Apple Homepod vs.
Other Wireless Music Systems
Apple's newHomepod is a stout little wireless speaker donning the company’s signature streamlined design. Siri's along for the ride, of course. She resides within – and can be summoned from – the speaker itself. With a Homepod at the ready, you can finally "Apple automate" such tasks as selecting tonight's dinner music to finding out the capital of Djibouti. No iPhone needed.
But wait a minute. Aren’t we already doing those things with other devices? Google Home with Google Assistant hit the market last year, and Amazon Echo with Alexa has been around even longer. Given Apple’s pioneering history of audio and voice control innovation, it seems odd that the company took this long to catch up.
The thing is, Apple isn’t trying to catch up to Google and Amazon – not in the way you might think. Apple is actually positioning the Homepod as a wireless music system. The voice control part? That's the "nice to have" aspect of Homepod. The audio experience is why Apple really wants you to buy one.
Basically, Apple isn't trying to reinvent the home automation experience. For now, they’re trying to reinvent the wireless music experience.
If they’re going to succeed, they’ve got their work cut out for them.
Why Apple Homepod is different from Google Home and Amazon Echo
To understand what Apple is trying to achieve, all you need to do is take a quick look at how the company describes Homepod. Apple emphasizes things like:
- Audio performance
- Listening experience
- Speaker power
- Apple Music integration
- On-board amplifier, woofer, and tweeters
- Dynamic tuning to optimize frequencies
And so on. Few of these characteristics have much to do with home automation. However, they have everything to do with sound quality.
In other words, the Homepod isn’t Apple’s answer to Google Home or Echo so much as an alternative to other wireless music systems. The fact that Siri lives somewhere inside the Homepod’s digital guts is presented as a neat feature, not the device’s most compelling attribute. It simply allows Apple to say, “We can do that, too.”
What Homepod does do differently is integrate the voice-activated, personal assistant experience with a high fidelity wireless music experience. That’s how Apple is positioning the Homepod, and the potential implications are, well… interesting.
Which wireless music systems compare to Homepod?
In terms of quality, name recognition, and overall flexibility, Sonos is the king of the wireless music world. Other systems, like Bluesound and DTS Play-Fi come to mind as well. There’s also the Naim Mu-So and Mu-So Qb, which arguably offers the best sound quality out of everything else that’s out there.
Since Apple will soon be competing with all of these systems, it’s worth considering how they stack up with the Homepod. Let’s start with Sonos.
Apple Homepod vs. Sonos
Sonos is incredibly flexible. Capable of delivering music throughout your house, the system works with an array of music streaming services, including Spotify, Pandora, TIDAL, Amazon Music, Google Play, and – you guessed it – Apple Music.
Unless something changes, the Homepod will only work Apple Music. So if you’re already committed to, say, TIDAL, you probably won’t get too excited about the Homepod. Apple’s an industry behemoth, though, and a lot of people are using Apple Music primarily or exclusively. If that sounds like you – assuming you’re not already using a Sonos system – the Homepod might seem like a compelling way get started with wireless music.
That is if you can afford one. At $349, the Homepod costs more than the $199 Sonos PLAY:1, which has similar dimensions. In fact, you can get the larger Sonos PLAY:3 (the next step up from the PLAY:1) and an Amazon Echo Dot for the same price as the Homepod! We haven’t heard the Homepod yet, but we’d be very surprised if it outperformed the PLAY:3 from a sound quality standpoint.
Why bring up the Echo Dot? Because Sonos is on the verge of providing Echo Dot integration. That whole voice-controlled hi-fi thing? Sonos is about to offer it, too. Newer Sonos speakers actually come with a built-in microphone. It’s not being used for anything yet, but it’s plausible that Sonos will activate those microphones with a future firmware and software update. From there, integration with other Internet of Things systems would be simple.
Here’s something else Sonos offers that Apple might have trouble competing with Trueplay. One of the Homepod’s most lauded features is its ability to automatically tune its sound to the room where you’re using it. With Trueplay, Sonos users are already doing that – and it works really well! Granted, Trueplay isn’t automatic. You have to activate it inside the Sonos app, and configure it using the microphone built into your iPhone, but only takes a minute or two to set up.
Sonos also offers PLAYBAR, a home theater speaker bar that integrates with its larger, multi-room speaker system. To compete, Apple needs to demonstrate that scattering Homepods throughout your house provides a better listening experience than the Sonos ecosystem, which includes different sizes and types of speakers for different indoor environments.
