Google Home Max is the smartest, loudest, smart speaker (review)

Smart Home
SBA

The new Google Home Max can not only answer questions, but it plays damned good music. It is all to do with its innovative ‘smart sound’ to adjust its acoustics to your room.

To be fair, many ‘proper’ AV sound systems have acoustic adjustment using an external mic to calibrate the sound to the room. Apple iPhone users can use the phone to calibrate Sonos speakers. And Apple’s HomePod has a similar feature.

The theory is simple. A speaker on a benchtop will sound different from the same one in a bookshelf. The room furnishings can reflect (solid laminated surfaces) or absorb (curtains) sound. Smart sound adjusts the speaker characteristics to achieve ‘perfection’.

Google Home Max
Sound can bounce of side or rear walls

Google Home Max goes one step further continually analysing the sound and can even compensate for background noise.

Because of environmental impacts, we try to review speakers in the same environment. That consistency, plus the use of a tone generator to measure frequency response and volume means we are usually spot on in identifying the sound signature.

Review: Google Home Max

Australian website (check the site is ‘Australia’ and the price is $549)

What is Google Home Max?

Technically, it is a stereo 2.0, portable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth smart speaker. It carries the familiar Google look – a clean, almost nondescript, utilitarian style. Like a Google Pixel 2.


The front acoustically transparent fabric comes in Charcoal or Chalk with a matching ridged polycarbonate housing. There is a magnetic ‘mat’ to use the speaker in landscape or portrait mode. This acoustically isolates the speaker from the surface it is on.

It weighs 5.3kg – compared to the Apple HomePod at 2.5kg. Power is via 240V (no charger brick)

It has a 3.5mm Aux-In port and a USB-C port for Ethernet. Wi-Fi AC dual band, Bluetooth 4.3 BLE and Chromecast complete the connectivity.

Inside there are two front-firing 4.5-inch woofers that cover bass and mid-range. Two front-firing .7-inch tweeters manage the treble. There are six dedicated Class-D amplifiers (two each for the woofers/mid and two for the tweeters).

Google Home Max

It handles Hi-Res 24-bit/192kHz. Supported audio codecs include HE-AAC, LC-AAC+, MP3, Vorbis, WAV (LPCM), FLAC and Opus.

Six far-field microphones listen for the keyword ‘OK Google’.

Finally, it can run paired as a true Stereo Left and Right speaker and as part of a multi-room setup.

So how does it sound?

We are currently reviewing ten Google Home speakers. Some are good (most are average), but this is really good.

The frequency response graph below shows hints of low bass kicking in at about 80Hz. It becomes very solid at 100Hz to about 400Hz where mids take over. Mids are solid and relatively flat to 10kHz where treble kicks in. Treble is good, although diminishing up to 20kHz. You can’t get better than that from many dedicated AV systems and speakers.


The gold line is peak and the lower white line lowest recorded. It shows that a lot of work has gone into the speaker design.

Google Home MaxIn layman’s terms, this is Warm and Sweet (bass/mids boosted, treble recessed). It is a nirvana few portable speakers reach. It allows you to use an equaliser to marginally adjust bass or treble.

No portable speaker can have room rattling bass. You need a dedicated sub-woofer for that to pump copious quantities of air. Having said that I could ‘feel’ bass – something unusual for portable speakers.

Maximum volume was 85dB although we suspect it could reach higher with the right content. There are no published total harmonic distortion figures, so all we can say is we did not notice significant distortion at maximum volume.

Other features

We were fortunate to have a pair to test in stereo mode. At present, it is the only Google Assistant enabled speaker to support that. Panasonic’s GA10 is scheduled to do this with a firmware update later in the year.

Stereo is all about ‘separation’. Can you hear distinct sounds from left and right in such a way that they reflect the original sound source? Imagine if you have two people – one on the left and one of the right – talking to each other.


