How to decide between two HomePods or a Sonos system for a home theater

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 2023
Upgrading your home theater speakers for a great movie experience is easy to do, but it can be hard to decide which route to take. Let's look at the choice between a pair of HomePods and a dedicated Sonos system.

HomePods for home theater
HomePods for home theater


Once Apple updated the HomePod line to support eARC (HDMI ARC) it became even more compelling to connect the wireless speakers to a TV -- you just need an Apple TV 4K (second generation) or later.

That means around $600 will get you a pair of new HomePods for your TV that support Spatial Audio (Dolby Atmos) without needing to mess with a receiver or connection cables.

Once you're willing to spend $600, however, there is a question of whether you should be considering other wireless sound options.

Sonos is among the most popular options and offers a range of speakers that connect wirelessly, support AirPlay 2, and plenty of other compelling features to pair with a TV setup.

HomePods vs Sonos system - setup

Going with a wireless home theater system from Sonos will require a physical connection to your television in some way. The Arc and Beam soundbars can use HDMI or optical, while Ray is relegated to optical only.

Sonos Beam, Sub Mini, and two rear speakers
Sonos Beam, Sub Mini, and two rear speakers


Once you have a Sonos soundbar connected, the rear speakers and subwoofer will be wirelessly connected, from wherever you place them in the room.

The second-generation Arc and Beam both support Dolby Atmos. Arc has two dedicated up-firing speakers to enhance the spatial audio technology.

Arc and Beam support voice control with their included microphones. Of course, all of the soundbar options also support listening to music, either through the Sonos app or AirPlay 2, while the TV is not being used.

While you can connect a single HomePod or HomePod mini to an Apple TV 4K for home theater audio, we'll focus on the HomePod stereo pair with a Apple TV 4K models that have support for other devices connected through the TV set with eARC.

Similarly, two HomePod minis might be sufficient for a small bedroom, but only the bigger HomePods support 5.1 surround, 7.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos.

A stereo pair of HomePods forgoes the wired connection to a TV, so there is a little more flexibility for the placement of the two speakers.

HomePods support Dolby Atmos, but they don't have any up-firing speakers embedded within their cylindrical shape.

Two HomePods
Two HomePods


A stereo pair two HomePod speakers is also the most that can be linked to a home theater system. The setup does not support rear speakers or a subwoofer, yet.

That means while it's powerful for a two-speaker configuration, it remains limited compared to Sonos' options, which can be added to piecemeal at a later date.

For example, you can start with a Sonos soundbar and rear speakers first and then add a subwoofer later, if you want.

HomePods vs Sonos System - sound

From the entry-level Ray soundbar to Arc, each of the options provide compelling sound quality for different-sized rooms. We've tried each Sonos soundbars, and all delivered a much larger and fuller presence than their designs suggest.

Sonos Ray vs Sonos Beam
Sonos Ray vs Sonos Beam


Similarly, a pair of HomePods don't occupy much physical space, but can fill large rooms with booming sounds.

Sonos supports a dialog mode for clearer speech and a night mode for reduced peaks during quiet times. We've found these sound features helpful over time.

HomePods can reduce loud sounds to avoid disturbing other people, through the Apple TV box, but there is no dedicated speech mode for more audible or boosted dialog.

In terms of volume and fullness, Sonos Ray and a single HomePod are close to equivalent. In our estimation, Beam didn't quite match the two paired HomePods. Arc was able to exceed two HomePods for this type of comparison.

HomePods vs Sonos system - considerations

Some items to consider about using HomePods versus a Sonos system
  • Sonos has apps for Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows. AirPlay doesn't have the same compatibility.

  • If you don't have a capable Apple TV box, you'll need to factor in that cost too.

  • Sonos has its own voice assistant for audio functions.

  • HomePod connects to Apple's Home app for smart home functionality.

  • HomePod (second generation) has temperature and humidity sensors inside.

HomePods vs Sonos system - pricing

Sonos soundbars range from $279 to $899 -- with a $449 option in the middle. A Sub Mini costs $429 and the bigger Sub costs $749.

The cheapest wireless rear speakers are the Ikea and Sonos Symfonisk line which starts at $119 each.

