How do a pair of HomePods compare to a $180 soundbar?

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited June 29
The HomePod offers great audio quality, and as a pair, fantastic stereo music playback. But are two HomePods enough to replace a soundbar in a home theater system that is half the price of a single speaker? AppleInsider finds out.





In a recent comparison of stereo HomePods to my own $2,500 home theater system, the HomePods got floored. While this wasn't surprising at all, we didn't expect them to perform as badly as they did.

An investigation into why this happened revealed a bug that causes the Apple TV 4K to output lower audio volumes to stereo HomePods by default. To fix it, we had to manually convert the format to stereo, and saw an instant change that pushed the peak volume of the HomePods from 75 decibels to 83 decibels.

HomePod Home Theater Test


With this change, we decided to compare our $700 Stereo HomePods to my $180 soundbar (2018 version can be found here) to see if they are still too quiet to compete with something that's fully dedicated to TV audio, even at four times the price.

To make this test as fair as possible, the same action scene from the same movie acquired from the iTunes store will be used with each speaker.

We also changed the setting for gain control on our Zoom H6 audio recorder to manual, so it doesn't automatically adjust for the different volumes. This will help us hear the difference in volume between the HomePods and the soundbar.

HomePod Home Theater Test


Interestingly, even after fixing the volume bug, the soundbar is still louder than the stereo HomePods. Also, the tweeters in the soundbar sound brighter and more clear, giving it a more immersive experience overall compared to the HomePods.

The test was then performed again, but with the gain on the audio recorder evened out, to highlight the differences in sound quality

HomePod Home Theater Test


In this case, the stereo HomePods sound much better. Every sound effect is incredibly clear and accurate, whereas the soundbar feels a little tinny on the high end, and definitely not as balanced.

The best thing about Airplay 2 is that you can connect different sources of audio at the same time, so we can use the soundbar and our HomePods together as a complete system. The gain on the audio recorder had to be turned way, way down to keep it from peaking, but I can tell you that it is extremely loud.

HomePod Home Theater Test


If you have a pair of HomePods that you want to use with your Apple TV, they ultimately sound pretty good, but you'll notice a lack of oomph compared to other dedicated audio systems. Don't get me wrong, the quality is amazing, but the volume just isn't there.

Owners of two HomePods who've noticed the same thing could probably get away with using their old soundbar or whatever speakers they have connected to the TV for a good boost of volume.

We have also discovered that the stereo HomePods are much louder when they're playing a song than when they're playing the same track in a movie on the Apple TV. We can only hope that Apple will fix this issue and allow the HomePods to perform at their maximum potential.
patchythepirate
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 39
    Are you sure that audio settings for the movies are not in some surround sound mode?  If there is a simple stereo option that makes a huge difference. I've experienced this on my home audio receiver with very weak audio because other channels are completely missing.
    mdriftmeyerfastasleepwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 2 of 39
    agfagf Posts: 1member
    Great info. How do I change to stereo mode manually?  Have been dealing with the low volume for toooo long. Thx. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 39
    looplessloopless Posts: 85member
    I pity your neighbors :smile: 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 39
    command_fcommand_f Posts: 276member
    When comparing audio systems, it is essential to equalise the sound levels of the systems. At all reasonable levels, a louder playback will gain a quality advantage; this is down to the extra detail revealed by boosting the volume of the quieter parts. This is a common problem when trying to compare sound quality, be it of different systems or different versions (eg remastered CD vs original CD - it may not be a coincidence that remasters are usually louder than their predecessors).

    While they were playing at a lower level, the HomePods were disadvantaged (I think the story acknowledges that but it's a bit subtle in saying so).
    roundaboutnowpatchythepiratebb-15watto_cobraNotsofastAlex1N
  • Reply 5 of 39
    Never buy the first generation of anything.
    JonInAtlDAalsethalgalli
  • Reply 6 of 39
    freerangefreerange Posts: 1,584member
    Never buy the first generation of anything.
    Ridiculous comment. The issues discussed here are solved simply by software and firmware updates, not the hardware. These speakers are amazing, and only need the software / firmware tweaks.
    edited June 29 StrangeDayspatchythepiratefastasleepwatto_cobracaladanianNotsofastAlex1N
  • Reply 7 of 39
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,778member
    This has to be an easy fix for Apple for the Apple TV 4k  + paired HomePods, surely just a software update.  My paired HomePods playing iTunes Match are deafening.  Also at the same volume as my surround system (the max on the HomePods and turned down to match as closely as I can on the sound  surround sound) the Home pods are many times clearer and really punchy bass (this against a sub woofer too).  So once Apple fix this silly volume bug they will better than most far more expensive sound bar systems IMHO.

    Another bug / glitch is the Apple Tv's remote operates the HomePods' volume most of the time when watching Netflix for example, but on occasions totally loses it.  Watching the World Cup Football matches  has been hit and miss on that issue all week.  I've noticed that if we asks Siri a question or to set a timer when watching TV and listening on HomePods I can lose the volume control via the Apple TV's remote too.  Again all simple software updates I am sure.
    edited June 29 watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 8 of 39
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,778member
    Never buy the first generation of anything.
    I hope you weren't the first born ;)
    anantksundarampeterhartJWSCwatto_cobraAlex1Njony0
  • Reply 9 of 39
    macguimacgui Posts: 963member
    freerange said:
    Ridiculous comment. The issues discussed here are solved simply by software and firmware updates, not the hardware. These speakers are amazing, and only need the software / firmware tweaks.
    You're being too kind. His is an absolutely stupid comment. A head-up-ass comment.

