Apple HomePod vs. Harman Kardon Invoke: An early voice-controlled speaker comparison

With a new speaker-hub combo coming from Apple, known as the HomePod, it's worth comparing Harman Kardon's similar upcoming device, the Invoke speaker. There are many similarities, with each speaker being designed to live in a certain ecosystem. The HomePod is powered by Apple's assistant Siri, while the Invoke has Microsoft's Cortana built in.

How do these two devices compare? Let's take a look to help you decide which is best for your needs.

What do these speakers do?

Both the HomePod and Invoke are designed to sit in the middle of your living area as a sort of wireless hub. They both play music, take commands, and connect with devices in your automated home.

The HomePod can apparently do anything Siri can, and the same is expected from Invoke and Cortana. The same commands you can use on your phone or computer, including setting important dates in a calendar, asking for directions to a party, and even changing the temperature of your connected thermostat, will be available here.

Both speakers have a far-field listening array to pick up your voice from a distance. The HomePod has six microphones, while the Invoke has seven microphones. In either case, they're designed so that you can change the song or dim the lights without having to leave your comfy spot on the couch.

Invoke will work directly with a wider range of music streaming services.

As of now, it appears the HomePod will only work with HomeKit accessories, while Invoke will apparently work with a wider range of smart-home devices. Likewise, HomePod is set to work with the Apple Music service, and Invoke is expected to work directly with Groove Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and more.

Another thing Invoke has going for it that HomePod does not is Skype functionality. Through Invoke, you'll be able to call other Skype users, and you'll also be able to make calls to phones and landlines.

Which speaker has better sound?

It's hard to tell which speaker has better sound at this point considering we haven't been able to use them side by side for a true comparison. But we can come up with an idea of how each one will sound. To be honest, Apple makes great hardware, and Harman Kardon is known for its quality speakers, so sound quality will likely be a near draw.

From a technical standpoint, the HomePod has seven beam-forming tweeters and a four-inch woofer. It also uses spatial awareness to decide how to best deliver sound in a specific room.

On the other hand, Invoke has three woofers and three tweeters, so you'll likely get a bit better bass than what is found in the HomePod. Again, this is speculation and we're only going with what the specs show us.

Are these speakers listening to you?

Yes, they're almost always listening as long as they have power. That's what allows you to call out a command from across the room.

Apple stated that no information is sent back to its servers unless the words "Hey, Siri" are spoken, and even then it is encrypted.

There is still no official word from Harman Kardon as to just how the information is treated, but it's likely in line with how Cortana treats your data now on other devices. In other words, by default, most of your data related to Cortana is collected and saved somewhere in the name of making your experience as good as possible.

Do you prefer Siri or Cortana?

Choosing a speaker based on the personal assistant you prefer will largely come down to whether you're already invested in the Apple or the Microsoft ecosystem.

Keep in mind that on top of Windows 10, you can set up Cortana on Invoke with an app for Android or iOS. It's doubtful there will be a way to set up or take full advantage of the HomePod if you're running Windows 10.

HomePod and Invoke pricing and availability

The Apple HomePod comes in white and space gray and will cost about $349 (opens in new tab). It is expected to be available in the U.S., the UK, and Australia in December 2017.

See at Apple (opens in new tab)

The Harman Kardon Invoke will be available in pearl silver and graphite colors, and it is expected to release in the U.S. only. As far as a price, there are only rumors at this point, but it's expected be available in the fall in the same $200 price range as the Amazon Echo (opens in new tab).

See at Harman Kardon (opens in new tab)

Cale Hunt
Senior Editor, Laptop Reviews

Cale Hunt is formerly a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full-time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.

