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Google Home Max review

The quick take

This is an oversized version of Google Home. It does all the same stuff — it just sounds way better while doing it. Music, information, communication, all that same stuff. And it does so with a much heftier price tag and physical footprint.

The Good

  • Good sound for music
  • AI-enhanced "smart sound" adjusts to the environment
  • Superb far-field microphones
  • Fills a hole in the top end of the lineup

The Bad

  • Volume swipe is clunky, at best
  • Doesn't fix the flaws in Google Home's ecosystem
  • The color and design are a bit drab for a speaker
  • Doesn't stand out amid other ways to do music at home

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Google Home Max Video Review

OK, Google — Go big

Google Home Max Full review

The general rule is that the heavier something is, the better it is. That's especially true for loudspeakers, because speakers need magnets, and magnets are heavy. And that's what's running through my mind as I attempt to lift the new Google Home Max out of its shipping box.

I say attempt because the retail box is top-heavy, and some damned fool put the side handles on the bottom. So this is going to take some finagling. That's an interesting first contact with Google's $400 (OK, $399), massive version of Google Home — the smart speaker it introduced back in 2016. But it's fitting considering this thing's name. And the name is fitting.

Google Home Max.

Building out the full range ...

This is a big speaker. And somebody has big expectations for the living room. And in a vacuum, Google Home Max is a pretty good speaker. It's maybe a bit on the expensive side, but not horribly so.

CategorySpecs
Price$399
SpeakersTwo 4.5-inch woofers, two 0.7-inch tweeters
ColorsChalk, black
Size13.2 x 7.4 x 6.0 inches
Weight12 pounds
ConnectionsBluetooth, Wi-Fi, Ethernet via USB-C
OtherFar-field microphones, 3.5mm audio-in

But let's go back to the beginning. Google Home — the product — was Google's first real leap into the smart home category. It's roughly the size of a large travel mug, smartly flashes lights at you while it's listening and speaking, and connects a bunch of the major parts of Google in one place. The "knowledge graph" — all the answers and information Google can throw back at you. Services — music, for one, and the ability to control other connected devices, for another. Now it's thrown communications into the mix, with the ability to make legitimate phone calls to anyone, anywhere. And at first, it was pricey, closing in on $200. That's since fallen to under $100, though. (At least at sales prices.)

Yes, Google Home was the answer to the Amazon Echo.

Then there's the newish Google Home Mini. A mere $50 (even less on sale). Smaller, cheaper. But does exactly the same things as its big brother.

Yes, Google Home Mini was the answer to the prolific Amazon Echo Dot.

But what to do about the high end? With Amazon squarely in its sights, it was time to turn to another competitor, one that's secured its place in the pantheon of wireless music. Sonos.

That's where Google Home Max comes in. It absolutely surpasses any of the Amazon Echo speakers in terms of sound quality. They're just in different classes. Now Sonos? That's a worthy competitor.

Using Google Home Max

Once you get the Max out of the box (again, what's up with the handles on the lower edge of the box?), you're back to what Google's become really good at — the first-run experience. There's very little in the box to get in your way. A couple quick-start sheets, and the power cord (I love that there's no wart and that it doesn't take up any outlet space), and that's it.

Do take care to note the little rubber base that's attached to the bottom of the Max, though. It helps dampen vibrations and keep the speaker in place, and you'll need to remove it — it peels right off, held in place by a slight magnetic bond — and move it to the left face of the speaker if you're going to use the Max vertically. (Hint: you'll always want it on the edge closest to the power port.) I actually missed seeing the base as I unboxed the Max, and it took me a couple minutes to find it. It's pretty thin and discreet.

You'll set up the Max like you do any of the other Google Home devices — in the Google Home app. In fact, your phone should recognize that there's a new speaker waiting to be paired with your Google Account. (Again, Google's gotten really good at the onboarding process.) That takes just a minute or so, and you're done.

And that's it. You now have a Google Home speaker that sounds really good. And, in fact, it'll get better over time. I found it to be a bit light on the low end at first. But the Max has a cool feature called "Smart Sound," which uses the built-in microphones and a bit of "artificial intelligence" (because what doesn't these days, right?) to listen to your environment and how the sound is bouncing around, and it'll adjust accordingly. And automatically. Sonos has this sort of thing, too, called "Trueplay tuning." But you set it by waving your iPhone (and only your iPhone) around in the air for a minute while it listens in. Score one for built-in mics.

