Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: The music lovers' smart speakers do battle

Two of the best sounding smart speakers go head-to-head

Apple HomePod vs Sonos One

The smart speaker war has changed. As it’s become abundantly clear that music is one of the primary reasons we’re using these voice-powered devices in ours homes, tech companies have realized they’ve been losing the battle that matters: sound quality.

It’s why Google made the Max, and why Apple and Sonos have both delivered smart speakers with a heavy emphasis on sound quality and music.

Both the Apple HomePod and the Sonos One are the debut smart speakers from their respective makers, though the One is really just a Play:1 speaker that Sonos has enhanced with smart assistant support and touch controls. Below, we put Apple’s and Sonos’ speakers head-to-head.


Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Design

Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Which smart speaker is best for music lover?

The Sonos One looks and acts like a refined Play:1. At 6.36 x 4.69 inches it’s the same size as its less smart sibling, the most notable difference being on the top where Sonos has replaced the Play:1’s hard buttons with touch controls - so you can tap or swipe along the roof to pause or skip tracks, or mute/unmute Alexa. The buttons work fine enough, though it’s very easy to accidentally activate them with a brush of a hand.

Essential reading: Complete guide to Sonos

The HomePod is a little bigger than the Sonos One at 6.8 inches tall and 5.6 inches wide, but neither of these speakers are going to take up a lot of room. They’re pretty diddy. The HomePod is almost completely covered by a mesh grille that covers everything but a circle at the top for its own touch controls. The Sonos One’s grille doesn’t quite wrap all the way round as it’s divided by some plastic on the back, but you won’t see that once you’ve plonked it down.

The HomePod controls look a little different but perform the same functions. The difference is that it’ll light up with a colorful swirl when you’re speaking to Siri, which works as both a cue that Apple’s assistant is listening and as a nice added bit of flair. With the Sonos One, there's a little white light on the top that'll ignite when Alexa is listening.


Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Sound quality

Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Which smart speaker is best for music lover?


This one’s a biggy. First thing, both the HomePod and Sonos One sound great. These are arguably the best sounding smart speakers on the market right now. Google Home Max is definitely up there, for the record, but we reckon Sonos and Apple sit at the top of the pile.

Both deliver punchy, room-filling sound that’s balanced and doesn’t distort at higher volumes like some of their rivals. Speakers like the Echo and Google Home struggle with high-volume foreground listening because, well, they’re just not built for it. The Sonos One and HomePod are designed to fill the room with sound, and do so with aplomb.

Having used plenty of Sonos speakers over the years, it’s little surprise that the One sounds this good, but it’s particularly impressive from Apple, a company with little history in this domain. Some of this is through necessity of course, as Siri is still trailing Alex and Google Assistant by a large margin, meaning Apple has had to double down on the music aspect to compete.

There is a way: How to control Sonos with Google Assistant


The HomePod packs a lot in with seven beam-forming tweeters and an upwards-facing, four-inch high-excursion woofer - and boy does it deliver. But the real brains are in Apple’s A8 chip which is always analyzing the music you’re playing and making sure it’s tuned to sound its best. More impressive, the six microphones are listening to how sound reflects back off walls and other objects in the room, adjusting the output accordingly. In a sense, the HomePod “knows” where it’s been placed in the room, analyzing the acoustics and dynamically responding. It’ll recalibrate if you move it too. It’s its smartest feature.

The Sonos One uses a feature called Trueplay to similarly adjust sound to the room acoustics, though it’s not automatic, nor as dynamic, as the HomePod’s, so you’ll want to retune should you move the speaker to a new location.

Complete guide: Everything you need to know about AirPlay 2

If you’re looking for a multi-speaker setup, both Sonos and Apple are now able to give you an option. Going solo the Sonos One packs a punch, but it’s even better when you pair two together for stereo sound, and Sonos offers bundles to encourage you to do so. Meanwhile, the HomePod, through the power of AirPlay 2, now offers you the ability to propel sound into multiple rooms and create a stereo setup. While we're here, it's also worth mentioning that AirPlay 2 support is coming to both old and new Sonos speakers, too.

With Sonos offering a pair of One speakers for the same price as the HomePod, though, we’re more inclined to suggest you go that route, if you’re looking to furnish your home with room-filling sound.


Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Smart assistants

Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Which smart speaker is best for music lover?

