Sonos One vs. Apple HomePod: Brilliant Sound But Lacking Smarts

Cam Secore
Updated 07/03/2019

After months of testing, I determined Apple HomePod is the best smart speaker overall because of its compact design and brilliant sound. However, I only recommend it to Apple Music users. If you don’t mind having two speakers, a pair of Sonos One speakers sounds better than HomePod and is more compatible.

I’ll explain how I reached my conclusion by comparing two smart speakers (Apple HomePod vs. Sonos One) while evaluating six categories: sound (most important), design, voice assistant, compatibility, software, and whole home compatibility.

apple homepod

Apple HomePod

9
  • Sound: It’s the best-sounding speaker for its size and price. It sounds good at any volume and has huge bass.
  • Design: It looks and feels fantastic, and it’s unobtrusive, able to fit anywhere.
  • Voice Assistant: Siri is brilliant with Apple Music and HomeKit tasks but fails otherwise. Its hearing is amazing.
  • Compatibility: You can AirPlay any music service from your iPhone, but Apple Music is the only one with Siri control.
  • Whole Home: A stereo pair sounds amazing, but Siri gets confused when HomePods are in separate rooms.

Best for you if...

You’re an Apple Music subscriber or worried about your privacy. While you can listen to any music service with AirPlay, it's not perfect. HomePod and Siri perform Apple Music and HomeKit tasks perfectly. It’s the best sounding speaker of its price and size.

sonos one

Sonos One (Gen 2)

8
  • Sound: The sound is crisp and rich, but there's not as much bass as HomePod. But a pair of Ones beats HomePod.
  • Design: It’s aesthetically pleasing, feels well-built and fits anywhere.
  • Voice Assistant: Alexa is more capable, but its hearing isn't as precise as Echo or HomePod. Google Assistant is coming but delayed.
  • Compatibility: It works with Alexa-compatible devices and plays any music service. It's AirPlay compatible too.
  • Whole Home: Sonos speakers get better as you add more to your collection and there's a TV option (Playbar & Beam).

Best for you if...

You’re a Spotify or Android user or don’t want to be locked into one ecosystem. To get a comparable sound to HomePod, you’ll need a pair of Sonos One speakers. Although, you can get by with one Sonos One, and it’ll sound 10 times better than Echo.

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Why listen to me?

  1. I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old.
  2. I bought each device with MY money.
  3. I’ll update this post frequently because my opinions change.
  4. I don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.

Apple HomePod

9

Sound (A-):

  • There’s no better-sounding speaker than HomePod in its size. And it gives more expensive speakers a run for their money.
  • HomePod is a computer with its A8 Chip (the same chip in iPhone 6). This is the first speaker to have a legitimate brain, which lets Apple get the most out of HomePod’s hardware. It takes the data it gets from the microphones and makes a model of the room in real-time, then adjusts the sound accordingly.
  • HomePod calibrates itself after a couple of minutes of playing a song and tunes correctly based room conditions. There’s no setup for this.
  • Speakers typically sound different when you move around the room, but if you close your eyes, you won’t know HomePod’s location.
  • Usually, audio distorts once a speaker’s volume goes past a certain point, but HomePod sounds crisp, lifelike, and excellent at every volume level. The clarity at 10% volume is the same as 100%.
  • For full omnidirectional sound, there’s a seven-tweeter array and a six-microphone array that listens for sound bouncing off of walls and furniture.
  • There’s an accelerometer that helps HomePod recognizes when it’s been moved and will re-adjust its sound.

Design (A+):

  • It looks and feels amazing. It’s seven inches high, six inches around and surprisingly heavy. This size is the sweet spot for smart speakers.
  • It comes in White and Space Gray.
  • You can put it anywhere without drawing attention, but it’s not so small as to sacrifice sound quality.
  • No details were overlooked. For example, the power cord is made of the same mesh material to match HomePod, and it’s the nicest power cord I’ve ever seen.
  • The display includes touch play, pause, and skip buttons.
  • The colorful LED lights on top to let you know it’s listening look cool and are visible from everywhere.

Voice Assistant (C+):

  • Siri does a brilliant job of comprehending what you’re asking then performs HomeKit tasks and plays Apple Music flawlessly.
  • My iPhone and Apple Watch rarely pick up “Hey, Siri” when I say it. BUT, HomePod’s voice recognition uses some kind of wizardry. You can have HomePod’s volume at 100%, and Siri understands you in a normal voice. If the speaker’s not playing, you can almost bring your voice to a whisper, and it’ll still understand. Siri hears me from a room away without the need to yell.
  • While Siri can hear from far away and understands what you’re, it can’t do nearly as much as Alexa. Don’t bother asking Siri tasks that you’d typically ask a search engine because it won’t know.
  • Siri frequently says, “I can’t do that on HomePod.” but then doesn’t hand off the task to Apple Watch or iPhone. You’re left with no help.
  • Because Siri has access to your phone, it can send, receive, read iMessages. This won’t be possible for other digital assistants.
  • Siri can’t recognize different people’s voices like other voice assistants, even though iPhone can. It hurts with messaging and notes. Your roommates can send and read your messages because Siri can’t recognize who’s talking. (You can disable “Personal Request,” but that means YOU can’t send messages using Siri either.)

