Everyone agrees that the HomePod was a failure. Nobody disputes that Apple's first smart speaker has terrific sound (some of the best of any smart speaker). But its expensive price ($299), limited Siri functionality, and lack of voice controls for non-Apple Music services like Spotify were big turnoffs.
The HomePod mini is Apple's attempt at a redo and, perhaps, its last chance to gain any ground on Amazon and Google in the smart home wars. It's $99 (good!); sound quality is terrific for a speaker this small (awesome!); Siri's smarter three years later (nice!), and it's got new tricks like intercom and the ability to beam music from an iPhone with a tap (fun!). TL;DR: It's everything the bigger HomePod should have been.
For the volume test, we're listening to Blackpink's "How You Like That" at 100 percent. The HomePod mini gets demolished by both the Echo and the Nest Audio on loudness. Louder volume doesn't always equal better sound. As you will hear, though the Echo and Nest Audio are louder, the sound also clips.
The HomePod mini strikes a good balance between max volume and clarity. Unsurprisingly, Apple Music sounds better than Spotify (via AirPlay) on the HomePod mini. I noticed this on my regular HomePod. This is because HomePod mini uses "computational audio" to adjust each song to better balance out the different frequencies.
I recently watched The Queen's Gambit and it rekindled my appreciation for jazz. In the next samples, you'll hear Peggy Lee's classic "Fever." I chose this song so you can hear the delicateness of the finger snaps, bass, drums, and vocals.
With the volume set at a more normal 50 percent, the Echo is both the loudest and pushes the most powerful bass. The Nest Audio sounds flat in comparison. Harder to convey is the HomePod's 360-degree sound. In person, the sound quality feels richer and airier. Less static-y since it's not directional sound.
Judging by everyone's Spotify Wrapped lists, The Weeknd helped a lot of people get through this tough year. The last batch includes clips from "Blinding Lights." Electronic tracks usually expose a smarter speaker's weaknesses — the drivers can never seem to produce clean synths.
Again, at 50 percent volume, you can hear similar results to the previous track. The HomePod mini (and all of Apple's audio for that matter) tends to produce the warmest sound whereas the Echo and Nest Audio lean on bass to add more kick.
Just like iPhone cameras that don't oversaturate or go overboard with the contrast, Apple audio is all about balance and tuning the sound for each song in Apple Music. It's yet again the advantage of deep hardware and software integration in a device that other smart speakers streaming third-party music services don't have. Spotify could build for Siri controls on HomePod, but the ball is in its court, not Apple's anymore.
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