Right now, the Sonos One comes with Alexa inside, but Sonos promises that it’ll also roll out Google Assistant later this year. Alexa on the Sonos One has almost all of the abilities that it has on an Echo device. A couple of things, like making voice calls, are missing, but you’ll be able to control your connected smart home appliances and ask Alexa all the same questions you would on an Echo - and, of course, ask it to play music.

If you already own any “dumb” Sonos speakers - and an Echo - you can download the Sonos skill and control the speakers that way instead. This means you could buy an Echo Dot and a Sonos Play:1 and it’ll come in at the same price as a Sonos One. Which route do you go? That depends on your setup and what devices you already own.

Guide: How to add your Apple HomePod smart speaker to your Sonos system

Apple, naturally, just has Siri, which is pretty good as long as you’re staying within the confines of Apple’s empire. Apple’s pretty much sold the HomePod entirely on being a great music device, referring to Siri as the “mixologist” of its speaker. And credit where it’s due, Siri does a good job of this so long as you’re playing from Apple Music. It's even proved good at digging out some more obscure tracks in our iTunes catalogue. Good work, Siri.


Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: The music lovers' smart speakers do battle

But when it gets off the DJ decks, Siri is less capable than both Alexa and Google’s Assistant. It can read the news, give you traffic and weather reports, stock prices, make translations and keep notes. Those sort of skills are par for the course these days, but Siri can also send messages. With a “Hey Siri, send a message to Bev” you can dictate and send a text, though we find Siri often comes unstuck when dictating more complicated messages. Also, because the HomePod doesn’t have multi-user support, it’s easy for someone else in the house to ask Siri to fire off abusive messages to your contacts and get you fired. So beware.

Essential reading: Apple HomePod vs Amazon Echo

Of course, the HomePod also works as a central hub for the smart home, and you’ll be able to control your HomeKit devices through the speaker, just as you can control Alexa-connected devices with the Sonos One. The difference is that the Alexa smart home ecosystem has wider support than HomeKit, so you’ve more to play with, and that’s going to expand massively when Google Assistant support arrives later in the year.

But again, this largely comes down to what you already own. If you’re already deeply buried in HomeKit, the HomePod is a better fit. If you have an Alexa-dominated smart home, the Sonos One will slip in naturally.


Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Music services

Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Which smart speaker is best for music lover?

If you’re already an Apple Music subscriber, the HomePod is going to be a perfect fit as it’s fully integrated with the service. If you want to use other services like Spotify and Deezer, you can, but it’s far from a smooth experience. For one thing, you won’t be able to call on Siri to pull up tracks from rival services. Spotify? It’s never heard of it. Instead you’ll need to whip out your phone and direct it over AirPlay.

Sonos is better equipped here, supporting a wide range of music services including Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Amazon Music (natch). When it comes to controlling these through Alexa, all but Apple Music are supported, so you’ve still got a much better selection than Apple is offering.

Read this: How to stream and control Spotify on your Apple HomePod

If you’re already deeply embedded in a music service, this might be one of the most important factors when choosing between the two speakers, making this an essential distinction to be aware of.


Apple HomePod vs Sonos One: Price

We touched on this earlier, but in case it wasn’t clear, the HomePod is the more expensive of the two speakers. At $349 it’s significantly pricier than the $199 Sonos One. Sonos is offering a two-speaker set that’s $398, so you can get a stereo Sonos setup for just a bit more than a HomePod (the price difference is a little more for the UK - sorry). Worth bearing that mind with other factors (like your wider ecosystem) also taken into consideration.


Verdict

This is a tough one because both these speakers are excellent when performing their primary function: playing music. We’d say the HomePod sounds a smidge better overall, but the real question is: What kind of setup do you want? If you’re looking to put a speaker in every room, you’re probably still going to want to go the Sonos route. It’s cheaper, and the upcoming AirPlay 2 support means there's no compelling reason to plump for HomePod in this regard.

But the other question you need to ask is: What do I already have? Comparing these speakers is just as much about comparing ecosystems. The Sonos One is a much better speaker for the smart home, and when Assistant support arrives it’s going to be even better. If you’re happily walled within Apple's Kingdom, the HomePod is going to make more sense; if you’re not, and don’t want to subscribe to Apple Music, it’s hard to recommend it over the Sonos One right now.



TAGGED   speakers   apple

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