Compatibility (C):

  • You can’t setup or use HomePod with an Android device.
  • Apple Music & Podcasts are the only services that can be initiated with Siri via your voice.
  • Apple hasn’t done a great job of showing you can use services other than Apple Music, but you can AirPlay from ANY audio/music service from your phone and it sounds great.
  • There were major issues with AirPlay when HomePod launched, but most have been addressed. However, there are a few minor issues remaining:
    • You lose Siri control during AirPlay. Siri knows it’s playing music (it can skip, pause and control volume), but it doesn’t understand what’s playing.
    • The music lags by a few seconds when skipping or pausing songs.
    • The music randomly cuts out. It’s not as frequent as it once was, and it only happens once a week, but that’s more than Sonos.
  • Siri can control HomeKit devices (see list here). Big names like Philips Hue, Ecobee, WeMo, and August are HomeKit compatible, but Nest, Harmony, Roomba, Arlo and Ring aren’t compatible. I’m an Apple guy, so I’ve been buying HomeKit products exclusively for the last three years, but you’re in trouble if you already have non-compatible products in your home.

Software (A):

  • Setup takes a minute and is similar to AirPod’s setup. Because your iPhone already has your iCloud settings, you don’t enter any information, just wait for HomePod to set up on its own.
  • Adding smart home accessories, like lights is a breeze. Smart home devices and automations are controlled in the Home app.
  • If you’re worried about privacy, HomePod is your best bet. Why? Apple makes most of their revenue from selling hardware (iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, etc.) Amazon and Google make money through advertising and harvesting your data. Amazon and Google need your data, but Apple doesn’t. Everything you say before “Hey, SirI’ is processed locally on HomePod and isn’t sent to Apple. Once you ask Siri to do something, it creates a tokenized ID that’s encrypted end-to-end. In simple terms: Apple can’t see what you’re asking, and they don’t care.

Whole Home (F):

  • You can pair multiple HomePod speakers together with AirPlay 2 to create a stereo pair. This works well and sounds amazing!
  • If you want multiple HomePod speakers in different rooms, you can pick and choose which rooms you want to play and temporarily pair them with AirPlay 2.
  • There’s an issue when you have two or more HomePod speakers in your house: they don’t communicate with each other well. Ideally, the speaker that hears your request best should answer the query. I’ve experimented with three HomePods in three different rooms. Here’s a regular experience:
    • My timer goes off on my kitchen HomePod while I’m in the kitchen. I say, “Hey Siri, stop the timer.” and the HomePod from two rooms away says “There are no timers on HomePod” while the timer in the kitchen keeps going off. It’s a terrible user experience.
    • The wrong HomePod will sometimes reply you ask it to skip a song, too. This is partly due to the amazing mics, but Apple needs to create a mesh system between your HomePods that works better. For instance, it’s fine if a HomePod from far away hears me, but it should see that music is playing on another HomePod, relay the message, then skip the song.
  • HomePod isn’t a great option for TV, even though it sounds amazing for movies. You can AirPlay your TV’s sound from Apple TV to HomePod, but there are a couple problems:
    • You’ll need Apple TV and it can be the only device you use. I stream everything with Apple TV, so I’m in the clear, but things are still complicated because…
    • You’ll break the AirPlay connection if you use HomePod to play music and you’ll need to reconnect HomePod to your Apple TV.
    • It’s easy to reconnect by holding down the play button on your Apple TV remote, but it takes ten seconds, and you’ll have to rewind your movie to view the parts missed.

Sonos One

8

Sound (B-):

  • Sonos One offers a crisp and rich sound, but it has substantially less bass than HomePod.
  • Like HomePod, Sonos speakers sound good wherever you are in the room with their Trueplay technology. Trueplay is great and you’ll love it, but there are two issues with it:
    • The set up is wonky, and it has to be re-tuned when you move it (read more below).
    • Trueplay can’t be configured with Android phones. If you’re an Android user, you’ll need to borrow a friend’s iPhone or use an iPad to set it up. Once Trueplay is set up, you won’t need an iOS device again. Sonos One sounds fine without Trueplay, but it’s noticeably better when it’s tuned to your specific room.
  • HomePod’s sound is more robust than one Sonos One. (Trueplay isn’t as good as HomePod’s A8 Chip technology. Plus, Sonos One speakers face forward.)
  • For the same price as one HomePod, a pair of Sonos One speakers sounds better than one HomePod.
  • I prefer the clarity of one Sonos One over something like Google Home Max. (And it’s half the price.)
  • It sounds multiple times better than Amazon’s best sounding smart speaker, Echo Plus.
  • If you want to go big, Sonos Play:5 beats all of these smart speakers for $500.

