Sonos One vs Apple HomePod: Which smart speaker should you buy?

Sonos One vs Apple HomePod: Which smart speaker should you buy?
(Image credit: Sonos)

A smart speaker is a great upgrade to any house - not only does it let you play music from your phone, it also adds voice control to the mix thanks to the built-in personal assistant.

But with so much choice, which model should you buy? The Sonos One and Apple HomePod are two of the best around, both earning stellar five-star reviews. They both perform much the same function, but once you look closely there are quite a few differences between them. These can play a huge part in deciding which to plump for.

We've put the two side-by-side to see how they compare, and, ultimately, which you should buy. So stick a playlist on, and let's get down to business.

What's your budget?

Sonos One vs Apple HomePod: Which smart speaker should you buy?

(Image credit: Apple)

One of the major factors when buying any new piece of hi-fi kit is: how much are you able (or willing) to spend? And Sonos One vs Apple HomePod is no different, as they're quite differently priced.

You can pick up a Sonos One for around £179/$179. But the HomePod is more expensive, at £279/$289.

They are fairly different propositions, so we're not comparing exactly like with like. But as we go through the various sections, it's worth keeping the sizeable price difference in the back of your mind.

**Winner: Sonos One**

Will it be part of a multi-room system?

Sonos One vs Apple HomePod: Which smart speaker should you buy?

(Image credit: Sonos)

A smart speaker is a wonderful thing, but it could only be one piece of the puzzle - hook a few together, and pretty soon you've got a whole house-wide multi-room system. That means voice controls in every room of the house, different music to set different moods in different rooms, and full control of smart home devices such as your thermostat and lights from wherever you are in your abode. 

In other words, proper 21st-century living.

Sonos remains the undisputed king of the multi-room game. (It's been making multi-room speakers since 2005, when the concept of the smart home was just pie in the sky.) It makes an extensive range of home speakers that all work together seamlessly, transforming your home into a fully-connected, technological haven.

For example, take the Sonos Symfonisk Lamp and Sonos Symfonisk Bookshelf speakers. These are both made in collaboration with flatpack furniture flogger IKEA - the former is also a lamp, while the latter is more of a traditional bookshelf speaker. Both are great, and the bookshelf is the cheapest Sonos speaker available, at just £99/$99.

Sonos also makes TV speakers - the Sonos Beam and Playbar are soundbars, while the Playbase is a soundbase that sits under your set. They're all fantastic options, earning five-, five- and four-star reviews respectively.

The Play:5 is Sonos' biggest speaker, while the Play:1 is much more petite (and much cheaper). The Sonos One is basically a Play:1 but with the addition of two voice assistants: Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant. That's no bad thing - it's one of the best specced and most versatile smart speakers around.

Finally, there's the Sonos Sub, a wireless subwoofer that will add lashings of bass to your home cinema set-up.

Sonos is also working on a portable Bluetooth speaker called the Sonos Move, which will add to the ecosystem's versatility.

As we say, all of these work together seamlessly. You could buy the Sonos One, and a few months later add another speaker or two as the need arises, safe in the knowledge that getting them to work together will be a cinch.

By contrast, Apple makes two smart speakers – the HomePod and HomePod Mini (£99/$99/AU$149). But there are plenty of other ways to make the HomePod part of a multi-room set-up. Thanks to Apple's AirPlay 2 wireless tech, it will play nice with speakers made by other companies like Naim and B&O (though these tend to be on the pricier side). You can even partner it with certain Sonos speakers, meaning you won't have to splash out for a HomePod for every room of the house. Phew.

But while being able to mix and match speakers from different brands is very tempting, it's worth pointing out that an AirPlay 2 multi-room system simply isn't as fully featured or slick as a Sonos system.

**Winner: Sonos**

Which music services will you use with it?

Sonos One vs Apple HomePod: Which smart speaker should you buy?

(Image credit: Future)

Now this is a real point of difference between the two. The Sonos One supports a wide range of music services including Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer, TuneIn and Audible. It also works with the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants. Impressive.

HomePod, however, is a bit of a closed shop. Apple's Siri is the only voice assistant, and Apple Music is the only streaming service that Siri can control (though the speaker does also work with BBC iPlayer, Tidal, Spotify, TuneIn and more). Apple's Beats 1 is also the only radio station you can stream from the cloud (others require you to ping them to your speaker using AirPlay from your iPhone or iPad, running down the battery of your mobile device). There's a bit of a pattern emerging.

This isn't too huge a problem if you're already part of the Apple ecosystem, but if you're not, you'll find HomePod rather limited. You can't even set it up without an iOS device, so Android users should look elsewhere.

**Winner: Draw**

Will you control it using your phone?

Sonos One vs Apple HomePod: Which smart speaker should you buy?

(Image credit: Future)

Voice control is very handy, but sometimes you want to be able to see your control options. In which case, using your phone as a remote is very convenient.

While you can control the Sonos One using the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa voice assistants, you can also do so using the Sonos app (as you can with all Sonos speakers). This is renowned for its excellent usability - it brings all your streaming services under one roof, letting you flick between them seamlessly. Put simply, it's a joy to use.

The HomePod is much more voice-centred. While the Apple Home app does include some tweakable settings, and the Apple Music app has basic commands such as skipping tracks and adjusting the volume, the vast majority of the controls are done by voice.

It's worth noting that Siri is a very good digital butler, able to pick out your commands even in a noisy room. But if you prefer to do most of your controlling using your phone, the Sonos One might be the One for you.

**Winner: Sonos One**

How loud do you want it to be?

Sonos One vs Apple HomePod: Which smart speaker should you buy?

(Image credit: Apple)

How loud you want it to go really depends on where you'll place your smart speaker.

The HomePod is the larger of the two, and so is more of a party centrepiece. As such, it deserves pride of place in the lounge or other large room, that it will happily fill with sound. 

Being a little smaller, the Sonos One is better suited to a kitchen or dining room. Though its sound is still very impressive for the size, and it won't struggle to make a good impression on most decent-sized lounges. It's just the HomePod has the edge in terms of sheer oomph.

**Winner: Apple HomePod**

Verdict: which should you buy?

It really depends on your situation. Both are excellent speakers, but Apple fans with big rooms to fill will probably get more out of the HomePod than the Sonos One. Providing they have deep pockets, that is.

The Sonos One is the smaller, cheaper, more agile, and more versatile option, ideal for anyone using a broad range of music services (and definitely those using an Android mobile device). But whichever you buy, we guarantee you'll find a lot to like.


Deep dive: which is the right Sonos speaker for you?

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What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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