I replaced a Sonos Arc with two HomePod 2s – and I might not go back

Adventures in AV – HomePod 2
(Image credit: Future)

I recently moved house and promised my long-suffering wife that this time I wouldn't fill the living room with speakers. The lounge in our last place was home to eleven speakers and a subwoofer, and while the whole family appreciated the sound the system produced, an executive decision has been made that this time we're going to be a bit more subtle (the deal is that I get to one day turn the garage into a home cinema, but that's a story for a future blog).

For that reason, we've spent the last few weeks living with the Sonos Arc, a genuinely excellent Dolby Atmos soundbar that I've had the pleasure of using in a variety of comparison tests over the years. It really is a pleasure to live with, too. Wide but low, it's a pretty discreet partner for a big OLED TV (particularly compared to a dedicated 7.1.4 system), and its ability to fill a room is very impressive for a single-unit system.

Apple HomePod 2 stereo pair with LG G2

(Image credit: Future)

The Arc produces a weighty delivery for what in the grand scheme of things is a very compact speaker system – its ability to spread sound a pretty long way to the sides and above the TV while still delivering dialogue with focus and clarity makes it a pleasure to use and really well suited to a whole range of content.

All told, the Sonos Arc seemed the perfect compromise for the new, family-first lounge. But then, as part of the team responsible for the HomePod 2 review, I was tasked with checking out a stereo pair as an AV system, and I have to say that I'm very impressed.

A pair of HomePods might not seem like an obvious soundbar alternative. In fact, it's not, at least not until you add an Apple TV 4K. If two HomePod 2s plus an Apple TV 4K sounds like an extravagant sound system, consider that in total it will set you back £847 / $727 / AU$1656, while a Sonos Arc currently costs £799 / $899 / AU$1499. And with the Apple system, you also get the best video streamer you can currently buy.

Apple HomePod 2 with LG G2

(Image credit: Future)

A new setting in the Apple TV 4K's menus that allows it to work as a sound output device for all sources is another key component adding to the HomePod's suitability as a soundbar replacement. Plug it into the eARC (or ARC) port of your TV and all of the audio will come out of the HomePods, even if that's a Sky box, Blu-ray player or games console that's plugged into one of the other HDMIs.

Setup is a doddle, as you'd probably expect – use the Home app to create the stereo pair and then set the HomePods as the output device for the Apple TV 4K. You don't even need to calibrate the sound for your room as you do with the Sonos ARC. Instead, the HomePods use a variety of integrated microphones to analyse the sound they're making and automatically tune it to the environment.

And the sound? it's really good. In fact, it's more open, spacious and Atmos-like than the Sonos Arc. Playing some of our favourite Dolby Atmos test scenes, the HomePod 2 system fills the room even more effectively than the Sonos soundbar. During the first race in Le Mans '66, an overtaking car is placed further to the left of the listening position, and a shot that sees a group of cars cross the finish line in quick succession feels bigger and more atmospheric, with one car almost sounding as if it's doing a fly-by behind the seat. Dialogue isn't quite as focused as it is from the Arc, but it's still clear and direct overall and a little loss here feels like a fair compromise for that extra Atmos-ness.

Sonos Arc with LG G2

(Image credit: Future)

While the HomePod 2 is bassy for a relatively affordable wireless speaker, even the stereo pair can't go quite as deep as the Sonos Arc. Still, it does a good job of the extremely bassy start to chapter two of Blade Runner 2049. The deepest notes of the soundtrack don't extend as far down as they might, but they're still solid, textured and impactful.

Needless to say, this new HomePod-based AV system has comfortably passed muster with the rest of the family, and I'm seriously thinking of keeping it, although there are some things to still consider (other than the fact that I currently have one in white and the other in black).

The first is that the TV stand I'm currently using means that the HomePods block small parts of the screen, but I'm planning to change the stand anyway so that's not a big deal. For some setups, the HomePods could actually be slightly easier to place than a soundbar.

The second is that I've encountered a couple of minor bugs, such as one of the HomePods dropping out from time to time (fixed with a restart via the Home app), and occasionally sound from other sources not automatically playing through the speakers as it should. That latter issue is forgivable when you consider that the specific feature is currently in beta – but perhaps that tells me that I should wait until it's not.

Also, while in this setup the HomePods are going to be used primarily for movies and TV shows, music still matters, and I'll have to switch to Apple Music if I want to get the best out of this Apple system. Not that there's anything wrong with Apple Music, per se, but the thought of starting from scratch with my playlists and recommendations brings me out in a cold sweat.

Finally, but for me perhaps most crucially, there's currently no way to extend the Apple system beyond two speakers, so you can't add dedicated surrounds in the way that you can with a Sonos system. Granted, that helps keep the overall speaker count down, but every hi-fi and AV hobbyist knows that the prospect of upgrading and expanding a system is a big part of the fun. Who knows, though – perhaps Apple will add this option in the future.

So, my mind still isn't entirely made up, but that doesn't take away from the fact that I'm seriously impressed by the HomePod 2's ability as a soundbar replacement. If you're in the market for a Sonos Arc or similar, I recommend you also consider this, particularly if you're already deep in the Apple ecosystem.


Here are the best Dolby Atmos soundbars that you should be considering

And the best wireless speakers that the HomePod 2 is up against

Tom Parsons

Tom Parsons has been writing about TV, AV and hi-fi products (not to mention plenty of other 'gadgets' and even cars) for over 15 years. He began his career as What Hi-Fi?'s Staff Writer and is now the TV and AV Editor. In between, he worked as Reviews Editor and then Deputy Editor at Stuff, and over the years has had his work featured in publications such as T3, The Telegraph and Louder. He's also appeared on BBC News, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4 and Sky Swipe. In his spare time Tom is a runner and gamer.

  • ultraminiature
    I have tested out B&O Beosound Emerge and Level to work with a video source. A pair of these speakers can be used with Apple Airplay and have zero latency because of how the iPhone and other Apple devices sync the audio - this is seamless.

    From a PC using Airplay, Chrome cast or Bluetooth there is 330ms delay and 2 seconds of adjustment to apply with each video played (unless there is another way of doing this).

    For style, small size and very high quality these steaming DSP active speakers are almost the most flexible choice possible in replacing the kitchen radio, out in the garden listening and as a pair decent hi-fi replacements freeing up lots of space. There are powered and active speakers that do the same but are larger and still have some set up limitations.

    Unfortunately whilst they can replace a sound bar or stereo pair from a TV using airplay and or Apple 4K TV they don't have a seamless way to run from a windows computer, gaming console or TV and don't scale up to surround sound.