An entry-level Sonos home theater system with a Ray soundbar and two Symfonisk bookshelf speakers starts at $517.

This will save a little bit of money compared to two HomePods at $598. This could also provide more immersive sound around the room, but it won't support Dolby Atmos.

A more complete home theater option, practical for an average-sized living room, is going to cost closer to $1,200 with a Beam, Sub Mini, and two One SLs. This configuration will trump a stereo pair of HomePods in every way, but for double the price.

The truth is there's not really a good direct comparison between two HomePods used for a home theater setup and a Sonos system meant for the same purpose.

Hopefully, Apple adds additional speakers to the HomePod line with home theater in mind, in the future.

Here's what you should buy

People seeking a home theater speaker system should consider Sonos speakers first. There is better compatibility for a wider range of TVs and home theater setups.

The ability to add wireless rear speakers, and even up to two Subs, is a tremendous benefit for a growing system in the future.

It's an optimistic feeling to believe that Apple better supports home theater use with its speakers, and for the potential of future updates and releases, but there's no guarantee that will come to fruition.

On the other end of the spectrum, someone who's planning on having a new HomePod near their TV and doesn't have a speaker system should entertain the idea of pairing a second HomePod to pair.

Going from one full-sized HomePod to a stereo pair sounds more substantial than simply going from one to two. The boost in bass and fidelity is impressive, and would be a good low-cost way of taking the step towards a better home theater setup.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 14
    I'm currently using two of the mentioned Ikea/Sonos Symfonisk speakers together in stereo, wirelessly paired to the AppleTV. I don't have an audiophile's ears but they sound really great. And with the built in AirPlay I can easily stream music to them too. To me this is the perfect setup for someone on a strict budget, at just $240 for the pair. I know there's no Atmos with this setup and obviously no surround sound whatsoever, so I'll eventually upgrade and have these on my secondary TV. But in the meantime these are 1,000x better than the built in TV speakers, cheaper and higher quality than many sound bars, and offers more separation between the L/R channels than a sound bar. They work well with the AppleTV, but they can't be set to default like the HomePods can be, so my only real complaint is that it's fairly often that I have to select them again as audio output from the control center.
    watto_cobraGraeme000Japhey
  • Reply 2 of 14
    chasmchasm Posts: 3,227member
    An excellent overview that is exceedingly fair and based on experience with both Sonos and HomePods.

    I would only add that your home setting does play a role in the equation as well. For example, apartment dwellers who need to be mindful of their neighbours and rental agreements may need to be much more careful about speaker placement, the bass output, and what I’ll just call “immersive volume levels,” compared to home owners with some distance to the next house over.

    Avoid overspending on more speakers or woofers than you’ll ever actually need.
    watto_cobranapoleon_phoneapartGraeme000jeromectwokatmewkkqd1337cornchip
  • Reply 3 of 14

    I'm currently using two of the mentioned Ikea/Sonos Symfonisk speakers together in stereo, wirelessly paired to the AppleTV. I don't have an audiophile's ears but they sound really great. And with the built in AirPlay I can easily stream music to them too. To me this is the perfect setup for someone on a strict budget, at just $240 for the pair. I know there's no Atmos with this setup and obviously no surround sound whatsoever, so I'll eventually upgrade and have these on my secondary TV. But in the meantime these are 1,000x better than the built in TV speakers, cheaper and higher quality than many sound bars, and offers more separation between the L/R channels than a sound bar. They work well with the AppleTV, but they can't be set to default like the HomePods can be, so my only real complaint is that it's fairly often that I have to select them again as audio output from the control center.
    Unless your hearing is compromised, you absolutely do have the ability to enjoy high-fidelity audio!