Design (A-):

  • It’s aesthetically pleasing, feels well-built, and it’s touch-controls are conveniently located on top.
  • Sonos One comes in white and black. The black looks amazing because it’s one shade, while the grill on the white makes it look two-toned.
  • It’s four pounds, six inches high, making it the perfect size to put anywhere in your home.
  • There’s no clear indicator when Alexa is listening to you. A tiny white LED lights up, but it can be seen from far away. Sonos knew it wasn’t obvious, so they created a chime that goes off instead. (Read more before to learn why the chime is terrible and should be disabled.)

Voice Assistant (B-):

  • Sonos uses Alexa as their voice assistant. It works almost as well as a native Echo (some Alexa’s skills, like calls aren’t available yet).
  • There are over 15,000 different skills in Alexa’s app store and the Alexa settings for Sonos One are kept in the Alexa app. I won’t dive deep into Alexa’s capabilities on this post, but you can read what I wrote here to learn more.
  • Alexa on Sonos One works well for checking weather, setting timers, performing smart home device tasks (turning down the lights), and music playback (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Audible).
  • You can’t make calls or access your text messages.
  • My problem with Alexa on Sonos One is that its hearing sensitivity isn’t as precise as native Echo devices. When I first got mine, Alexa didn’t hear me well. Sonos updated the firmware, and it’s been solid since, but not nearly as good as HomePod.
  • I love the simplicity of the “Alexa” wake word, but it’s a common sound and creates more false triggers than HomePod. Unlike, Echo devices where the wake word can be changed to “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “Computer,” you’re stuck with “Alexa” only.
  • To compensate for the tiny LED listening light, Sonos One plays a chime after you say “Alexa.” Fortunately, Sonos FINALLY gives you the option to disable the Alexa chime, but now you won’t know if Alexa hears your commands.
    • Before there was an option to disable, the chime was so irritating and loud that I turned off Alexa and used Sonos One as an AirPlay speaker only.
    • It goes off during movies due to the simplicity of the “Alexa” wake word.
    • It interrupts you while asking it to perform a command. You have to talk over it.
  • Google Assistant is coming to Sonos and should the perfect combination of smarts and sound.

Compatibility (A+):

  • The smart devices that work with Echo, work with Sonos One because it has Alexa’s brain.
  • Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIN, Gimme Radio, and SiriusXM can be played via your voice.
  • Although you can’t play every service using your voice, you can stream any popular music service available wirelessly to Sonos inside the Sonos app. Sonos wins total music integrations compared to other smart speakers in a landslide.
  • Sonos has no preference in the music services that you use.
  • Sonos speakers work with the brilliant Spotify Connect feature. It’s similar to AirPlay, but is much more reliable and works with Android devices in additional to iOS. Anyone on your WiFi and with the Spotify app (iOS, Android, or Mac) can connect to your Sonos One with their phone from THEIR Spotify account with two taps.
  • You can cast from the Amazon Music and Pandora apps to Sonos One without touching the Sonos app or Alexa.
  • If you don’t want to mess around with Alexa or the Sonos app, you can AirPlay to any audio source from your iPhone to Sonos One with two taps. You tap the triangle icon on the music playback screen, then tap your Sonos One and it will start playing music.

Software (C):

  • Sonos’ setup and app are excellent. They have every popular music service, and they are all managed in a universal queue. My friends and I have been using the Sonos app and lining up the queue with songs for years. Giving everyone on your network control of the music is fun. Sonos only has a “C” in the software section because of Alexa.
  • Setting up Alexa is brutal and doesn’t always work. Once Alexa is synced with Sonos, smart home integrations and other Alexa settings are changed inside the Alexa app, not the Sonos app. The Alexa app is not a pleasant experience. The good news is that if you already have your smart home device setups figured out from a previous Echo, you won’t have to do it again.
  • Trueplay is great, but it’s not fun to set up. You have to take off your phone case, walk around your room while holding your phone upside down and wave it, while loud laser sounds shoot at you. It only takes three minutes, but sometimes it fails. If you move the speaker, you’ll have to reset Trueplay and do the process again. Sonos doesn’t automatically adjust to surroundings like HomePod.

Whole Home (A+):

  • You can control any Sonos speaker with your voice by having one Sonos One. You don’t need a Sonos One to get the Alexa and Sonos combination though because all Alexa devices work with Sonos.
  • If you want a multiroom setup, Sonos is your best option. You can pair together as many Sonos as you’d like, and unpair them at any point. A Sonos Beam is your best bet if you want a speaker for your TV.
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