HomePod head-to-head: How Apple’s new smart speaker compares to original

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NewsTop stories Is the new HomePod really that different from the 2018 HomePod? Yes and no. Is the new HomePod really that different from the 2018 HomePod? Yes and no.
Photo: Apple

It came as a surprise when Apple rolled out a big HomePod Wednesday, despite rumors swirling for a while about its eventual return. Cupertino put out the OG HomePod in 2018 but discontinued it in spring 2021, choosing amid lagging sales to focus on the HomePod mini.

So now that the full-size HomePod is finally back, is it any different from the original? At a glance you might not think so, because the exterior design is so similar. But there are significant changes.

It seems potentially much-improved as a smart home device, but whether it’s a better speaker is questionable. 

What’s new in the 2023 HomePod compared to the 2018 version

The chart below shows some key differences between the new HomePod and the 2018 model, which became a hot seller on the used market after Apple discontinued it. That interest may be part of the reason for its return.

Look and feel

First, let’s look at what hasn’t changed, or at least not much. The exterior design looks very similar, for example.

The new one features a larger touch screen on top with different lighting indicating different uses, such as when Siri is addressed. The larger size likely also relates to extended smart-home functionality, discussed below.

The size of the new speaker is a little different, too. The new one is a touch shorter and a tad lighter than the old one. It’s 2/10s of an inch shorter and a little under half a pound lighter.

And that slight shrinkage seems mainly to do with components Apple took away on the inside.

The new speaker comes in white and midnight colors rather than white and space gray colors.

Another thing that hasn’t changed? The speaker is for an Apple ecosystem. Both the old and new versions feature no aux/line-in connection and won’t work with non-Apple devices, despite having Bluetooth 5.0 onboard.

Audio quality

HomePod 1 and HomePod 2 internal components comparisonYou can see fewer tweeters at the base of HomePod 2 on the right.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Gen 2 HomePod adds some cool sensors and whatnot for home automation and related connectivity (see below), but my first concern is always, “are they improving the sound of F-ing it up?”

And that’s a real concern with the new speaker. Apple saw fit to drop two tweeters and two microphones from the original design.

The original featured seven horn-loaded tweeters and a six-microphone array while the new one goes with five tweeters and four mics. That reduces overall size a bit, and it most likely saves Cupertino some money.

But can a speaker with a high-excursion (moving) woofer that expands up to 20mm — both versions have that — sound as good through high frequencies with two fewer tweeters arrayed around the speaker’s base? The jury will be out on that until people start listening to the new HomePod.

But some of Apple’s other changes may improve sound quality despite the loss of some hardware.

S7 chip replaces A8 chip

Specification  HomePod 2 (2023) HomePod 1 (2018)
Price $299 $299 ($349 at launch)
Chip/processor S7 A8
Speaker High-excursion woofer

5 horn-loaded tweeters

High-excursion woofer

7 horn-loaded tweeters

Microphones 4 6
Sensors Accelerometer

Temperature

Humidity

System sensor

Accelerometer
Connectivity 802.11n Wi-Fi

Bluetooth 5.0

Ultra wideband

Thread / Matter

8092.11ac Wi-Fi

Bluetooth 5.0

Dimensions 6.6in H x 5.6in W 6.8in H x 5.6 in W
Weight 5.16 pounds 5.5 pounds
Colors White, midnight White, space gray
Easy-detach power cable Yes No
Aux/line in No No
Use with 3rd party devices No No

The new HomePod also uses a more advanced chip than its predecessor with more advanced computational audio. That could improve how well spatial audio works and more.

Chip-wise, the new one has the S7, used in Apple Watch 7. The old one uses the A8 from Apple Watch 6. For reference, HomePod mini uses S5, two generations older than what’s in the new HomePod.

Apple noted a new system sensor should also improve sound quality:

Apple silicon unlocks advanced computational audio innovations in HomePod. Using feedback from the all-new system sensor, it runs complex tuning models in real time to preserve dynamic range and maximize acoustic performance.

Even so, both versions are smart enough for features like sound reflection, where the speaker senses movement of sound off of walls and such and adjusts for optimal audio.

Siri and HomeKit/Matter smart-home automation

Other changes in the new HomePod have to do with smart-home automation, including how it works with Siri voice commands and sensors deployed to work with HomeKit.

The new version adds temperature and humidity sensors that will come in handy for creating Home app automations to help control those measures — close the blinds, turn up the heat, dehumidify, etc.

And connectivity in the new speaker relates to its ability to communicated with other devices via Thread radio connectivity as part of the recently released Matter home-automation-technology standard that helps devices from different makers work together.

And finally, both HomePods have a removable power cable, but Apple did not recommend users try to remove it themselves in the Gen 1 HomePod. Apparently that’s easier now.

The HomePod 2 is available to order online and in the Apple Store app, with shipments beginning to reach buyers by February 3, Apple said.

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