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New HomePod versus old HomePod in blind tests: Almost a draw

I was surprised when none of the HomePod 2 reviews I saw included blind tests of the new HomePod versus the old HomePod. That’s now been corrected.

The most notable thing about Apple’s 1,550-word press release announcing the new model is that not once did the company say it was better than the original. This from a company which loves to proudly proclaim that “this is the best iPhone yet” every single year …

Early reviews didn’t enlighten us, mostly saying that the audio quality is similar to the original, without getting into actual head-to-head comparisons.

“Audio quality wasn’t an issue with the first-gen HomePod and it’s still great here.”

“Sound signature remains true to the original HomePod”

“The updated HomePod looks a lot like its discontinued predecessor—and sounds similar, too.”

The ideal would be blind listening tests with a group of people, ranging from audiophiles to casual listeners. I still haven’t seen anyone do this, but Macworld editor David Price has done his own blind test with the help of his wife.

The speakers were set up close together in the same room, and the reviewer (me) sat in the sweet spot while an assistant reviewer (my wife) streamed a playlist of assorted tracks to each speaker. For fairness, she mixed the order, and I wasn’t told which speaker was playing when until I had delivered my verdict.

He listened to six songs across classical, pop, rock, electroclash, and jazz. After initially finding them hard to tell apart, he subsequently found he was able to do so – though his verdict on which was better depended on the song.

Surprisingly, given that the new HomePod has fewer tweeters than the old, the main difference he identified is that the original model has deeper bass, while the 2023 model has more top-end.

The results were surprising– and surprisingly close. The new HomePod wasn’t always better to my ears, though it definitely delivered a different sound. On certain genres of the tracks I listened to, the new model was clearly better, but on others, especially ones with a dominant bass component, the original was preferable.

With John Coltrane’s Locomotion, for example:

This jazz track should test the speakers’ abilities across the spectrum, but the heavier bass muscle of the original model proves key. With more at the bottom end, the original HomePod delivers a broader and deeper sound which I preferred. There’s a little more detail at the top with the new speaker, however.

The verdict, then, comes down to the genres you listen to, and whether you prefer more bass or more treble.

While his six-song comparison was a 3/3 draw, overall he gives the win to the new model.

There are noticeable improvements, and the newer model is a worthy (if bass-lighter) successor to what was already an excellent speaker.

As to why I haven’t done the test myself … it’s too scary a prospect: I have six original HomePods, and would hate to find that I prefer the new one!

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