Apple HomePod Mini Review: You Absolutely Do Not Need A Large Speaker For Good Sound
The HomePod Mini is an evolution, a range extender and a course correction for Apple in the smart speaker space. Apple is turning conventional wisdom on its head. You don’t always need a big speaker for good sound. And you can get great sound from the most compact of speakers.
- Last Updated: November 13, 2020, 10:23 IST
- FOLLOW US ON:
A lot has changed since Apple entered the smart speaker business with the HomePod a few years ago. And it is only now that we have a new addition to the line-up, the HomePod Mini. In the interim, a lot happened in the smart speaker space. Most importantly, people got used to them, adopted them and see them as viable companions. The thing is, Amazon made the quickest moves to expand the Echo smart speaker line-up, while Google also made a few moves here and there to add to the Nest smart speakers. Fast forward to now, and the HomePod Mini is ticking off pretty much all the boxes of a smart speaker checklist.
Good things come in small packages. The larger the speaker, the better the physics for sound. These are two very distinct lines of thought. And when it comes to audio, they contradict each other. Yet, with the HomePod Mini, Apple is turning conventional wisdom on its head. Good things really do come in small packages. And you can get great sound from the most compact of speakers. In the case of the HomePod Mini, the price is also a comparatively smaller package too. This is priced at Rs 9,900 and is in the same price range as the latest generation Amazon Echo and the Google Nest Audio.
You Will Be A Bit Staggered At How Compact This Is
The design of the Apple HomePod Mini is a bit if two distinct personalities. First is the very clear resemblance with the larger HomePod. The fabric has something to do with it. Perhaps the space grey or white colour options too. Even though it has been sculpted in a very different way, the Apple HomePod Mini will absolutely amaze you with the sheer size. The lack of it, to be precise. In fact, something as small as your daily teacup. And cradles in your hand. Not much bigger than a cricket ball. Or a tennis ball. Or an apple. in a nutshell, it looks good sitting on the mantlepiece. Or the bedside table. And you will want to actually hold it and just look on in amazement at how much Apple has been able to reduce the size of the audio hardware.
The HomePod Mini ingredients are pretty similar to the HomePod. At the top is a touch sensitive panel for volume control and invoking Siri. There is the same multicolored illumination when you call out to Siri. There is a white cloudy illumination when the HomePod Mini is playing music—and this is light sensitive by the way. You’ll really enjoy it glow in case you have the room nicely lit up and it fades away subtly if you’ve turned down the lights. This becomes green if you are using the HomePod Mini for other tasks, such as sending Intercom messages.
There is one observation about these lights, and indeed when you call out to Siri. If the HomePod Mini is placed somewhere even slightly lower than your eyeline at that time, you will be able to see the Siri spring into action and you can continue asking whatever you need from it. However, there may be times when you will not see the LEDs light up. There is one subtle difference that I noticed. The HomePod had this panel in a more convex form factor which meant you could still peek at it. In the HomePod Mini, the panel is flat and slightly recessed compared with the fabric merging into it.
I had always appreciated the long power cable length of the HomePod, and I am happy to note that the HomePod Mini doesn’t compromise on cable length either. The power cable is still permanently attached into the HomePod Mini just like the HomePod but there is one change at the either end—it is a USB-C connector, and a 20-watt power adapter is part of the box.
Yet It Sounds About Right. Who Said We Need Big Speakers?
Setting up the HomePod Mini is a breeze. Plug this in and take your iPhone near it and it’ll detect a new HomePod Mini much like how the Apple AirPods get detected for setup. Head to the Home app on your iPhone to further configure the options, rename the HomePod Mini and also set up the stereo pair if you happen to buy two of these.
The fine difference between the HomePod and the HomePod Mini is that the latter doesn’t have the room layout detection using the in-built microphones and subsequent audio tuning that the former has. But what the HomePod Mini gets instead is the S5 chip that analyses the audio that is being played—there are complex algorithms at work so that the details and bass are not lost in translation. This is what Apple calls “computational audio” wherein the S5 chip applies the audio tuning algorithms as many as 180 times per second to adjust the output accordingly. The 360-degree sound remains the highlight of the latest HomePod as well. Inside is a full range audio driver and dual force-cancelling passive radiators. The audio driver is downward facing, and Apple has integrated acoustic waveguide sound guidance that pushes the audio out closer to the surface the HomePod Mini is kept on—that is to reduce the chances of audio bouncing off a hard surface and thereby creating an echo. That won’t happen.
The HomePod Mini is just over 3-inches tall. In fact, it is the same ballpark as the latest generation Amazon Echo Dot. But what a difference in the overall sound reproduction. And the audio hardware that is packed inside each. This is perhaps the most vehement opposition to the general wisdom that a speaker needs to be big in size for good size.
