I’m not in any need of speakers—smart or otherwise—around my house. I can listen to what I want at any time in almost every room in my house. In the rooms where sound quality really matters, I have good quality Bluetooth speakers: a pair of AudioEngine 2+’s on my desk; an AudioEngine B2 in my kitchen; and a Marley Get Together on my garage workbench. I also have an assortment of great-sounding rechargeable speakers of various sizes made by Tribit (MAXSound Plus and StormBox Micro), Ultimate Ears (Boom and Megaboom), and several Amazon Echo (Alexa) devices.

Overall, I’m happy with my home speaker setup, which is why I had little interest in Apple’s original Home Pod smart speaker when introduced back in 2018 for $349. And dropping the price to $299 in 2019 didn’t pique my interest.

But, when Apple announced its $99 HomePod mini last October, my ears perked up. With many (but not all) of its bigger and more expensive sibling’s features, Apple positions it as “A powerful smart speaker with amazing sound.”

Sounds Good to Me…

That sounded more interesting to me. Now, having tested a pair of HomePod minis for several weeks, I agree. I don’t know many (possibly any) speakers this size that sound this good.

According to Apple, “To achieve big sound out of such a compact design, the Apple S5 chip in HomePod mini works with advanced software to analyze the unique characteristics of the music and apply complex tuning models to optimize loudness, adjust the dynamic range, and control the movement of the driver and passive radiators in real-time.”

HomePod mini. (Photo courtesy Apple, Inc.)

Crosss-section view of a HomePod mini (courtesy of Apple, Inc.)

Purists may sneer at speakers that rely on custom-built chips and software, but I’m impressed. And, when it comes to audio and sound quality, I’m not impressed easily.

If you have HomePod minis in more than one room, you can listen to the same programming—music, podcast, audiobook, or whatever—in perfect sync in all rooms. Or, if you have two HomePod minis in the same room, you can create a stereo pair with room-filling sound and a well-defined stereo soundstage.

I tested them both ways, and in both cases, they performed admirably.

It Listens, Too…

Since I’m an Apple Music subscriber, I listen to most of my music by asking Siri to play a song, album, artist, or playlist. So now I can say things like, “Hey Siri, play ‘A Wizard A True Star’ in the kitchen,” or “Play the ‘MacGeekGab’ podcast in the office.” It works great, and it’s easier than pulling out my phone to use its AirPlay selector.

I also like that I can be listening to music on my iPhone and instantly hand off the output to my HomePod mini by merely bringing my iPhone close to it. It’s kind of magical.

Alas, life with the HomePod minis wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but I’m out of space. Please tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion.

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W. Abdullah Brooks, MD, MPH

Bob:

I heard your interview with Bryan on ACM last week, so think I know where you’re headed with this, but will wait for the thrilling conclusion before weighing in.

Cheers.