To be sure, Apple is a huge company with a loyal following. Many people are plugged into the Apple ecosystem for music, movies, and everything else. They’re also used to paying more for Apple products. Long story short: Lots of people will probably buy the Homepod.
Still, Sonos is more affordable and flexible. To attract buyers who would otherwise turn to Sonos, the Homepod’s audio features – dynamic tuning, room sensing, custom amplifiers, etc. – will need to provide an exceptional listening experience.
Apple Homepod vs. Bluesound
Often pitted against Sonos, these wireless music systems offer comparable flexibility and sound quality. How will they fare against Homepod? Let’s take a look.
For starters, there’s Bluesound. Depending on who you ask, it’s either similar to or better than Sonos in terms of sound quality, and the overall concept is similar. For example, you can place multiple speakers throughout your home, connect the system to existing speakers, and control your music wirelessly from the Bluesound app. The app isn’t as easy to use as Sonos, but it’s not difficult either. Streaming services? Bluesound includes most of the big ones.
It doesn’t include Apple Music, though. Bluesound also doesn’t offer any voice control integration. Not yet, anyway.
Apple Homepod vs. DTS Play-Fi
What about DTS Play-Fi? It’s not quite like Sonos or Bluesound. Less a product suite than a wireless audio technology, DTS Play-Fi works with various audio components and brands. Some are even high-performance products, like Anthem receivers. Basically, DTS Play-Fi offers a similar experience to Sonos and Bluesound but without locking you into a single equipment brand.
It doesn’t work with Apple Music, but it does work with popular streaming services TIDAL, Spotify, Pandora, and several others. Unlike Bluesound, DTS Play-Fi is on the cusp of integrating with Amazon Alexa.
So, how will Homepod fare against these alternatives? If you use Apple Music, it could be worth a look If you don’t use Apple Music but still want to control your music with your voice, DTS Play-Fi (when the Alexa integration actually happens) gives you more equipment options and streaming services than the Homepod.
Apple Homepod vs. Naim Mu-So Qb
Apple is positioning the Homepod as a wireless music system with impeccable sound quality. That being the case, we think it makes sense to compare it to, well… a wireless music system with impeccable sound quality: the Naim Mu-So Qb Wireless Music System.
Like Naim’s first wireless music product, the larger Mu-So Reference Wireless Music System, the Mu-So Qb is an audio enthusiast’s dream come true. In terms of sound quality, there’s nothing in the wireless music world that touches it. We don’t even have to hear the Homepod to know the Mu-So or Mu-So Qb will blow it away.
At $899, the Naim Mu-So Qb is not a budget product. The Homepod is more affordable, but Naim offers better sound quality. If the Mu-So Qb is in your budget and you appreciate great sound, it’s well worth the investment.
The Mu-So Qb contains 5 drivers, each of which has its own amplifier. It’s also got 2 passive radiators for smooth, deep bass. The Naim app lets you access Spotify, TIDAL, and thousands of internet radio stations. It doesn’t connect with Apple Music or offer voice control, but that’s not why you get the Naim Mu-So Qb. You get it for the great sound.
If you’re serious about great audio, the Homepod’s extras probably won’t be enough to sway you from the Naim Mu-So or Mu-So Qb.
The bottom line? For an Apple product, the Homepod has pretty narrow appeal.
There are several great wireless music options out there, and Apple has pretty much conceded that Homepod isn’t bringing anything revolutionary to home automation market. So, who’s going to buy the Homepod and love it?
- People who already use and love Apple Music but haven’t invested in a wireless music system yet
- Apple fans who are encouraged to purchase a wireless music system because their favorite brand now offers a product
- People who value the integration between voice control and wireless streaming but aren’t holding out for Sonos-Echo Dot integration
For an Apple product, that’s a fairly limited audience. Other brands have already created excellent wireless music systems, and Google and Amazon already have a head start with home automation and voice control. With Homepod, the best Apple can do is say, “me too,” and hope its emphasis on audio quality makes a big splash.
Who knows? Maybe Homepod will exceed our modest expectations once it’s out in the wild. If nothing else, it could put the spotlight on wireless music systems in a general way and elevate the concept within the public consciousness. The result would be accelerated industry innovation and even better products for consumers.
Until that happens, we’ll cast our lot with the more established wireless music systems from Sonos, Bluesound, and Naim.