It doesn’t take long to appreciate how the Apple HomePod Mini sounds very well balanced. And it really delivers a lot of volume and an appreciable dollop of bass for its really compact size. You will be surprised how wide the soundstage is and how easily this can fill up even a fairly large room with absolute ease. Drive up the volume to the highest level, and there is absolutely no distortion. To be honest, I was a bit jittery at the outset about how the HomePod Mini will be able to stack up, particularly I have been using the larger HomePod for a while now. Happy to report, the HomePod Mini delivers sound that is wider than I would have imagined. The passive radiators don’t deliver window vibrating bass, but what you do get is very sophisticated reproduction of lower frequencies that work well across genres of music. Mind you, if you are looking for a lot of bass and that is how your playlists are configured, the HomePod Mini probably isn’t for you. This cannot be connected with a wireless subwoofer, for instance. What you get throughout is what you get out of the box. “Hey Siri, increase the bass” will get you a response in the negative too.
There is no doubt that the HomePod Mini just works well enough for most of us. In most listening situations and room sizes. Even at low volumes, the HomePod Mini are extremely proficient with extremely good sound with no muffed vocals or lost details. Getting these into the stereo mode is a breeze with the Home app. What you will get a bump up in volume and a boost in detailing with the left and right channels well separated. What you will not notice is twice the bass, because everything is just so well balanced. In the stereo pair, the HomePod Mini providing the soundtrack to your life does this in a very unassuming way. In fact, it will be hard to pinpoint the source of music in the room, if you happen to hide away the HomePod Mini from sight. Yet, remember this cannot be the ideal speaker for the soundtrack to a house party. But will be a great companion for music as you work and for music or podcasts as you relax after a tiring day of work from home.
For me, the audio streaming worked seamlessly with Apple Music and Spotify. For Spotify, you need to head to devices on the music playback screen and select AirPlay option and select your HomePod Mini. It is really cool that you could have something playing on the iPhone and you simply have to tap the iPhone to the top of the HomePod Mini to transfer the playback to the speaker. This, on the iPhone 12 Pro Max, worked seamlessly on the Apple Music and Spotify apps. The magic comes from the U1 chip that is part of iPhones since 2019.
Smart Home Ecosystem Is Building Up, One Smart Device At A Time
The HomePod Mini packs in all of the HomePod’s smart home control capabilities. You can control compatible smart lights, smart plugs and more by simply calling out to Siri. You can set automations in the Siri app and control smart devices from anywhere via the Home app. What you need are accessories and smart devices that are compatible with Apple HomeKit, the smart home platform. It is perhaps still not as vibrant an ecosystem as the smart devices that work with Amazon’s Alexa platform, but HomeKit is getting there.
Intercom is a rather cool new addon for the HomePod Mini and indeed the HomePod. You can use this feature to send out a message on a specific HomePod or all HomePod speakers at home. You won’t need to wean away folks individually, from their PlayStations and Apple TV streaming. Intercom announcements can also be received on iPhone and Apple Watch as well as CarPlay. A good way to tell someone to not forget to buy milk on the way home. Remember, this is a single broadcast message every time you send one.
Siri Is Putting Its Best Foot Forward
We have to take our hat off for the smarter avatar of Siri. It is a far cry from the Siri we first experienced a few years ago with the first HomePod. It now understands Indian accents well and complex words which are unique to our languages, Hindi specifically, are understood in one go. Also, I have often noticed my Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers trigger when they hear their wake words in a TV advertisement for instance. No such false starts for Hey Siri on the HomePod Mini with any recordings playing nearby. This points to how well the assistant now understands human voices in its vicinity, not something coming out of the TV or Bluetooth speakers.
The Last Word: It Is Small But It Isn’t Missing Out On Powerful Sound
The HomePod Mini is an evolution, a range extender and a course correction for Apple in the smart speaker space. The HomePod, for all its brilliance and that I love it to bits, started out as something that was too expensive for many. At a time when smart speakers will still something people were evaluating. Yet, it was by far and away the best investment you could have made if sound was important for you. The HomePod Mini tackles the price bit too. This is now taking the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot—two devices in one go, in terms of the form factor and the performance. The HomePod Mini sits comfortably on the bedside table, on one side of the workstation, on the mantlepiece in the living room or that table in the garden. It sounds wholesome and room filling, Siri is smarter than ever before, setting up stereo pairs is a breeze and computational audio really makes its presence felt. I’ll just say it again—Apple has proved that you don’t always need a big speaker to get powerful sound.