Apple has released a beta version of its macOS Big Sur 11.3 update, which includes massively improved support for using stereo paired HomePods in place of your Mac’s built-in speakers.
While the beta version appears incomplete, this could mark a big change for serious Apple fans who want to get even more out of their smart speakers. The update adds the ability to select the stereo pair as a single default sound output, something the release version of Big Sur can’t currently do.
It is currently possible to turn a HomePod stereo pair into a set of desktop Mac speakers, though the process is much more complicated and limited. You need to use the AirPlay menu to select the pair as an output, and can then only use it for playback through the AirPlay and Music apps. In the 11.3 beta, being able to set a pair of HomePods as a default output should essentially just let you use them as would any other pair of connected speakers.
This also brings macOS in line with other Apple platforms like iOS, iPadOS and Apple TV, which already allows you to use a HomePod stereo pair as a straightforward sound output.
However, as noted by MacRumors, the beta version is only available for developers and doesn’t entirely have paired HomePods behaving as you might expect. Apparently you can play stereo sound from music and videos, but system sounds still play from the Mac’s own speakers. The report also says “the feature is not yet working consistently,” though that’s not terribly surprising for a beta test.
It also sounds like the improved stereo pairing support will also apply to the HomePod mini, which would make for a much more affordable Mac audio setup than using two full-size HomePods. You can pair two HomePods or two HomePod minis together, but you can’t mix the two models.
There’s no official release date for Big Sur 11.3 proper, and as beta testing has only just begun it likely won’t be for a few weeks at least. In the meantime, you can always check out the best computers speakers instead.