Point is, the more I listened, the better things started to sound. Some of that, of course, has to do with the source material. Google Home Max doesn't magically add bass to Metallica's "... And Justice For All," which famously gave the shaft to the low end. It does, however, make the Ed Sheeran/Beyonce duet of "Perfect" sound gorgeous. And Kendrick Lamar's "DAMN." hits with all the urgency and punctuation that it's supposed to. Older, more compressed music still sounds like older, more compressed music. But newer, louder stuff? It fills the room as it should.

Ever wish your Google Home had a really good speaker? This is it.

A single speaker is fine. Google Home Max can get pretty damn loud. (Like Sonos, Google doesn't give the exact wattage.) And it fills a room pretty well. Two speakers, though, would be even better. You can make a stereo pair out of a couple Maxes. And while $800 is hardly chump change, it's really not out of line for good stereo equipment. Am I sorry I didn't buy two? A little.

On the other hand, that'd just give me two institutional gray speakers to deal with. OK, Google calls it "chalk." I call it bland. That sort of color scheme works fine for the smaller Google Home, especially since you can just tuck it into a corner somewhere. But the Max is going to be less inconspicuous. And there are no threads on this thing for mounting to the wall (that's something Sonos includes) or to a speaker stand. But you do, at least, get the option of using it horizontally or vertically. And Google smartly made it so the lights behind the fabric grille adjust accordingly.

The Max doesn't take long to get comfortable with. It's a pretty good speaker that does everything I've been doing on Google Home and Google Home Mini. Set it up, crank it up, and enjoy. The far-field mics are pretty damn impressive when the music is going, too.

But Google Home Max doesn't live in a vacuum

I like Google Home Max a lot. I also like Sonos a lot. And I think Chromecast is one of the best things Google's come up with in a long, long time. Those three things are all living in my living room simultaneously, so it's time for a little introspection.

A full Sonos system or a Chromecast hooked up to your home entertainment system makes Google Home Max a tough sell.

Sonos sounds a little better. MyPlay:5 (opens in new tab) just has a slightly fuller sound for $100 more. It's closer, I think, to the Play:3, which runs $50 cheaper. But Sonos ultimately is a different product than Google Home. It's lacking all the "smart" stuff — and while that's something it's starting to add in products like the Sonos One (which will get Google Assistant at some point in 2018) I've been less than blown away in its implementation of Amazon Alexa. But Sonos is a full system. Multiple music services under one roof, using a single app. (And the ability to change groups of speakers on the fly is a big win over Google Home.)

Then there's Chromecast — Google's protocol for easily — and inexpensively — piping music into all kinds of things. Many TVs already have Chromecast baked in. A number of speakers do, too. I've got a relatively inexpensive soundbar — (Vizio's 2016's SB3851-D0 (opens in new tab), which goes for about $250 these days) and also is a Chromecast target and sports a couple rear speakers and a subwoofer. And the more I think about it, the more that $250 setup hits my living room just fine, compared to the $400 I just spent on the Google Home Max — or double that if I did a stereo pair like I really want to.

And if you've got an NVIDIA Shield TV (opens in new tab), it's already good Google Assistant blasting through whatever audio setup you're rocking.

So as is always the case when it comes to audio equipment, a lot of this is going to come down to personal choice. How do you want to do music where you live? And how much do you want to spend on it?

The bottom line

Should you buy it? Sure

The bottom line on Google Home Max is that it's a compelling product. It sounds good as a speaker. It works great as an oversized Google Home. It's a darn good product for Google.

Google Home Max is really good. But there are better alternatives.

But there's nothing revolutionary here. There's nothing in Google Home Max that I can't do as well — if not better — than with, say, a Sonos setup. Or with a decent home theater system. And then you make up for the missing Google Assistant experience with an inexpensive Google Home Mini.

To be fair, that's the same argument I've made with Amazon Echo. It's just exacerbated by the fact that Chromecast is so good and has made it possible to easily (and inexpensively) bring streaming audio to all kinds of devices. It's the result of Google doing a good thing maybe too well for its own good.

Google Home Max is a pretty good speaker and a good addition to the Google Home lineup, which was lacking anything at the high end. But you're going to have to really want it. And Google's going to have to work to persuade folks to buy it.

