Voicebot reported yesterday about Consumer Reports testing that revealed Google Home Max and Sonos beat out Apple HomePod for audio quality. Another evaluation available today with a video from Yahoo’s David Pogue shows a similar outcome. Pogue’s evaluation was unscientific but did enable five people, including a professional violinist and audio technician, to state their preference after listening to five different musical selections on four devices. The devices tested included Apple HomePod ($349), Google Home Max ($399), Sonos One with Alexa support ($199), and Amazon Echo Plus ($150).
Three testers voted Sonos One as the best performer and two chose Google Home Max. That means no tester thought Apple HomePod was best, but some did make comments that it was very good for certain tracks. One reviewer thought Google Home Max and Apple HomePod consistently sounded the best and Amazon Echo Plus consistently the worst. A key element of this test was that the devices were hidden behind a screen so no tester could determine which device was being evaluated at any given time.
Does HomePod Audio Quality Performance Matter?
The reason this matters is that Apple focused so much on marketing HomePod based on its audio quality. This strategy is partly based on Apple’s historic strength in music and HomePod’s tight integration with Apple Music. It also reflects an engineering focus and avoids the uncomfortable comparisons of Siri capabilities versus other voice assistants. If it isn’t the best in audio quality and you can buy two Sonos One speakers for the price of one HomePod, what is the reason to purchase the device?
The Subjective Nature of Audio Quality Comparisons
Pogue said his own preference is HomePod and in a pre-test rehearsal with two different testers, both chose HomePod as the best. He commented in the video summary:
I expected to see B, B, B, B, B across the board [that was the HomePod’s letter]. I guess the lessons from that experiment are: number one different people experience sound differently and number two maybe there is not as much sound difference across these speakers as all that.
So, sound quality perceptions are subjective. Not everyone is going to believe that the extra cost of a HomePod is worth it because they like the sound of a different device better. And, it appears HomePod may not have an audio quality advantage for many people after all. That means Apple will need to compete on other features to win the larger market. Or, it may just mean Apple must rely on consumers already fiercely loyal to the Apple device ecosystem to drive HomePod sales. Come to think of it, that may be enough.