reports conclusion is a clear win for both Google and Sonos. Sonos gets a much needed publicity boost and Google gets a nice stamp of approval from the leading independent reviewer of consumer technology products.