  • 1984 was sooo wrong. Microphones and cameras in every hand and home. NSA field day. That aside Amazon is the leader and competition can only improve the experience and usefulness, Cortana and Siri are still a bit gimmicky.
  • Its funny. I see people covering their laptop camera with tape, yet they buy one of these speakers. 
  • It would be a lot more funny if they covered their laptop microphone but had one. What gets me is nearly everyone I have spoken with has worried that their computer is spying on them while they don't worry in the slightest that their phone is. They have everything on their phone and take it literally everywhere and yet they worry about a computer they are only near occasionally.
  • Oh no, you dared compare an Apple product to another company's product, and the Apple product did not look as good. Queue the list of whiners complaining how it is unfair. Also, don't you like how this site was flooded with "Microsoft is late to the game and therefore DOA" complaints, but yet, the Apple product will be even later to the party. How many people will claim that Apple's product is DOA?
  • Because Apple actually markets their products, and doesn't release sale figures, so no one says their products flopped.
  • No one says their products flopped because if you do the Apple horde goes on the attack. Every app that is removed from the Windows store shows that Windows is a complete failure, but mention how big name companies such as Amazon and Google removed their apps from the Apple watch, no, that is not a flop of a product, it is Amazon and Google trying to destroy the Apple because they are afraid of the compeition, and then the Apple fans try to organize a boycot. And as for the sales figures, I have been pointing out for years how the Apple fans demand exact number of Microsoft products sold, how many were returned, they demand to know how many m3 vs. i7 Surface Pro devices are sold, 128GB vs 1TB devices sold, and if Microsoft doesn't give those numbers then it means that Microsoft is trying to hide their "failure." But asking the same from Apple and it only shows how much you hate Apple and must be silenced for your transgressions against poor, poor abused Apple.
  • Or, I don't care about the Apple Watch and so I never knew about apps being removed from it so I couldn't comment on that.
  • Not sure how Apple's product didn't look as good. Seemed a fair comparison based purely on specs and what has been officially released. Nobody has had much time with either of these products at this point. The two biggest differences it would appear to me is which ecosystem you are currently invested in, and the expected pricing. 
  • Apple's device is, in usual Apple manner, restricted and locked down so that you can't use the device to its full potential. Apple only music service, devices with Apple hardware (HomeKit requires wireless chips that have Apple firmware), only works with Apple devices (phones), and does nothing that the competitors can do. No, people have not had time to test, but from the decriptions of what has been supplied from Apple, Microsoft, HK, etc. the Apple device is horribly crippled to make sure that Apple gets their perpetual chunk of money from their users.
  • Yea... That's almost as annoying as someone complaining about people whining before they do it.  Especially on a Windows fan site that will almost certainly have very little of that.  *looks over other comments*  Yup, none of that actually.  Were you trying to incite the very thing you said would happen?
  • $500 for an Xbox one X or $350 for a speaker. Lmao
  • There is no pricing available to cortana powered invoke. Apple homepod is $350 and you know what homepod is going to replace amazon as leading company in this space. You know why because it is apple. For apple it doesn't make how much bad their product is it is always gonna sell because of the brand.
  • Take a temp second job and get both plus a new Surface.
  • It would behoove Microsoft to put a mic array on the X1X for far-field communication since they market that for your hub for your house and it has Cortana.
    I vote for a Xbox one x invoke...InVox...Xvoke!!!
  • An option that lets me NOT give money to apple is always a win :) (yes, I just don't like apple)
  • I'm waiting for HomeHUb.
  • In my living room I have an Xbox one with Kinect, a Windows 10 laptop and a Windows phone. If I say "hey Cortana, go to oneguide" all of the devices try to process my query but two of them I wasn't talking to and will come back complaining they can't do what I asked. If I add an Invoke speaker to the mix, will this be worked out by then or will I just have an additional device that doesnt know how to process my request?
  • This too is my only issue with it all. I have all of the mentioned devices but tend not to use them simply because it's annoying to have all 3 devices light up to try an answer. I love the tech, but figuring that part out might be tough.
  • This is going to be a bigger and bigger problem.  I'd have to think they're working on it.  You'd have to be able to sync across all the devices.  It doesn't matter if they all listen as long as the appropriate device is the only one that responds.  It's definitely going to be difficult.
  • Design-wise, it would be easy to mistake the Apple speaker for a roll of first aid gauze.
  • I think it looks like a roll of Charmin...
  • I hope that this will be the solution to the problem of having all devices in your house respond to "Hey Cortana" at the same time. Possibly when your devices sense the home network that they defer all control to this speaker. So you can say watch TV and it fires up the xbox or make a call and it links and makes a call using your Windows phone etc. 
  • If the info given on its WiFi certification is accurate then the Invoke runs Linux. I would prefer a Cortana speaker running Windows 10 IoT
  • It's been known for some time that it runs Linux. Cortona on W10 IoT requires that your device comes with a screen which the Invoke does not. Why? Ask Microsoft.
  • Wha? Where does it say that IoT devices running Windows 10 require a screen?
    Not sure how robotic devices, or STBs require a screen to work.
    If Windows Server doesn't require a screen, why would IoT?
  • No, IoT devices by themselves don't require a screen. However, what I said was that Cortona on Windows 10 IoT does. This is clearly mentioned here: ("The device must have a display").
  • Yet another US-only... Yawn! Next...
  • Siri on Phones and Windows PCs still brings up Bing Results pages for too much. I would hate to waste $350 for that kind of experience on a damn speaker... I'd take the Google Home over any of the current offerings any day of the week, and simply use cheap ChromeCast Audios (or a cheap Apple Airport Express with AirPlay) to pipe music to the good speakers I already own.