See at Best Buy (opens in new tab)   See at Verizon (opens in new tab)   See at Google (opens in new tab)

27 Comments
  • I'd love to see this become my TV's sound system. I can't run cables through walls, because I'm renting everywhere I go. So, I'd love to set up two of these, and have them wirelessly be my sounds for my TV. Imagine just saying "Google, play the next episode of stranger things on Netflix," and have the TV turn on, the show start, and the speakers start playing whatever is going on in the show.
  • Are they able to run stereo though? You can set up two of them but I doubt it will be a proper stereo sound in the said configuration. Otherwise - cool idea!
  • I thought I remember reading that if you use 2, than they switch to stereo.
  • You get stereo with just a single Max. When it is put horizontal it does stereo with a single one. But if you put vertical it does mono. But when vertical and you add a second it does stereo. This was a welcome surprise as want not aware that it would do this. Had planned on adding a second down the road before realizing this. Had planned to get the HomePod as my Christmas present but opted for the Max as Apple bailed but if had realized the a single Max did stereo would have purchased over the HomePod as it does not do stereo. There are reviews that do not realize this and one actually was reviewing stereo with two horizontal in the video and suggested poor sound separation. Well no duh.
  • Yes when you put it horizontal it does stereo. Or if you add a second and put both vertical. You do not want to put two horizontal like someone in a review did and then suggested poor sound separation. This was a surprise and a big plus over the HomePod as it is only mono. So just use the audio input with a single and good to go. So far could not be happier with the Max and highly recommend.
  • Unfortunately this really isn't meant to be a home theater thing. For that, you'll want Sonos.
  • You can do that, but a sound bar with Google Cast (like the Vizio Phil linked above) combined with a Google Home Mini would save you about a hundred dollars and would be a better fit for what you're trying to do.
  • Wait, I thought Phil said you can't connect them to your home entertainment? I didn't see a blatant audio line in. I too wanted this to work as a soundbar of a type that was ALSO a full blown GH unit. No line in though, no deal.
  • They work great for this but I use just a single one horizontal. When horizontal a single does stereo.
  • $400? Bwahahahahahahaha. That's a barrel of industrial strength nope.
  • It is high but you're supposed to get a year of Google Play Music with it, and that's worth $100
  • Phil, the only question I have about your video is, What phone case is that?!?
  • Looking at the thumbnail, it's the Carbon color Google fabric case, and it's my favorite case for the Pixel 2's. Check it out on GoogleStore.com, around $40 or $45.
  • Yep. That's it.
  • To be honest, for a reasonable sized room I think the original Home has enough power for most people... I listen to mainly heavy stuff (hard rock / metal) and the Home sounds great in my Kitchen (and I've got one for Christmas for the Bedroom). If I had a really big space - I would definitely go for a Max.
  • Eh, I don't think so. ... This thing sounds night and day better than the OG Home.
  • It's a lot of price to justify for a small room... Especially when the GH sounds good already.
  • I have a Google Home, and I use it all the time to listen to podcasts. For music, though, I don't think it sounds good enough to be my primary player even in a really small room. And I'm not even close to what you'd call an audiophile.
  • $320 - $370 price difference simply for audio quality is a tad excessive.
  • You probably have to really care about audio to be their target market. Me? I've been listening to blown out speakers in my car for 5 years. So.... I guess I'm not the target market.
  • I appreciate quality audio...I'm just not going to (severely) overpay for it. The underlying technology between any version of the Google Home is the same thing (basically a Chromecast audio with a microphone and speaker)...keep the current prices for the current Home and Home Mini, and give this the $180 price from the original Home, then maybe we can talk.
  • Have you actually heard a Max? I am not an audiophile but to my ears sounds incredible. Mine also came with 12 months of YT Red so I figure it is $280 versus the $399. BTW, one thing poorly understood is a single unit does stereo when horizontal.
  • Is that right? 12 lbs! ?
  • Pick up any loud, high-quality speaker. They're always a whole lot heavier than you'd think.
  • And this one has all the other GH technology in it as well.
  • Every single connected (Wi-Fi) or smart speaker has come down in price from launch or goes on sale regularly (Sonos). This will too.
  • Sonos decides have come down is price, but only because they're in the process of releasing their first refreshed lineup in years. Before a few months ago, Sonos sales were pretty infrequent. That said, I don't see this selling in huge numbers at this price, so hopefully it'll drop a bit early next year.