Video: Apple HomePod vs. Amazon Echo 2nd generation

Posted:
in General Discussion edited February 2018
Apple's HomePod is more than twice as expensive as Amazon's second-generation Echo, incorporates a less capable virtual assistant in Siri and is limited to Apple's ecosystem of service. So why would anyone choose it? It's all about sound quality.





Underscoring HomePod's reliance on Apple products, users need an iOS device to set the device up. Native HomePod streaming is restricted to Apple services like Apple Music, Beats 1 Radio and iCloud Music Library, though third-party content from Spotify and Pandora can be sent to the device using AirPlay.

Amazon's Echo, on the other hand, supports voice control for various music streaming services, and Alexa on a whole is far superior to Siri. The Echo is smaller and lighter than the HomePod, and it has a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can output audio to better speakers if you're not happy with its sound quality.

Both speakers have touch controls on top to turn the volume up and down, and invoke their smart assistants. HomePod's touch panel also allows you to switch tracks. The Echo boasts a microphone mute button, which the HomePod lacks.




With HomePod, everything sent to Apple is both anonymized and encrypted, so anything you say to Siri cannot be traced to you or your Apple ID, emphasizing user privacy. But HomePod lacks the ability to recognize voices, so if you have personal requests turned on, anyone can ask Siri to read your messages.

You can send text messages using only your voice on both speakers, but only the Alexa can do hands-free calling. With the HomePod, you'll have to make a call on your iPhone, and then switch the output to your HomePod manually.

It's clear Alexa is far more functional than Siri on HomePod, so let's talk hardware. The Echo has one 2.5-inch woofer and one tweeter, which puts out 360-degree audio.




The HomePod, however, has a 4-inch woofer and 7 tweeters located around the device's base. Each tweeter has its own custom amplifier and is horn-loaded to focus sound to different parts of the room. The HomePod can even detect direct and ambient sound, as well as left and right audio channels, and then split those channels between its 7 tweeters. Apple also includes a dedicated low-frequency microphone, which constantly analyzes the bass from the subwoofer and dynamically tunes it on the fly to make sure it never distorts.




At max volume, the Echo's highs are very loud and overpower the mids. Audio is fairly tinny and practically has no bass at all when compared to the HomePod. The HomePod, on the other hand, sounds very well balanced and clean, lacking any distortion even at full volume. Every instrument and note is perfectly reproduced.

At normal listening levels you can instantly notice the difference in bass, with HomePod taking a clear lead. The Echo's highs are very loud and sharp, but that's about all you get. The mids seem to suffer and get blended in with the lows.

Both speakers have microphone beam-forming technology, making it easier to pick up user commands in a noisy environment. HomePod also uses the technology for spatial awareness, which analyzes the reflection of audio waves to detect where it's at in a room, then automatically tune itself to output balanced sound.

Echo devices support multi-room audio, so you can tell Alexa to play music everywhere. You won't be able to natively pair two HomePods for true stereo sound and multi-room audio until AirPlay 2 is released.




Amazon's Alexa has the skill system, which allows companies to develop personalized content for their users. The HomePod completely lacks a comparable system for Siri, instead relying on Apple's own services like HomeKit. This means Echo is currently compatible with more smart home devices, but HomeKit support is on the rise.

Alexa also works with Amazon Prime, so you can ask her about weekly shopping deals and order products using only your voice. Both Alexa and HomePod will work with reminders, and they'll tell you about nearby stores and shopping hours.

Overall, the Echo destroys the HomePod in functionality, especially if you use Amazon Prime. But the HomePod completely blows the Echo out of the water in terms of sound quality. Every instrumental note stands out and is reproduced at an incredibly clean and clear level.

If you're on a budget, get the Echo. It doesn't sound too bad, but if you care at all for bass, skip it.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 38
    larryalarrya Posts: 548member
    Ok, I’ll summarize. If you want a smart speaker that does smart things, get an Alexa. If you want great sound and almost no smart features, get any nice speaker (or add one to your Alexa).  If you’re an Apple sycophant, publish a lopsided sound comparison between a $79 device and a $350 device. 
    Solileavingthebiggdws-2
  • Reply 2 of 38
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    larrya said:
    Ok, I’ll summarize. If you want a smart speaker that does smart things, get an Alexa. If you want great sound and almost no smart features, get any nice speaker (or add one to your Alexa).  If you’re an Apple sycophant, publish a lopsided sound comparison between a $79 device and a $350 device. 
    No, that's not the summary, that's your usual framing, thanks for playing though.

    And yes, I've fracking used Alexa and know it's limitations.
    StrangeDaysMuntzjbdragonschlacklolliver
  • Reply 3 of 38
    h2ph2p Posts: 264member
    HomePod, in time, will be come a well-rounded SmartSpeaker. For the moment, it is a very fine speaker and a sales tool for AppleMusic. As many may imagine, Apple is holding back a bunch of features for future versions. This is a proof of concept (Apple's version) of the audiophile's SmartSpeaker.
    cornchipMuntzjahbladeschlack
  • Reply 4 of 38
    larrya said:
    Ok, I’ll summarize. If you want a smart speaker that does smart things, get an Alexa. If you want great sound and almost no smart features, get any nice speaker (or add one to your Alexa).  If you’re an Apple sycophant, publish a lopsided sound comparison between a $79 device and a $350 device. 
    Does Echo do native voice control of my iCloud Music Library? Is it an AirPlay endpoint too?

