I made my own smart HomePod speaker, and it’s awesome


iPod Hi-Fi
The iPod Hi-Fi has aged well. Initially a dud, it's now a collectors' piece. And it sounds great.
Photo: Lyle Kahney/Cult of Mac

Last week’s crushing news that Apple’s HomePod won’t be available for Christmas was a blow to some.

But I shrugged it off.

That’s because I made my own HomePod smart speaker. It cost me about $60 and sounds absolutely great.

Last week, Apple announced that it’s HomePod smart speaker will be delayed until the new year. “We need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers,” the company said.

The news was greeted by a lot of teeth gnashing from Apple fans.

Originally slated to be released in December, the $350 smart speaker is set to take on sound systems like Sonos, as well as voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home. It has ton of high-end features: a seven tweeter-array, a four-inch subwoofer, six microphones, an A8 chip and audiophile-quality DSP.

It looks and sounds awesome (according to early, limited-scenario tests) but until it comes out, you can build your own FauxPod using one Apple’s most underrated products.

Enter the iPod Hi-Fi

iPod Hi-Fi
The iPod Hi-Fi; one of Apple’s rare dud products.
Photo: Lyle Kahney/Cult of Mac

A few weeks ago I picked up an iPod Hi-Fi at a yard sale for $10.

Released in 2006, the iPod Hi-Fi is one of Apple’s rare duds. The boombox-style speaker was pitched as a home stereo for the iPod age. It would replace the living-room home stereo, Apple said. Its tagline was: “Home stereo. Reinvented.”

At the launch event, Steve Jobs told the skeptical audience that he’d ditched his enormously expensive audiophile equipment in favor for an iPod Hi-Fi.

“I’m an audiophile,” he said. “I’ve had stereos costing… Well, I won’t say. You’d think I was crazy. But a LOT. And I’m actually getting rid of my stereo that cost a lot to go with these things.”

But the iPod Hi-Fi was greeted with lukewarm reviews. It’s $349 price was seen as wildly expensive for an iPod dock. It never caught fire and was discontinued just a year later.

But since then, it’s clean design and great sound has gained it a small cult following. There’s a great appraisal of its good looks here, and as we previously reported, mint units in their original packaging can command up to $3,000.

I’ve always wanted one but balked at spending $350, let alone $3,000. Used ones tend to go for Amazon. Even that’s too rich.

After I was lucky enough to pick one up for just $10, I cleaned the dust off and fired it up. It sounds great. It has a muscular, room-filling sound with strong bass and clear midtones and highs, even at high volume. It’s powerful enough to blow out rows of candles. It’s a quite the thumper, even at lower volumes, and I love it. I heard a rumor that it’s Apple design chief Jony Ive’s favorite under-appreciated Apple product, and I can see why.

Homemade HomePod

iPod Hi-Fi with Amazon Alexa Dot
Roll your own HomePod with an old iPod Hi-Fi and an Amazon Alexa Dot. It works and sounds great.
Photo: Lyle Kahney/Cult of Mac

I paired the iPod Hi-Fi with an Amazon Echo Dot, the little $50 hockey puck with an array of microphones that plugs into any speaker via a 3.5mm audio jack. (The iPod Hi-Fi is also easily updated with an inexpensive 30-pin-to-Bluetooth adapter).

The result is a great-sounding speaker that’s controlled by yelling at it from across the room.

It’s great for playing music. I use it mostly for playing radio from the UK. There’s not many downsides. Alexa is by far the leading smart-assistant right now, with a ton of skills and third-party integrations. The speaker usually understands what I say and plays reliably without dropouts or stuttering. It sounds much better than Amazon’s standard Echo speaker, or even Sonos’ new Sonos One speaker with built-in Alexa.

Unfortunately it doesn’t do Apple Music, which will be the centerpiece of the forthcoming HomePod, but it does support Spotify, TuneIn radio and a host of other connected services.

A taste of HomePod

All in all, it’s a little taste of what to expect from the HomePod.

Of course, it looks like the HomePod will be a better speaker than the iPod Hi-Fi, especially if paired with another to create a stereo pair.

The big question is whether Siri will suck. One of the best things about Amazon Echo devices is their accuracy. More often than not, Alexa understands what you say and executes appropriately.

Siri is also much more tightly controlled than Alexa. Whereas Amazon has opened up to all comers, and Alexa currently boasts 20,000 services or “skills,” Apple will launch SiriKit for HomePod in iOS 11.2 (currently in beta), so there’s a lot of catching up to do.

But if the HomePod stands the test of time as well as the iPod Hi-Fi, it’ll be a great speaker. Is it a coincidence that it’ll cost the same price as the iPod Hi-Fi was in 2006?