Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) review

An odd, unexpected update to an unloved (but powerful) speaker

Luxury
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Apple is back with a new audio powerhouse with the new HomePod 2nd-gen, and it’s given it a few tweaks here and there to help it find a place in your home. 

At first glance, it seems very similar to the first, reportedly poorly-selling, HomePod, and a quick look at specs inside doesn’t yield much change.  

Essentially, it’s gained a temperature and humidity sensor, lost a couple of tweeter speakers compared to the previous model, and the onboard intelligence has increased. 

There doesn’t seem to be that much different on the outside – but surely there must be a reason that Apple decided to reboot its premium, high-end speaker?

Two Homepod 2nd Gen speakers, side by sideCredit: Exceptional
The white and the black HomePod 2nd Gens work well in tandem

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023)

Luxury

The new HomePod sounds great, but excels when working in a pair – so you’ll need to double the price to get the most out of it. Siri is a useful smart home companion, albeit still slightly limited, and you will need a monthly Apple Music subscription to get the most out of Apple’s speaker.


Who’s this for?

If you’re not an iPhone or iPad user, stay away. If you love Siri, Apple’s smart home and great sound, this speaker is for you.

Our likes and dislikes

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Great soundbar replacement
  • Still no Bluetooth support
  • Siri can sometimes fail

Expect to pay

RRP: £299 We doubt you’ll see that many deals or discounts over the coming months or years. That said, Apple did drop the price of the previous HomePod eventually.

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Review method

How we test

We were sent two of the new HomePod units by Apple, and we added these to our home network and attempted to connect them to a variety of streaming services to see how they performed.

We used them both individually in separate rooms, as a stereo pair and as TV speakers through the Apple 4K TV, listening to movies, music and TV for several hours before reaching our verdict.

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Design

A familiar design

Two Apple HomePod speakers apart on a tableCredit: Saga Exceptional
The white and black versions of the HomePod are quite distinct

When you pick up the HomePod, it’s certainly weighty. This is the same heft as the first model from 2018, mostly because it’s designed to pump out premium sound so needs a few speakers and a strong frame to emit the vibrations well. 

The outer casing is covered in a mesh, which is made from recycled materials, and the top ‘display’ curves nicely into the frame of this cylindrical design.  

It’s far from unattractive and the two colours available (white and black, although it’s more of a silvery white and a grey black) look unobtrusive when placed on a shelf or in front of a TV (if acting as a soundbar). 

Apple has changed the base of the speaker from a rounded rubber ‘donut’ – this is important as the first iteration of this speaker managed to rub away at wooden surfaces from the vibrations of music. The new flatter rubber base didn’t leave any marks on the tables we tested it on. 

The top of the HomePod houses the volume and touch controls – earlier we called it a ‘display’ because it lights up to your touch, swirling with colour when activating Siri (Apple’s voice assistant) or quietly pulsing when playing music. 

It’s nice to touch, although does feel a little plastic-like, rather than solid and glassy, which is a surprise for such a well-made speaker as we expected a firmer surface. 

There’s no battery on offer here, so you’ll need to keep your HomePod connected to a power source. The 2023 HomePod model allows you to disconnect the power supply (where it was hardwired before). 

This is great if you need to replace it should it get chewed through by an errant house rabbit or similar. 

It’s also much easier to take review pictures as a result, but we’re assuming that Exceptional readers won’t need to do the same thing… 

Q: Can you use the HomePod with an Android phone or within a Sonos system? Lorraine Henderson, Experienced Voices Panel.

Sadly, no. Android phones can’t connect to the Bluetooth of the new HomePod, and there’s no aux-in line to play anything other than streamed content from an iPhone or Apple’s approved platforms.

While you can’t integrate the HomePod with a Sonos system fully, both are equipped with AirPlay 2 – so you can just select both from your list of speakers and have them play around the house.

We tried the same thing with a Sky Q box, using the TV’s speakers, and the sound wasn’t quite in sync – but it may be different with other speakers.

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Setup

A simply complex setup

The HomePod in a box on a wooden table in front of a window
The HomePod is relatively easy to set up

Setting up Apple products is always meant to be a simple experience – after all, that’s what the brand has made its reputation on, things just working. 

It’s simple to get the new HomePod 2023 up and running in a few minutes. Simply plug it in, bring your iPhone close to the speaker and then it’ll initiate the startup sequence.  

This requires you to position your iPhone’s camera above the HomePod to register the swirling icon, and then the speaker sends out a melodic audio pulse to get going – in doing so, it will work out whether it’s near a wall or in the centre of a room, and will tailor audio accordingly.  