    As for price, I don’t care if the Echo was 10 bucks and the price delta even larger, it’s the sound I care about. If it sounds like garbage it fails at its primary use case. So-called smart features aren’t even often used per the recent study. Home automation, reminders, texts, are all the extras I’d care to use on my music speaker. What else do I need?
    edited February 2018 MuntzjahbladeMacProschlacklolliver
  • Reply 5 of 38
    I don’t get it.  It seems way overpriced even for good sound quality.  I also don’t get why Apple has allowed Siri to lag so far behind the competition as of late.  However, all that said, iTunes and Apple Music are the only music services I use, and airplay is also important to me.  I’m never going to order things by voice or some of the other things Alexa does and I definitely prefer Apple’s privacy better.  All in all I just don’t see the need for any of these devices just yet. I already have good AirPlay speaker setups in every room I want to, and I have Siri on my phone if needed. It will be interesting to see where this product category goes in the future. Right now I’m feeling like HomePod might just be another Apple HiFi. 
  • Reply 6 of 38
    So why would anyone choose it? It's all about sound quality.
    LOL. It is all about ecosystem!
    But seriously I really miss three things right now:
    1. Multi-language support
    2. Searching for non-English titles (have to manually browse Music app on iPhone for that)
    3. Searching songs by a phrase from lyrics
  • Reply 7 of 38
    welshdogwelshdog Posts: 1,692member
    I think the price is reasonable if the sound is as good as everyone says. Good speakers cost money - no way around it.  Add to that all the sophisticated DSP and driver control that goes on in this unit and in some ways it seems pretty reasonable.  I REALLY want to see either a full sized version of HomePod or a complete surround system using the same tech.  I hope this is just a start for Apple.  An Atmos system using HomePod variants could be amazing.

    I do have to wonder though, what is keeping Apple from advancing Siri beyond it's current state?  I use Siri fairly often for simple things, but it would be nice to see her better integrated in the Apple ecosystem and more fully developed in the future.
  • Reply 8 of 38
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,597member
    welshdog said:
    I do have to wonder though, what is keeping Apple from advancing Siri beyond it's current state?  I use Siri fairly often for simple things, but it would be nice to see her better integrated in the Apple ecosystem and more fully developed in the future.


    From what I can tell, Apple has largely focused on having Siri be smart about speech variations regarding requests (different ways of phrasing the same question) and multiple languages and dialects, but that's not to say that I know for a fact its better at those things (I haven't done extensive testing, just casual store demos and things like that). Siri is also, obviously, hobbled by the fact that it respects privacy (the only smart speaker that does so). I do think that -- like most Apple products -- HomePod will "grow/learn new tricks" as time goes on, but it may well always lag behind the companies that focus more on the "voice assistant and data collection about you" part of the equation.

    I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon already: love them at Christmas time, but "hate" how intrusively disrespectful they are of privacy and security. I'm certainly not going to give them any more data than I already have by talking to an Alexa device in my house, and I really can't see much the point of ordering stuff from a voice assistant beyond buying a song you're listening to and decide you like. I'm sure with time there will be other areas where voice-ordering will make more sense, but for my needs at present the things Siri can do on the HomePod are actually more than I need -- and some recent user surveys of smart-speaker owners tends to back me up on the idea that most people use the voice assistant almost solely to control the music and ask about the weather.
    welshdoglolliver
  • Reply 9 of 38
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,597member
    Forgot to add: another nice job on this video, and even on the crappiest speakers I own (my computer desktop speakers), the difference in the quality of the music was immediate, obvious -- and in the case of the Echo, painful listen to. I've heard AM radios in pickup trucks that sounded better than that.
  • Reply 10 of 38
    larrya said:
    Ok, I’ll summarize. If you want a smart speaker that does smart things, get an Alexa. If you want great sound and almost no smart features, get any nice speaker (or add one to your Alexa).  If you’re an Apple sycophant, publish a lopsided sound comparison between a $79 device and a $350 device. 
    Does Echo do native voice control of my iCloud Music Library? Is it an AirPlay endpoint too?