    I myself have had the privilege of listening to the same setup that is reviewed here:


    I dare anyone claiming that high-quality audio is just a scam to charge exorbitant prices for non-relevant equipment, to challenge their preconceived notions with a demo of said equipment! 30 seconds of listening is enough. And you don’t even need an open mind—you’ll see.

    jeromecmobird
  • Reply 4 of 14
    I'm currently using two of the mentioned Ikea/Sonos Symfonisk speakers together in stereo, wirelessly paired to the AppleTV. I don't have an audiophile's ears but they sound really great. And with the built in AirPlay I can easily stream music to them too. To me this is the perfect setup for someone on a strict budget, at just $240 for the pair. I know there's no Atmos with this setup and obviously no surround sound whatsoever, so I'll eventually upgrade and have these on my secondary TV. But in the meantime these are 1,000x better than the built in TV speakers, cheaper and higher quality than many sound bars, and offers more separation between the L/R channels than a sound bar. They work well with the AppleTV, but they can't be set to default like the HomePods can be, so my only real complaint is that it's fairly often that I have to select them again as audio output from the control center.
    In case it’s of interest, I’ve had/have the same Symfonisk set up but was frustrated with vocals getting lost in the soundtrack. I gave two HomePod minis a go in their place and prefer the clarity of vocals (two HomePod minis are cheaper than the Symfonisk too). I still have the Sonos/IKEAs set up in the spare room. 

    I’ve loved my Sonos speakers (mix of Play 3 and Play 1) over the last decade but I’m planning to gradually transition to HomePod and HomePods minis. 
    jeromecJapheyappleinsideruserforgot username
  • Reply 5 of 14
    One advantage to the HomePod that this article omits: larger area for relatively balanced listening due to the speakers not simply firing forward. Not everyone is going to have a floor plan that allows the couch to be centered directly in front of the TV/speakers as shown in the Sonos promo photo. 
    appleinsideruserhalfmacforgot usernamedamn_its_hotAppleZulu
  • Reply 6 of 14
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 24,088member
    rundhvid said:

    I'm currently using two of the mentioned Ikea/Sonos Symfonisk speakers together in stereo, wirelessly paired to the AppleTV. I don't have an audiophile's ears but they sound really great. And with the built in AirPlay I can easily stream music to them too. To me this is the perfect setup for someone on a strict budget, at just $240 for the pair. I know there's no Atmos with this setup and obviously no surround sound whatsoever, so I'll eventually upgrade and have these on my secondary TV. But in the meantime these are 1,000x better than the built in TV speakers, cheaper and higher quality than many sound bars, and offers more separation between the L/R channels than a sound bar. They work well with the AppleTV, but they can't be set to default like the HomePods can be, so my only real complaint is that it's fairly often that I have to select them again as audio output from the control center.
    Unless your hearing is compromised, you absolutely do have the ability to enjoy high-fidelity audio!

    I myself have had the privilege of listening to the same setup that is reviewed here:


    I dare anyone claiming that high-quality audio is just a scam to charge exorbitant prices for non-relevant equipment, to challenge their preconceived notions with a demo of said equipment! 30 seconds of listening is enough. And you don’t even need an open mind—you’ll see.

    What's cute is your apparent seriousness of this being an option. "Just listen!"

    Dare accepted. I absolutely do NOT  "have the ability to enjoy high-fidelity audio!" if the cost of entry is $40K for a stereo pair. 
    https://www.bestbuy.com/site/bowers-wilkins-800-series-diamond-1-diamond-tweeter-6-midrange-in-turbine-head-dual-10-woofer-floorstanding-speaker-each-rosenut/6476397.p?skuId=6476397

    Now with that out of the way I chose to go the Sonos route for my TV and main music listening:
    2 SL1's and a Beam bought very-kindly-cared-for, and a Sub Mini purchased new, and kept the cost at under $750. I might have been able to patch together a system that sounded as good from high to low for the same money, dunno, but certainly not as easy to configure, as low-profile and blending into the background, or as cleanly connected and wife-accepted. ;)

    Neither Apple nor Google offered as complete a system so staying in the ecosystem was non-optional as far as I was concerned.
    edited February 2023 twokatmewmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 7 of 14
    dcgoodcgoo Posts: 280member
    The only problem is TVOS 16.3 broke the audio return channel functionality completely. 
    edited February 2023
  • Reply 8 of 14
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,766member
    gatorguy said:
    rundhvid said:

    I'm currently using two of the mentioned Ikea/Sonos Symfonisk speakers together in stereo, wirelessly paired to the AppleTV. I don't have an audiophile's ears but they sound really great. And with the built in AirPlay I can easily stream music to them too. To me this is the perfect setup for someone on a strict budget, at just $240 for the pair. I know there's no Atmos with this setup and obviously no surround sound whatsoever, so I'll eventually upgrade and have these on my secondary TV. But in the meantime these are 1,000x better than the built in TV speakers, cheaper and higher quality than many sound bars, and offers more separation between the L/R channels than a sound bar. They work well with the AppleTV, but they can't be set to default like the HomePods can be, so my only real complaint is that it's fairly often that I have to select them again as audio output from the control center.
    Unless your hearing is compromised, you absolutely do have the ability to enjoy high-fidelity audio!