This is a good point to reiterate that you must have an iPhone or iPad to set the HomePod up, otherwise you simply won’t be able to get started – if you’re looking for something that might work with an Android phone, our Nest Audio review might be an excellent place to start.

Once setup had begun, the questions asked in the HomePod setup were a touch onerous, although useful.  

You’re asked if you want your voice to be recognised (say yes if different members of the family will be using it, as they can be remembered for their preferences and can access their own calendars or personal info).  

You’ll also need to say which room the speaker is placed in, so you can use Siri to command a HomePod in a certain location. 

One thing that we like with modern smart speakers is that they can understand even the strangest of room names, so you’re able to say ‘play this in the Rumpus Room’ to a speaker upstairs and it’ll know which HomePod to transfer the audio to. 

While there are a few questions to get through, at least Apple asks the right ones – for instance, if there are two speakers it’ll notice straight away and allow you to operate them as a stereo pair, splitting the sound between them. 

In fact, the only issue we found with setup was that it failed the first time around as we accidentally cancelled the process by opening a stopwatch to time it. 

We also found the Home app (pre-installed on your iPhone and the place to control the settings of your speaker) rather fiddly to use when the HomePod was all set up. 

However, despite these hoops you should be ready to use your new Apple speaker within four to five minutes of taking it out of the box. 

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Audio performance

A stunning audio journey

A close up of the white and black HomePod 2023 models
The audio performance of the HomePod is helped by the spongy audio mesh

Let’s get to the good part – the streaming performance of Apple’s HomePod in 2023. The thing we would say is (and we appreciate how over the top this sounds): if you’re going to buy one HomePod, buy two.  

We’ll get to why in a moment, but let’s focus on the unit itself. As a single speaker, the audio performance is pretty good.  

The bass level is so strong that it will rumble the table if it’s sat next to you, but not in an over-the-top, aggressive way (plus, you can reduce it in the Home app).  

No, the bass is just there providing raw power for the sound output, and it really convinces that this is a premium product thanks to the high-quality sound.  

In several songs, the soundscape (i.e., the ability to hear all the different levels, voices and instruments in any given song) varied depending on the type of music. When it came to acoustic guitar or soft, soulful vocals, the HomePod was outstanding.  

For other, fuller tracks we noticed that the sound could get a little bit muddy around the middle, where voices or instruments would sometimes fade into the background more than expected. 

For instance, on Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ pop track, the guitar was clear and the vocals just fine, but the rest of the elements of the song didn’t fire out at us. 

However, with something else like ‘Haule Haule’ by Sukhwinder Singh or ‘Drive’ by R.E.M., the sound quality and the presence it brought to your listening experience was strong. The HomePod is especially good at plucking out acoustic guitar sounds from stillness, with really crisp audio quality. 

The sound of one speaker is good, but oh boy, can it be improved.

Connecting the HomePods as a stereo pair dramatically improves the audio quality and the sheer sonic performance on offer. 

As a single speaker, it’s fine, but we’d say it’s about a third as good as using two, with the sound feeling like it truly wraps around you with both working in tandem.

Two homepods next to one another on a wooden table

We tested this by placing a speaker either side of the desk while working, and listening to a variety of sounds. The aforementioned ‘Haule Haule’ suddenly transformed as a track, the backing vocals coming from the sides but the main voice feeling like it was right in front of us. 

Listening to ‘Weaver of Dreams’ by Freddie Hubbard, each individual instrument was clear and easy to hear, and you could really feel where in the room each was recorded. 

While the streaming performance is good, there are a few downsides to the HomePod. The first is that you can’t use it as a Bluetooth speaker, which is irritating. Sure, given you’ve already got an iPhone in your pocket, you can stream any audio from that to the HomePod, so that’s fine, right?

Unless, of course, you don’t have Wi-Fi when on the move, or you have a guest that would like to share their audio. These are rare occasions, but it highlights how the HomePod is more of a stereo system replacement rather than competing with other, portable smart speakers. 

There’s also still no Spotify support, which is a shame given it’s so dominant as a platform. While you can say to your iPhone ‘Hey Siri, play my Just Songs playlist on Spotify’ and it’ll fire up the app, the same can’t be done on the HomePod. 

Of course, it’s far from impossible to listen to Spotify tracks on the HomePod – you just stream via AirPlay – but it’s an annoying extra step. 

