As part of a recent home upgrade project, I moved my stereo and LPs down into the basement and bought an Apple HomePod for the living room upstairs. It was meant to be a solution to play music at meals and other times when the family’s together.
The set-up process was simple. It’s easy to control music from my iPhone or the ancient iMac we have in the kitchen.
It also sounds great. The bass thumps and the midrange is boosted in a way that carries vocals and melodies well throughout the upstairs level of our house. The HomePod plays any of the millions of songs we want to stream from Apple Music — we’re on the $14.99-per-month family plan — which lets all of us take turns controlling the music.
But soon I ran into a major problem: It just wouldn’t play some songs.
I have more than 4,000 songs in my music library. Many of them are ripped from CDs that are obscure, out-of-print, self-recorded, or otherwise not in the massive Apple Music database.
I’ve also custom-labeled a bunch of tunes that I ripped from LPs. Side 2 of “Abbey Road” by The Beatles, for instance, has this medley of short back-to-back songs that I’d never want to listen to individually, so I just recorded them all together and dubbed it “Sun King Medley.” There is no such song in any music database in the world, but it’s always played fine on my iPhone, whether it’s connected to wireless headphones or to my car via CarPlay. It works on any computer. It’s a music file. It just plays.
But my HomePod refuses to play “Sun King Medley.” I can call it up on my phone, and tell the HomePod to play it, but it defaults to some other randomly chosen song in my collection. (For some reason, it really seems to like “Candy’s Room” by Bruce Springsteen.)
Two calls with Apple support failed to resolve the problem. I was getting ready to return the HomePod. A $300 music player that can’t play a significant percentage of the music I own is a bad deal.
Then I remembered a similar problem I once had when our ancient Mac refused to sync newly ripped CDs to my phone. This led me to a clunky workaround that, while imperfect, at least addresses the basic problem. So I figured I’d share it.
Start with settings
- Open Settings icon on the iPhone that you want to use to stream music to your HomePod.
- Open the Music option within Settings.
- You’ll see a menu item called “Sync Music.” This is the key setting that messes everything up.
- Toggle it off.
- You might get a warning message that reads “This will remove all Apple Music content and downloads from your library on this device.” Ignore it, and click “Turn Off.” (As you’ll see later, it won’t really matter.)
Go to the Music app on your phone
- Open the Music app on your phone, and once again try to play the file that wouldn’t play. You might get another warning message saying “If you AirPlay this, HomePod will stop playing when your iPhone is no longer nearby.”
- Click “Play Now.”
- You’ll notice that above the little AirPlay icon on the bottom of the music menu, it now says “iPhone –> Living Room.” That means the HomePod is now playing directly from your iPhone. Anything that’s on your iPhone should now play.
- One more step: You might recall, you blasted all the downloads from Apple Music off your iPhone when you turned Sync off. That’s annoying if you, like me, have custom playlists that contain music you ripped and music you grabbed from Apple Music. No matter, because you can now go back to the “Sync Music” item in Settings and toggle it back on.
Let it sync up
It’ll take a minute to sync up. Once you’re done, all the music from Apple Music will be back on your iPhone, and your iPhone will still play all songs directly to your HomePod. That is, until you move it out of range. Then the whole problem starts all over again.
The HomePod is trying to match songs on my phone with identical songs on Apple Music. It’s streaming those songs from Apple Music, rather than over the air from my iPhone.
This is why you’re able to get your HomePod to play music from your iPhone even if you’re nowhere nearby. It works fine for most people who don’t have a bunch of personal music on their phone that they want to play over a speaker. It’s a show-stopper for music nuts with big personal collections like me.
When you turn off Sync, the HomePod knows to connect directly to your iPhone using AirPlay instead of looking for tunes in the cloud.
Ideally, you’d never need to do this. Apple lets you you sync your personal library to the cloud, using a subscription service called iTunes Match that costs $24 a month. If you use that, your HomePod can simply play your collection from the cloud.
The catch: In order to use iTunes Match, you need to upgrade to a recent version of macOS first. My music library is stored on an iMac from 2011. I don’t know if it will properly run the version of macOS I need. I’m scared my Mac will slow it to a grind if I upgrade.
So, we’re left with this imperfect solution to a vexing problem.