    As for price, I don’t care if the Echo was 10 bucks and the price delta even larger, it’s the sound I care about. If it sounds like garbage it fails at its primary use case. So-called smart features aren’t even often used per the recent study. Home automation, reminders, texts, are all the extras I’d care to use on my music speaker. What else do I need?
    You like sound quality, you get music from Apple, and you don’t give two shits about handing over more data to Amazon, therefore you’re an “Apple sycophant”. As if there was something wrong with that.
  • Reply 11 of 38
    I have no need for a device that is merely a good speaker. I have a houseful of amazing audio equipment. I would possibly use a Homepod as a good-sounding digital assistant, but Siri sucks. I mean REALLY sucks. Come on, Apple. You got the design and the sound right, but you should fire your Siri team and start over.
  • Reply 12 of 38
    I own both devices. The HomePod sounds great, but needs a number of software updates to compete more effectively. For example, I can find out from Alexa what's on my (Apple) calendar today; but can't yet do that with HomePod. I'm sure, in time, that Apple will equal or beat Amazon's Echo devices, but for now, it depends on what an owner's priorities are. If your priority is music, HomePod is unbeatable.
  • Reply 13 of 38
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    bwana_dik said:
    I have no need for a device that is merely a good speaker. I have a houseful of amazing audio equipment. I would possibly use a Homepod as a good-sounding digital assistant, but Siri sucks. I mean REALLY sucks. Come on, Apple. You got the design and the sound right, but you should fire your Siri team and start over.
    A houseful of amazing audio equipment is very very very very far from the usual case, so what are you arguing exactly, pushing a meme to its limit of obnoxiousness?

    And even "fantastic" sound equipment (sic) will sound like shit if room acoustics and placements are not OK, or hard to make OK, like in the bathroom and kitchen, hallway and the sweet spot will be small unless you put speakers everywhere with regular speakers.

    So wtf are you peddling anyway. That you acoustically treated you kitchen, hallway, bathroom, etc and somehow have 12 speakers to cover all those rooms at a constant volume since I'm pretty sure you don't have 100K speakers to do it with a few speakers like the homepod.

    So, again, wtf are you talking about.
  • Reply 14 of 38
     Of course I use Apple Music, I am on AI after all! HomePod sounds fantastic, I love it! The one limitation that it has, it plays no radio. That makes it useless for the kitchen or the bedroom. Sometimes, I just want to listen to local radio.  So with a heavy heart, I will take it back to return it this weekend. 
    edited February 2018
  • Reply 15 of 38
    larrya said:
    Ok, I’ll summarize. If you want a smart speaker that does smart things, get an Alexa. If you want great sound and almost no smart features, get any nice speaker (or add one to your Alexa).  If you’re an Apple sycophant, publish a lopsided sound comparison between a $79 device and a $350 device. 
    As opposed to “Amazon sycophant”? I am proud to be Apple “sycophant” compare to that.
    lolliver
  • Reply 16 of 38
    To me the HomePod is an unfinished product. I wonder if Apple released it now because they felt they had to? If only they would iterate on Siri faster. Siri should be improving on a weekly basis.
    Soli
  • Reply 17 of 38
    HomePod sounds freaking amazing.  It’s not just good.  It’s insanely great.  Software updates will fill the functionality gaps.  Killer App is playing music and in my listening experience HomePod has no peer.
    MacPro
  • Reply 18 of 38
    bluefire1 said:
    I own both devices. The HomePod sounds great, but needs a number of software updates to compete more effectively. For example, I can find out from Alexa what's on my (Apple) calendar today; but can't yet do that with HomePod. I'm sure, in time, that Apple will equal or beat Amazon's Echo devices, but for now, it depends on what an owner's priorities are. If your priority is music, HomePod is unbeatable.
    I just can’t imagine the scenario where I’m at home but can’t get to my Mac or iPhone or iPad or Watch to “find out what’s on my schedule” (spoiler: nothing). Why would I need to ask my music speaker to recite my schedule?

    Yeah sure it can’t do some of these things and why can’t it. But IRL I’m just not seeing the value add, when I have screens everywhere. Screens that don’t playback music well at all...which is the purpose of the HP. 
    edited February 2018 MacPrololliver
  • Reply 19 of 38
    Amazon didn't even try to make a decent speaker with the Echo. It's completely obvious when you look at the internal design. 
  • Reply 20 of 38
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,755member
    bluefire1 said:
    I own both devices. The HomePod sounds great, but needs a number of software updates to compete more effectively. For example, I can find out from Alexa what's on my (Apple) calendar today; but can't yet do that with HomePod. I'm sure, in time, that Apple will equal or beat Amazon's Echo devices, but for now, it depends on what an owner's priorities are. If your priority is music, HomePod is unbeatable.
    I just can’t imagine the scenario where I’m at home but can’t get to my Mac or iPhone or iPad or Watch to “find out what’s on my schedule” (spoiler: nothing). Why would I need to ask my music speaker to recite my schedule?

    Yeah sure it can’t do some of these things and why can’t it. But IRL I’m just not seeing the value add, when I have screens everywhere. Screens that don’t playback music well at all...which is the purpose of the HP. 
    Because it's far more convenient? Saying simply "Start my Day" prompts Google Home to read me any daily reminders I've set (this morning was "remember to take out the garbage"), reads off my calendar events, the traffic conditions on the way to work, the weather for today and then the top news events, all while I'm getting dressed or eating breakfast. What's not to like about that? Doing so from your iPhone or Watch or Mac requires active steps and more of them.

    And to be honest I don't ever recall playing music while getting ready for work or cooking breakfast. Some folks may, my wife being one of them on occasion (not typically), but in a master bath music always seems to sound pretty good even with a cheap speaker in the corner. I have that one linked to a better bedroom speaker and able to be called up as a play group if she wants music in the master suite matched to the bath.
    edited February 2018
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