    More importantly, what movie was playing? I don't recognize it at all.

    It seems to me Max (?) made the comparison on as level a playing field as possible. It's disappointing to hear the sound bar gave better clarity and provided a more immersive experience than the HPs.

    What sound bar was used? I got a clearance (Insignia) sound bar from Best Buy that's pretty much lousy. I don't expect much from them but with in constraints, some seem to be eminently tolerable. (I'm not an audio snob, so that helps. I wish H-K still sold Creatures!)

    But I'm still not put off on HPs. I'll get at least one. The stereo pair may not happen anytime soon though.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 39
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 320member
    Never buy the first generation of anything.
    Though others have trashed your comment, I completely agree. Okay maybe some of this can be fixed in software, but perhaps not. Compare the very first iPhone to a gen or two later. Same with iPad. Heck, go,all thenway back to the original Mac, the first ine was underpowered and short on RAM. By the time they go to the 512 it worked pretty good. This is one of those general rules that is worth keeping around. It isn’t absolutely always true, but way more often than not you are better off waiting.
    MplsPjony0
  • Reply 11 of 39
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 18,748member
    DAalseth said:
    Never buy the first generation of anything.
    Though others have trashed your comment, I completely agree. Okay maybe some of this can be fixed in software, but perhaps not. Compare the very first iPhone to a gen or two later. Same with iPad. Heck, go,all thenway back to the original Mac, the first ine was underpowered and short on RAM. By the time they go to the 512 it worked pretty good. This is one of those general rules that is worth keeping around. It isn’t absolutely always true, but way more often than not you are better off waiting.
    These are silly, pointless comments, especially the “you’re better off waiting” part. You can not compare the utility that I got from consuming the first iPhone compared to say, the 3. (My utility from the former, given the wonder and amazement that it consistently evoked, was many multiples larger). Equally, you cannot compare my utility from either to yours: you might like caviar and be willing to pay a lot of for it, but I wouldn’t consume it if you offered it to me for $0.01 — heck, for free — because I think caviar tastes like s***. 
    StrangeDayspatchythepiratefastasleepwatto_cobramacguiAlex1N
  • Reply 12 of 39
    algallialgalli Posts: 10member
    Can you now play your cable TV programs through your HomePods as I assume you could with your soundbar

  • Reply 13 of 39
    vadimyuryevvadimyuryev Posts: 158member, editor
    Here's the 2018 version of the soundbar.
    https://amzn.to/2tMbNrF

    Here's how to fix the low volume issue:


  • Reply 14 of 39
    tbstephtbsteph Posts: 75member
    algalli said:
    Can you now play your cable TV programs through your HomePods as I assume you could with your soundbar

    Great question. If not, the Home pods are worthless for anything not produced via Air Play 2. Thus a sound bar sounds infinitely better for cable TV>
  • Reply 15 of 39
    I have a HomePod and I use it with Apple Music. I believe it sounds fantastic.

    That said, I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about using the speakers with tv and movies. HomePod was delayed and debuted only in English speaking countries to start.

    Do you think it’s possible Apple overly enhanced their
    Apple Music content to sound good on the home pod?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 39
    chasmchasm Posts: 997member
    DAalseth said:
    Never buy the first generation of anything.
    Though others have trashed your comment, I completely agree.
    Do you seriously not understand that if most people took your (and bdkennedy's) stupid advice, there would never be a second generation of anything?
    watto_cobramacguiAlex1N
  • Reply 17 of 39
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 320member

    These are silly, pointless comments, especially the “you’re better off waiting” part. You can not compare the utility that I got from consuming the first iPhone compared to say, the 3. (My utility from the former, given the wonder and amazement that it consistently evoked, was many multiples larger). Equally, you cannot compare my utility from either to yours: you might like caviar and be willing to pay a lot of for it, but I wouldn’t consume it if you offered it to me for $0.01 — heck, for free — because I think caviar tastes like s***. 
    chasm said:

    Do you seriously not understand that if most people took your (and bdkennedy's) stupid advice, there would never be a second generation of anything?
    There will always be people who want the bleeding edge. Apple especially, rolls out something good, and then once it's stable adds amazing things to it. I wait for amazing.
    Alex1N
  • Reply 18 of 39
    bb-15bb-15 Posts: 235member
    command_f said:
    When comparing audio systems, it is essential to equalise the sound levels of the systems. At all reasonable levels, a louder playback will gain a quality advantage; this is down to the extra detail revealed by boosting the volume of the quieter parts. This is a common problem when trying to compare sound quality, be it of different systems or different versions (eg remastered CD vs original CD - it may not be a coincidence that remasters are usually louder than their predecessors).

    While they were playing at a lower level, the HomePods were disadvantaged (I think the story acknowledges that but it's a bit subtle in saying so).
    Very good point. Comparison reviews of the quality of different sound systems should include equalizing the volume. 
    Otherwise the test is just about which system is louder which bypasses a review of the quality of the sound. 
    watto_cobraAlex1N
  • Reply 19 of 39
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,632member
    Seems like Apple has an opportunity to here to create the "CenterPod" designed to combine with two HomePods to create a decent 2.1 surround system.  Center channel speakers have a psecific design in order to reproduce vocals (and other center channel content) properly and with correct directionality.  HomePods are not suited for this functiuon.
    caladanianAlex1N
  • Reply 20 of 39
    analogjackanalogjack Posts: 1,059member
    To summarise, the HomePods sound better but the volume control on the soundbar goes to 11.
    watto_cobra
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