Google Home Max had excellent stereo separation. When used as a pair it opens the sound vista. It does not increase volume, but it adds an immersive feel that you don’t get with a single speaker.

Plug in an external sound source like a turntable (with pre-amp) or a smartphone and you have an excellent 2.0 system.

Multi-room audio

The Google Home app supports any Google Home speaker. Its own Google Home speakers, LG, JBL, Sony, Panasonic and more.

You can mix and match these throughout the home. Then you can play either the same or different music on each.

Casting

It supports Chromecast so it can take music from other sources.

Bluetooth

It supports Bluetooth so you can cast music or voice from smartphones and TVs.

Google Assistant

So much has been written about this we won’t bore you with it. Let’s just say that the six far-field mics were brilliant to about 10 metres (at 50% volume).

Content sources

  • Music Subscription: YouTube Music, Spotify, Google Play Music
  • Music Free: TuneIn radio
  • Video Subscription (casts to compatible TV): YouTube Red, Netflix, Stan, Google Photo
  • News: The Australian, SkyNews, ABC News radio, Reuters, Huffington Post

Privacy

In most respects, Google Assistant is no worse than Google Search. You are relying on Google to keep personally identifiable information private.


Compared to the Google Home and Google Home Mini

(GadgetGuy review here)

Both reach 80dB but with noticeable harmonic distortion.

Google Home as a single 50mm upwards firing speaker and two passive radiators. Bass kicks in at around 100Hz (good) with reasonable mids to about 4kHz then it’s all downhill from there. It has a warm and sweet sound signature. Easy listening and not harsh at full volume. Placing it in a set of IKEA bookshelves (cube style) made an appreciable difference to bass response.

Google Home MaxThe Mini is a single upwards-firing speaker. It has virtually no bass, reasonable mids and then treble drops off a cliff. This is called a mid-sound signature. It is fine for mid volumes as a personal speaker but gets way too harsh at higher volumes. Mid tends to provide clearer speech than music so think audiobooks.

Google Home Max

GadgetGuys’s take. Google Home Max for maximum sound pleasure

By far the most impressive and flexible Google Assistant speaker currently on the market. It will satisfy all bar the pickiest audiophiles – it sounds good.

I would love to see a teardown so we can get an idea of what drives it – chips etc. Given we have seen one for the smaller Google Home, I have a pretty good idea what is inside, and it’s all good.


Would I buy one or a pair?

With the caveat that my hearing is not what it used to be, and I am not a compulsive music listener any more I am happy with the Google Home and Mini.

But if you want near audiophile quality and the convenience of a Google Assistant, this is the one for you. Loads of volume means room-filling sound.

As for a pair. The concept is excellent and the left and right separation equally so. Although at $549 each ($1098 for the pair) I would probably buy a $79 Google Home Mini (for voice control) and a decent 3.1 or even 5.1 TV soundbar (Like those from JBL – GadgetGuy review here).

It depends on your needs and room size.

Pro

  • The best sound signature so far of any Google Home speaker
  • Highest volume – ditto
  • Very well made – a keeper
  • You either like the minimalist design queues or buy something else
  • In a class of its own at present. Stereo and stereo pairing
  • Smart Sound works for any room or environment

Con

  • OK Google can’t hear you at above 50% volume
  • Expensive as a stereo pair – there may be better options

Rating

Rated as a stereo 2.0 single speaker


  • Overall: 4.5 out of 5
  • Features: 5 out of 5 – got it all with lots of connection flexibility
  • Value for Money: 4 out of 5 – It’s not cheap
  • Performance: 4.5 out of 5 – Almost perfect sound and copious volume
  • Ease of Use: 5 out of 5 – Plug and play and the smart sound calibration is excellent
  • Design: 4 out of 5 – Google design queues are not ‘trendy’ like the Sonos

Price

$549 from Google online (free delivery) or major retailers.

 

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Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
Reader Rating0 Votes
The best Google Assistant speaker to date
None really - all good
4.5