First Impressions: Apple HomePod mini Stereo Pair

I want to listen to music while I work, without having to physically plug a cable into my laptop. Will Apple’s HomePod mini do the job? Read on for my First Impressions.

What Did You Buy?

I bought two Apple HomePod mini devices, direct from Apple.

Why Did You Buy Them?

In my last two roles at work, most of my time was spent on Zoom / MS Teams calls with other people. Now that those are over, I realised that I’ve really missed listening to music while I work.

I also hate being tethered to my desk. I don’t know about you, but I rarely solve difficult problems when I’m plonked down at my desk. I find I’m much more creative when I’m able to mix it up. As it isn’t exactly safe to go and work from coffee shops for long periods atm, that means wandering around the house a bit.

Speaking of my desk … it’s covered in so many cables atm, it looks like it’s being possessed by some sort of techno-vine plant. I’d love to be able to sort that out, and eliminating the audio cable would help there.

I’m hoping that these will work out as wireless speakers. If they do, I’ll put sets of them throughout the house, so that I can pretty much work in any room and still enjoy music too.

You Need An iPhone To Set Them Up

Don’t have an iPhone, or an iPad? You’re going to be sending them back.

The HomePod minis don’t have an interface of their own. You have to control them from other devices. That’s understandable. Once they’re setup, you can control them from your MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, you just can’t do the initial setup from your MacBook Pro. The setup process relies on the near-field comms chip only found in the iPhone or iPad.

Another word of warning: if you don’t have home WiFi (because you use your phone’s mobile data plan instead), then you won’t be able to setup or use these devices at all. With 5G making it possible to abandon traditional landlines at last, this is going to be a growing issue.

Speaking of setup … it wasn’t smooth at all. Even though my iPhone confirmed that they’d been successfully setup as a stereo pair, one of them wouldn’t play any audio at all at first. I used Apple’s Home app to trigger a firmware update, and that seemed to resolve things.

No WiFi? They’re Just Paperweights

One of the reasons I’ve got time on my hands atm is that we’ve been having some work done on the house. (Water damage due to climate change isn’t fun!) The tradesmen are constantly going in and out, so we’ve had to clear our Internet and WiFi gear out of the entrance hallway so that no-one’s at risk of tripping up over trailing cables and wires.

The HomePod minis are WiFi-only devices. Not just for the setup, but for any kind of use. They don’t offer a bluetooth fallback for situations like this. As a result, they’ve largely sat there doing nothing most of the time.

Also, if you’ve got guests round, you’ve got to give them WiFi access if you want them to be able to play their music through the HomePod minis. They can’t just stream audio via bluetooth instead.

How Do You Get Music Onto Them?

They seem to be geared towards people with Apple Music subscriptions. I don’t have an Apple Music subscription, and that also limited things a lot.

They show up as a sound output option on my MacBook Pro – implying that they’re AirPlay 2 devices – but I couldn’t get any audio from my laptop to play through these speakers.

I could get audio playing directly from the Music (neé iTunes) app on my laptop. Playback was far from instant, though. I don’t know whether the Music app was streaming to the HomePod minis, or whether it was downloading the same song instead from Apple’s own collection.

How Do They Sound?

Not good enough. Nowhere near good enough.

Apple market these as having ‘room-filling sound’. I’m sorry, but that’s just complete b/s. I’m trying these in a room that’s about 3m x 3m, and they do not have the frequency range to fill even a small room like this.

The bass drivers in these tiny devices just can’t produce enough low end to sound satisfactory.

On top of that, there’s something going on in the treble too. Not exactly distorted, more lacking resolution, in a low-fi sort of way. I found that quite fatiguing to listen to, and after a while it set my ears ringing.

Has to be said, I thought the mid-range sounded nice. Guitar tracks had plenty of detail, for example. I imagine they would sound good for calls too, if I could have gotten audio from my laptop to work through them. Just a shame about the rest of the frequency spectrum.

Overall, they reminded me of the sound of home HiFis from the 80s. (Not the 90s; I still have my 90s HiFi system, and it easily slays the HomePod minis for sound quality.) I promise you: your nostalgia for the 80s is very misplaced!

Final Thoughts

Frankly, I’m baffled by all the online reviews claiming that these sound good. They don’t, and even if they had, getting audio onto them was not a great experience either.

They’ve gone back. At least Apple make it very easy and hassle-free to return goods within the return period.

I’m still looking for a wireless solution for enjoying good-sounding audio while untethered. If you’ve already figured this out, let me know in the comments below.

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