HomePod vs. Sonos One Stereo Pair Comparison

I’ve had a HomePod since it was first released in early 2018. It sounds okay, but there are a number of issues with it. As I said in my review, “sometimes this speaker sounds really great, sometimes it really doesn’t.” And the biggest problem for me was this:

What the HomePod needs, of course, is user access to settings like an equalizer, as you have in iTunes or on an iOS device. Not to the broader DSP algorithm, but to the tone sculpting that makes some music sound too bassy, or, at times, too trebly.

A few months later, I got a second HomePod to combine them into a stereo pair to use in my bedroom. Using two standalone speakers in a stereo pair is practical: you save the space you would need for an amplifier, and you don’t need to run speaker wire to them (you do need to plug both into AC power, of course).

In late 2018, I bought a Sonos One, which is similar in size to the HomePod, but is much less expensive. It turned out that the Sonos One sounded better overall than the HomePod.

So the next step was to buy a second Sonos One and set it up in a stereo pair. I did so recently, taking advantage of post-Christmas sales, and I purchased the less expensive Sonos One SL, which does not have a microphone so does not support Alexa or Google Assistant. I don’t use Alexa, nor do I use Siri on my HomePods, and if you have a stereo pair, you don’t need both Sonos Ones to have microphones anyway.

Note that a pair of HomePods costs $598, and a pair of Sonos One SLs costs $329.

So, it was time to set up the Sonos Ones in a stereo pair in my bedroom and compare them. I placed each one on the same shelf as a HomePod, a few inches away. In the Music app, I set the volume for each pair to approximately what was audibly the same level; the Sonos One is a bit louder, so I lowered its volume until it sounded about the same. (“Bedroom” below is the HomePod stereo pair.)

Bedroom

You can switch from one AirPlay device to another by tapping the AirPlay icon at the bottom of the Music window, and I switched back and forth, starting with my Kirk’s Audio Test Tracks playlist on Apple Music. This is a playlist of music that I am very familiar with, which I use when testing new audio equipment. (I listened to more than just what’s in the playlist, but I started with that.)

Both of these devices use DSP (digital signal processing) to adapt to their locations. The HomePod does this automatically, and with Sonos devices, you use your phone to set up Trueplay Tuning. This involves the odd activity of walking around your room and waving your phone as the speakers play some weird electronic sounds (which freaked my cats out). So in order to test correctly, I set up Trueplay Tuning.

With every piece of music I listened to, the Sonos stereo pair sounded better. There was a more detailed soundstage, a bit more clarity, but above all, the sound wasn’t marred by the HomePod’s bassy sound signature. Out of the box, the Sonos One is a fairly neutral speaker, unlike the HomePod which was apparently designed for bass-heavy music. This means that a lot of music sounds veiled with the HomePod. The HomePods do perform well, in spite of that, and if you like that sound, then you’ll be satisfied.

But there are no EQ settings for the HomePod. And while you can adjust the EQ of an iOS device that streams to the HomePod, this doesn’t affect the sound if you are “streaming” music that’s on Apple Music or in your Cloud Music Library. Since iOS 13, iOS devices hand off the music to the HomePod rather than stream it, so EQ settings don’t affect the playback.

Sonos works differently. Each device – or stereo pair – has EQ settings. They are limited, but you can adjust the bass, treble, and the balance, something that is essentially with a stereo pair. (How is it possible that Apple doesn’t at least let you set the balance for a pair of HomePods?) Here’s the settings that I used for the Sonos Ones:

Sonos eq

The Sonos One is a bit lacking at the low end, but a bit of a nudge to the bass makes them sound excellent. I found the treble to be a bit harsh, so I dropped that a notch. And since my position in bed was not dead center of the two speakers, setting the balance was essential.

My testing was all with music from my iPhone and from Apple Music, but the Sonos app offers a number of services such as Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, Plex, Tidal, and much more. While you can stream any of these services from a smartphone, having them all in the Sonos app makes it easier to access and control them.

There are a number of problems with the HomePod, and one of them, I think, is Apple’s round design. There was no need to make a speaker that sends sounds in all directions. The goal was to send sounds at slightly different times, and with slightly different EQ, to the front and to reflective surfaces, but it honestly doesn’t sound that different from a speaker that just points forward. The only time it would be useful is if you have people sitting around a table, and, outside of phone calls in conference rooms, this is rare.

Given the quality of both of these speakers, it’s clear that for casual listening, you really don’t need an amplifier and speakers any more, especially if you are listening in a room where you don’t want the clutter. We’re in a great time for audio, with the ability to have such a compact system that sounds so good. If you have one of these speakers, I strongly recommend getting a second, if your space permits; stereo sound is always better than the mono you get from a single speaker.

With the price differential, and the added ability of being able to adjust the EQ and balance, the Sonos One is a much better choice for a stereo pair than the HomePod. Of course, you may want to use Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant with your speaker, and if you are locked into one ecosystem, then this is a consideration. Since, however, most HomePod purchasers probably already have iPhones, which they can use for Siri, I don’t see it as being worth paying nearly twice as much for a pair of HomePods.

10 thoughts on “HomePod vs. Sonos One Stereo Pair Comparison

  1. I disagree with the idea that there is no benefit to the reflective nature of HomePods in normal life, real world use. For many, music is a passive activity that you do moving around. This is the beauty of mapping a room to try to figure out how to fill it the best regardless of where you are. Now I know it is impossible to maintain a true sound stage from anywhere in the room but that is how most of us listen to our music.