If you want to use Apple’s speaker in the most seamless way, you’ll need a £9.99-per-month Music subscription to access the full catalogue. (You can go for a voice-only option for £4.99, but that’s a little limiting when it comes to things like creating playlists). 

With Apple Music you can ask the speaker to play almost anything in the world, and it’s pretty good at getting it right – but it is an added expense to factor in. 

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) TV speaker

A great soundbar replacement

The base of the new HomePod from Apple
The rubber base of the HomePod should mark the surfaces it’s placed on far less

One of the benefits of the Apple HomePod is that it can work as a soundbar if you’ve invested in an Apple TV box – meaning you can stream your TV’s audio through the cylindrical speaker (or two if you’ve plumped for both). 

Setting this up was a little confusing, as it meant opening a variety of settings menus and enabling the HomePods as ‘temporary speakers’, which is rather different to how it used to be. That said, they worked just fine when this was enabled. 

Instantly, this setup sounded far better than the audio coming out of the smaller speakers on an LG C1 OLED TV – they’re good, but the richness, bass and vocal clarity from the HomePod duo was far better. 

We first tried using the HomePods as a way of simply watching TV, watching ‘Traitors’ (so music was less prevalent) and far more speech apparent.  

One of the best ways to test TV sound performance is to see if the speaker ‘gets in the way’ (i.e. you’re suddenly straining to hear voices in the muddle of background sounds) and the HomePod was completely anonymous. 

Within minutes we’d forgotten that the sound was coming from the two speakers in front of the TV, but voices were loud, bright and easy to hear. 

We then switched to some movie watching – this time putting on Avengers: Infinity War and listening in Dolby Atmos, our go-to standard for surround-sound these days.  

This is where the limitations of static speakers placed in front of you (rather than all around, as you would have in a true Dolby Atmos setup) became apparent.

While the sound was rich and felt multi-directional, with voice and effects separated nicely, there wasn’t the clear feeling of being ‘encased’ in the audio. 

This was corroborated with a Dolby Audio test, which sends out audio to the furthest speaker in use, to show how wide the soundscape could be – the sound did ‘move’ around us a little, but it didn’t feel truly mobile like it was in the cinema. 

Perhaps this seems like criticism of the HomePod – it’s very much not. The sound the duo pumped out was impressive, but if you’re expecting it to be a true replacement for a surround-sound system it won’t quite hit the heights. 

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Smart home and Siri

Siri’s mixed performance

A close up of the top of the Apple HomePod 2023
Siri is accessed using your voice or touching this top panel

The HomePod is meant to be a simple thing – as in, it’s perpetually on and listening for your voice or an input from your phone. 

When it comes to constantly listening to your voice, Apple has taken pains to show how private it considers your data, but not everybody trusts large brands. You can either say ‘Hey Siri, stop listening’ and confirm with the speaker that’s what you want, or you can disable it in the Home app. 

However, if you do want to use the voice assistant, we found Siri to be accurate in doing what we needed.  

Saying ‘Hey Siri, play some me some chilled-out music’ yielded the simple response of ‘OK, here’s some chilled music’ and some mellow tunes began to emanate from the HomePod. 

We used it time and again for things like setting timers, asking the location of our phone, speaking quietly and from far away (the best managed was about 20 feet from the HomePod).

You can also ask silly things like ‘What sounds does a lion make?’, which is great if you have small children around at times. 

Siri still isn’t the most intuitive of all the smart speakers, but equally it works just fine for what we wanted – for instance, walking past and asking Siri to set a timer for five minutes was instantly undertaken accurately – and reminded us to get back upstairs to put the aforementioned small person to bed after it had elapsed. 

We did have two instances where the HomePod simply refused to do what was necessary, because it apparently couldn’t connect to the internet. All we were asking was to hear a certain song or turn up the volume, but without that connection the speaker isn’t much use and flatly refused to do anything.

The internet was certainly working, but for some reason we had to endure a minute or two of no response.

The rear of the HomePod with the plug alongside
One great upgrade for the HomePod is the ability to use any figure-of-8 power lead

It’s hard to say that Siri and the smart home integration improved life day-to-day, as it can’t do too much beyond tell you the weather, a few jokes or – if you’ve enabled your phone to access your calendar – tell you what’s going on in your personal life that day. 

There is a temperature and humidity sensor built in with 2023’s HomePod, but unless you’ve got something like smart blinds or intelligent windows that can open and close depending on the temperature in the room, we can’t see many people buying the speaker for that feature. 