  • " Siri on Phones and Windows PCs " Where do you get Siri on Windows PCs?
  • Response to "abhimaurya96": The Apple HomePod is apparently a pretty good Speaker, as well. The issue with this device isn't what space it's in or whether or not the Audio is good (I expect it to be); it's Cortana. She still is pretty crap and instead of Microsoft improving her base functionality they are trying to pile more stuff on top of her. They do this often with many of their products. They are moving too fast. Cortana needs to work properly on mobile devices before they start throwing her in Cars and Speakers. Otherwise, why bother with this when you can just put an Echo Dot by your entertainment center, or buy a Google Home for less than half the price? And if this is the same price (or similar) to a HomePod, it will be DOA to a lot of people as that will overrun the price of both Google and Amazon, while positioning it in a market position to compete with Apple's "complete" ecosystem. It just looks terrible from that vantage point...
  • Apple also claims that the Apple HiFi, EarPods, AirPods, Beats, and every other device they have made sounds better than every other audio device. I have a set of Beats headphones, I have EarPods, a friend had the HiFi. And each were unequivocally the worst sound of any device I have used outside of those two tin cans with a string between them that I made when I was 5 years old. As for Siri, when you go to Apple fan sites, even they think Siri is a joke. That other than a few chosen phrases, it just searches the web. But when Apple tries to pile more stuff on top of Siri, no, it is Cortana that needs to be used as an example.
  • I bought a pair of Beats headphones for my wife before Apple bought them. They sound ok but not the best there is. I can't see a speaker like these sounding good. I was talking with a friend last night and it came up that most people now don't know what good sound is. We are both musicians and older than the digital/ MP3 age. MP3 is crap, and for me hard to listen to. It can't compare to WAVE and a nice set of studio monitors.
  • Cortana not available in most country...
  • I just don't want anything else running android in my house.
  • These speakers could be used in a kitchen or bedroom for background music. In no way would these be good enough for a living room set-up. I would rather have Cortana on an Xbox One S connected to my home Cinema set-up.
  • So i got to try the Harmon Karmon speaker last week at an event at the Microsoft store in nyc.  while sound quality was excellent and cortana actually hears and responds properly the huge missing piece was still device communication and skills. I was not able to try any of the skill sets Microsoft just announced, and some conversational pieces were still off on the device. but my impressions for the device was great for music but a subpar version of google home and or alexa. also Microsoft has to make it easier on the pairing and settings portions of the speaker. 
  • should have clarified. when i meant device communications, i meant Cortana to other devices at home ( phone, tablet, pc's). saying stuff that uses external apps are a total no no as well.  and the skill set is currently smaller and not equivalent to the apps that use cortana currently.  For example. with the lifx ( lighbulb app) i can say " hey cortana turn on my bedroom lights". if i do that currently with the speaker, that will not work because lifx has not created a skill set for cortana yet.  also when using skill sets you have to specify which thing you want.  using the example i had above. i could not say a command like that but rather i was told i need to specify what it should communicate with, so i will have to say " hey cortana using lifx turn on my bedroom light"
  • If you have to specify the service every time vs Cortana not using the installed Skills as the basis for commands I don't see this as a great implementation at all.  Alexa is seemless, I have Hue and Insteon light setups that turn on, off and dim by the name of the room, nothing more.  
  • exactly my issue when i was using it. but the demo presenter stressed this was not final hardware, and skil sets are still being worked on. but us of when i tried it. i got annoyed. it like sking for the weather  wih dark sky. if you ask " hey cortana ask dark sky what the weather is like today" you get a response but if you say " hey cortana ask dark skies what the weather is like today" you get a i am sorry i cannot answer that question because of no screen 
  • The specificity with which you need to interact with these devices needs work. While I don't need to tell Alexa to use Insteon to turn on lights, or the stereo, I'm a bit limited on how I can phrase the request.Seems I have to learn more than the AI does. 'She' is pretty good at asking me to clarify, but does sometimes just ignore me, and I have to tell her again. sort of like having kids. 
  • you are hitting a point i have had with cortana for a while. basically cortana is more context sensitve instead of it being more chat bot like. cortan should hold a conversation and the speech process. simple things like. "hey cortan turn on my bedroom light". then follow it up with "hey cortana turn the light red" . cortana should know i am talking about my bedroom light and not ask or change all my room light's colors. currently cortana does not do that. 
  • As much as I love Cortana, Alexa kicks ass when it comes to skills and configuration out of the box.  A $49.99 Dot can handle your home automation as well as play music, search, order - a seriously awesome piece of tech at an entry level price.  The ease with which Alexa handles Insteon, Hue and other home automation is staggering, Siri and Cortana have more than fancy speakers to make to ensure any success in this arena.  
  • I hope that invoke gets a dot style device as well. I let my av receiver play ball the output, so a good mic is all I care about.
  • Both require integration with SmartThings for me to even consider them.  Until then, Echo Dots will do just fine.  I would REALLY LOVE TO GET CORTANA running things, though.  Siri doesn't seem to understand me at all. I feel like the hero in LEGO Movie trying to turn off the damned force field.
  • I have asked numerous threads and no one seems to know.... Will Invoke have multi-room audio?  That is the difference between me getting Echo+Sonos or just a bunch of Invokes.  (not in the Apple ecosystem, so not even considering that).
  • very good question. i should have asked last week that question. my wild guess will be no. but the reason i say that is because i think invoke is part of the larger echo system so it will take command of your avr system ( which most support atleast 2 rooms zones)
  • So with $1,000 you don't have enough money to get 3 HomePod when you may get 5 Invokes installed in your home with the same amount of cash. That says a lot...