Apple released the HomePod, its first-ever smart speaker, on Friday, and Consumer Reports’ secret shoppers bought several of the $350 speakers on the first day of sale so that we could test them in our audio lab. We have not completed our full evaluation, but we do have some early results.

The HomePod is the latest in a new generation of smart speakers that includes the Sonos One, $200, and Google Home Max, $400. These devices are meant to offer instant information and home control, as well as premium sound quality. 

And our testers found that Apple’s speaker does deliver very good audio performance, though it’s not the best-sounding wireless speaker in our ratings—or even the best-sounding smart speaker. (More about that in a moment.)

More on Wireless Speakers

When the HomePod was unveiled by Apple last summer, the smart speakers on the market—several iterations of the Amazon Echo and the original Google Home—weren’t very impressive when playing music. The Echo received a Good rating for sound quality from our testers. The Google Home? Only a Fair rating.

But while the world was waiting for Apple’s speaker to go on sale, Sonos and Google raised the stakes with the Sonos One and the Google Home Max, which launched last fall. Now Apple’s smart speaker is entering a marketplace with several options for discriminating music lovers. 

How Does It Sound?

The Apple HomePod’s Very Good sound quality rating puts it well ahead of the early generation of smart speakers. But the Sonos One and the Google Home Max also received Very Good ratings—and their sound quality scores were slightly higher.

Full test results for these speakers, which also incorporate factors such as ease of use and versatility, will be released in the next few weeks.

Consumer Reports evaluates sound quality for speakers, smart or otherwise, in a dedicated listening room in which our experienced testers compare each model with high-quality reference speakers. Each test unit that allows for user controls is tuned for optimum sound quality—we want the speakers to sound their best.

The HomePod will serve many music fans well, but CR testers did hear some flaws. The HomePod’s bass was a bit boomy and overemphasized. And the midrange tones were somewhat hazy, meaning that some of the nuance in vocals, guitars, and horns was lost: These elements of the music couldn’t be heard as distinctly as in more highly rated speakers. Treble sounds, like cymbals, were underemphasized. But the HomePod played reasonably loudly in a midsized room.

The bottom line? Overall the sound of the HomePod was a bit muddy compared with what the Sonos One and Google Home Max delivered. 

All three of these speakers were impressive compared with other smart speakers we’ve tested, but they fall significantly short of our highest-rated wireless speakers, such as the Edifier S1000DB, $350, which earned an Excellent sound-quality rating. 

Apple HomePod, Google Home Max, Sonos One, and other speakers in the Consumer Reports listening lab.
Wireless and Bluetooth speakers, including smart speakers, are evaluated for sound quality in the Consumer Reports listening lab.
Photo: Michael A. Smith

Form and Function

The HomePod is small and sleek in a typically Apple sort of way. It’s cylindrical in shape and slightly less than 7 inches tall, making it about the same size as a Sonos One but considerably smaller than the Home Max.

It’s covered in a soft grill material that comes in Space Gray or White. The cloth grill can’t be removed or replaced, but it can be cleaned gingerly with a wet or dry cloth.

There’s a single large touch-sensitive button on the top of the device that allows you to play, pause, skip a song, adjust the volume, or talk to Siri. You can also wake the speaker up from across the room by saying “Hey, Siri.” To hear your commands, the HomePod contains six built-in far-field microphones.

The speaker also includes seven tweeters to play higher-pitched sound and a single 4-inch woofer to handle the bass.

Apple says that every time you move the speaker, it senses the motion, then automatically adjusts itself to its placement in the room using a series of test tones and complex algorithms to minimize reflections from nearby walls or other objects. That’s not a feature we evaluated.

Unlike the Home Max or the Sonos One, the HomePod doesn’t offer stereo pairing, or Sonos-style multiroom capability . . . yet. An Apple spokesperson promised us that the functions will be “coming this year in a free software update.” 

Finally, the HomePod is yet another major brick in Apple’s walled garden. You’ll need an Apple iOS device to set up the speaker, and you get the fullest range of voice commands with the Apple Music streaming service. To use a competing service such as Spotify with the HomePod, you have to control it through your phone.