    Also, if you are controlling your music from a phone app, I’m unclear how much easier it would be to do from within the Sonos’s app vs the actual music app of choice and as you indicated in the mode you used these speakers, you had access to EQ abilities on the HomePod so adjusting it to your liking would have seemed reasonable.

    All that said there is one thing that always bugs me about price comparisons. Everyone always loves to quote list price for Apple products and Sale prices for it’s competitors. List price for a pair of Sonos One speakers is $398 and the HomePod is $598. But sale prices put these at $329 vs $398 because the home pods are well discounted at a number of places. I’ll admit that $199 is an all time low for the speaker but $249 is somewhat common.

    Interesting article but it appeared to have a slight bias (but don’t we all)

    • Agreed that a single HomePod would allow you to move around, but not a stereo pair.

      There is no EQ for the HomePod, only for the Sonos speakers.

      And, yes, the HomePod has been discounted a lot lately. But the Sonos seem to be regularly priced at $179, with two for $329, at least at Amazon. I got my second Sonos One much cheaper than list.

      Bias? I really wanted the HomePod to be much better than it is. I admit I expected the Sonos Ones to sound better, because a single Sonos One sounds better than a single HomePod.

  2. So stereo pair off axis between the home pod and the Sonos they both perform the same? It would seem that the HomePod would be able to better fill the room.

    There are EQ settings in AppleMusic when using Airplay to HomePod. If you don’t use a voice assistant you are always using your phone right? I get that it should be easier but you could have at least let us know if you happier with “base reducer” on the homePod.

    I was just saying the same thing about the HomePod I purchased a couple the Christmas they came out for $250 and This Christmas was $199 to as low as $179. So quoting a discounted price for one and List fo the other when they were just available for so much less seems bias.

    Better is subjective and situational. Better for dedicated listening if you adjust for your preference on one and don’t on the other seems bias. Not taking into account other styles of listening (when that is what the HomePod was designed for) seems bias.

    Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the Sonos one are amazing speakers, but if you are making the case you need to be clear or those of us who are bias the other way will pick at everything that seems to be hedged one way or the other.

    Please don’t stop, I enjoy your Opinions.

    • The HomePods don’t know where you are. There is still a sweet spot like with any pair of speakers.

      There are no EQ settings in Apple Music. There are in the Music app on the desktop, and there are some in the iOS settings, but, as I say in the article, if the music you’re playing is on Apple Music, or in your Cloud Music Library, that playback gets handed off to the device, so the EQ doesn’t work.

      I really think that if the HomePod had EQ and balance, it would rival the Sonos, and might even be better. But as it is, it fails by not providing user adjustments. It sounds good, even very good compared to cheap Bluetooth speakers, but leaving those things out is a big mistake.

      • I didn’t understand that the iOS EQ didn’t affect the HomePod. I figured airplay was airplay, good to know and odd that they don’t allow it or maybe they believe they already apply the best one and they fear users not knowing what the settings are and wondering why things sound off.

        And I never tried to imply that HomePod knew where you were, only that it adapts to the room and through the use of reflection tries to make a better listening environment throughout the room. I don’t know if they do a better job of that than Sonos but they definitely have the ability to try with the number of speakers they have fanned out the way they do. So for example if these were sitting on a kitchen island it is likely that the sound for people in the kitchen and the sound for people sitting on the other side of the room would be more consistent and that is how many of us would use these speakers. I know for a fact that in this situation you get good sound imaging from both sides of the speakers, but that might also compromise them for a single direction use.

        • If you have a single speaker, in the situation you describe, it will be better than any directional speaker. And the HomePods can detect if they are, for example, near a wall, and will send the sound mostly away from it. But if you set up a stereo pair, you still need to be in the sweet spot.

  3. I owned both and can agree with your review of the sound between both brands. I had the Sonos One first and wanted to try the HomePod to tie into the Apple Home app. I was under impressed by the sound of the HomePod in comparison to the Sonos.

  4. I guess it’s all subjective. I have a pair of HomePods I got for $199 and $188 each. And a pair of Sonos ones I got for $180 each. From a sound standpoint I’d say the HomePods are better. Sound is clearer and more distinct. Sonos sounds more muddled together if that makes sense. They both sound great and the difference isn’t massive but the HomePods are the winners for me.

    • Correction: I got the Sonos ones for $160 each. 20% work discount.
      Anything more than the $160 for those or the $199 for the HomePods I’d say isn’t worth it for those speakers.

  5. Really enjoyed this article Kirk. Thanks.

    I bought a HomePod this Christmas, after holding off since launch because of reported sound quality issues. I thought they had been fixed in later OS. And I really wanted the HomePod because we’re an Apple household.

    But it lasted 3 days. Literally. Bassy is a preference. But woeful sound quality is not. I was astonished how garbled the HomePod is in midrange**. How indistinct the whole sound stage was. So disappointing. So I was particularly keen to see whether a stereo pairing of HomePods might make some sort of difference. Seems not.

    Anyway I opted for a B&O investment and I’m really happy with that so far. The app is rubbish but I can live with that. It matters to me that I can tune the equaliser, at output. The single biggest beef I had with the HomePod.

    I’m now wondering whether high end noise cancelling headphones (especially over ear ones) have raised the bar for acceptable / quality speakers. I have some Sony 1000-MX2 bins, my biggest treat to self for years and it’s transformed music for me. Yes. Transformed it.

    **Apple in store service on returning the HomePod was exceptional. But they didn’t ask why I wanted to return them and I wanted to tell them if asked. Odd, eh?

    Great piece Kirk. Really enjoyed your talk around it on the recent Committed too.

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