Another handy extra comes when you hold an iPhone close to the HomePod – it will pass the music from the phone and play it on the speaker. This is useful if you’ve paused the HomePod for too long, as the audio will annoyingly fall back to the iPhone (if that’s where you’re playing it from) but a simple swipe will reattach it. 

We did find a few other things that you might like to do with the speaker – you can ask it to tell you the news, and choose from BBC, Sky or LBC, and it’ll give the latest updates, with the same true for the sport or the weather.  

In short, you wouldn’t buy the HomePod for its voice-assisted functions, but you will find that over time you spot some things that you like.

That said, Apple does need to keep improving the options Siri provides, as it would be nice to have a longer conversation about events of the day, for instance, but you’ll quickly learn commands you use regularly. 

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Value

Expensive, and you really need two…

Two homepods next to each other on wooden table
These pair are pricey alone, but get ready to pay double

Like most Apple products, the value is subjective – to someone not embedded in the ecosystem, the HomePod (2023) is hugely expensive at £299, and even more so when you consider that you’ll need to buy two to get the real benefit. 

If you are in a household with multiple iPhones, iPads, an Apple TV and perhaps some HomePod Mini units (a smaller, cheaper version of Apple’s smart speaker) then £598 will yield a very impressive audio experience that slots in well. 

It’s hard to say you’d instantly buy another if you happened to break it in some way, as the HomePod is a truly luxury purchase – but it will improve your life sonically. 

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Also consider

You might also like…

A hand holding an illuminated iPhone over a white HomePod MiniCredit: Apple

Apple HomePod Mini

For £89, you can get some of the power of the larger HomePod without needing to spend as much. Obviously, the cost difference means the sonic performance suffers, but you’ll be able to get the same Siri functionality to control your smart home, listen to Apple Music and the radio, and entertain children.

It’s not got terrible audio by any means – it wipes the floor with similarly-sized speakers – but you won’t get the same immersive experience.

Read our HomePod Mini review

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Final verdict

A worthwhile buy for the right person

A close up of the HomePod mesh
A great buy for someone embedded with Apple’s ecosystem

The new HomePod for 2023 is a curious beast – in our testing, we’ve still not worked out why Apple has relaunched it.  

That’s not to say it’s a bad product at all, as the audio quality is excellent, the functionality improved over the first iteration and Siri handling voice commands with aplomb. 

But if the unit reportedly didn’t sell well to start with, we can’t see where the big upgrades have come with the new version – the design is the same, the sound quality doesn’t feel demonstrably different and Siri’s smart home capabilities aren’t upgraded. 

The HomePod (2023) is an excellent speaker in many ways, and one that we now look forward to using for a ‘proper’ listening session. It’s also highly capable as a soundbar replacement, if you’ve got an Apple TV. 

It’s almost a shame that using two units sounds so much better than a single one, as it doubles the cost of getting the most out of Apple’s smart speaker – but if you can afford it and want great sound with some smart features thrown in along the way, then this is for you. 

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023)

Luxury

The new HomePod sounds great, but excels when working in a pair – so you’ll need to double the price to get the most out of it. Siri is a useful smart home companion, albeit still slightly limited, and you will need a monthly Apple Music subscription to get the most out of Apple’s speaker.


Who’s this for?

If you’re not an iPhone or iPad user, stay away. If you love Siri, Apple’s smart home and great sound, this speaker is for you.

Our likes and dislikes

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Great soundbar replacement
  • Still no Bluetooth support
  • Siri can sometimes fail

Expect to pay

RRP: £299 We doubt you’ll see that many deals or discounts over the coming months or years. That said, Apple did drop the price of the previous HomePod eventually.

Apple HomePod (2nd gen, 2023) Specs

Release year 2023
Dimensions 168 x 142 x 142 mm
Weight 2.3 kg
Power Figure-of-8 connector
Internal speakers 4-inch woofer, 5 x tweeters
Wi-Fi 802.11n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0 (for smart home)
Smart Home support Apple HomeKit, works with Siri
Colours White, Black
Gareth Beavis

Written by Gareth Beavis he/him

Updated:

Gareth was previously Global Editor in Chief of TechRadar, one of the world’s largest and most prominent technology websites, and has appeared as a technology and fitness expert on the TV and radio for the BBC, ITV, Al Jazeera, Sky and many other outlets, as well as chairing panels on the world’s new and exciting tech. A veteran journalist with a career spanning three decades, Gareth has reviewed every iPhone (bar the very first) and Apple Watch launched, as well as reviewing hundreds of other smartphones and fitness gadgets.

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