    I myself have had the privilege of listening to the same setup that is reviewed here:


    I dare anyone claiming that high-quality audio is just a scam to charge exorbitant prices for non-relevant equipment, to challenge their preconceived notions with a demo of said equipment! 30 seconds of listening is enough. And you don’t even need an open mind—you’ll see.

    What's cute is your apparent seriousness of this being an option. "Just listen!"

    Dare accepted. I absolutely do NOT  "have the ability to enjoy high-fidelity audio!" if the cost of entry is $40K for a stereo pair. 
    https://www.bestbuy.com/site/bowers-wilkins-800-series-diamond-1-diamond-tweeter-6-midrange-in-turbine-head-dual-10-woofer-floorstanding-speaker-each-rosenut/6476397.p?skuId=6476397

    Now with that out of the way I chose to go the Sonos route for my TV and main music listening:
    2 SL1's and a Beam bought very-kindly-cared-for, and a Sub Mini purchased new, and kept the cost at under $750. I might have been able to patch together a system that sounded as good from high to low for the same money, dunno, but certainly not as easy to configure, as low-profile and blending into the background, or as cleanly connected and wife-accepted. ;)

    Neither Apple nor Google offered as complete a system so staying in the ecosystem was non-optional as far as I was concerned.
    They pretty clearly said that you can “have the ability to enjoy high-fidelity audiowith a “demo of said equipment”.  
    appleinsideruserrundhvid
  • Reply 9 of 14
    dcgoo said:
    The only problem is TVOS 16.3 broke the audio return channel functionality completely. 
    Interesting. I must test that tomorrow… I hasn’t noticed, as I always listen directly via, AppleTV and OG stereo HomePods 
  • Reply 10 of 14

    I have been using 2 of the original full size HomePods with my Apple TV for years. Magical! I was using Bluetooth sound bars before as we use a projector and a blank wall for our TV. All the AV equipment(DVD,Laserdisc,HDDVD players) are by the projector and wiring speakers was a no go. The problem with Bluetooth is that is drops out now and then and has to be re-paired. There were times we had to move the sound bar to repair it. With Wifi and HomePods, problem gone. Having our Apple TV control everything is great. One volume control. With eARC the DVD automatically plays and then goes back to the Apple TV screen. Simple.

    cg27forgot usernameappleinsiderusercornchip
  • Reply 11 of 14
    dcgoo said:
    The only problem is TVOS 16.3 broke the audio return channel functionality completely. 
    Just tested with my LG OLED and eARC on AppleTV 4k and built in LG audio plays OK via 1st Gen HomePod.
  • Reply 12 of 14
    For as great as wireless is, it will never match wired speakers. Latency and interference will always be an issue with wireless.  Also, you are at the mercy of the DA converter in each speaker. If you want affordable speakers, go wired with something like Elac. You’ll get better sound for the money.  
    gatorguy
  • Reply 13 of 14
    riverkoriverko Posts: 218member
    Some years ago I bought/crowdfunded Damson Audio’s home theater - wireless with Dolby Atmos support. It’s small and for my flat it works great. Even that can get too loud. I connected it to Apple TV 4K, but can send there audio via Blutooth or even mini-jack. The rear speakers have their own battery and can be used as portables - each playing both stereo channels or one for left, one for right channel. I’m sure it’s not the best sound ever, but perfect for my needs.
    cornchip
  • Reply 14 of 14
    "only the bigger HomePods support 5.1 surround, 7.1 surround, and Dolby Atmos"

    ...would this decoding be better implemented in the AppleTV for universal AirPlay use...?

    Also what constitutes support ?

    "
    they don't have any up-firing speakers embedded within their cylindrical shape. The setup does not support rear speakers or a subwoofer, yet."
    edited February 2023
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