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Google Home Max review: The best smart speaker for playing music loud

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Yep, the Google Home Max definitely looks like a speaker.
Image: raymond wong/mashable

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Google Home Max

Max volume is loud AF • Does everything Google Home and Home Mini does • Sick bass

Google Assistant can’t hear you well when speaker’s set to highest volume • Finicky touch-sensitive control strip • Twice the size of HomePod

The Bottom Line

Google Home Max is the most powerful Google Assistant-powered smart speaker with the loudest volume and deepest bass.

Mashable Score4.25
Cool Factor4.0
Learning Curve4.0
Performance4.0
Bang for the Buck5.0

There’s only one reason to buy the Google Home Max and that’s to crank the volume up… all the way up.

Otherwise, it’s like having a crazy powerful and expensive gaming computer with the best graphics card, but only using it to play Minesweeper. It’d be a complete waste of your money.

With a $400 price tag, the Home Max is the most expensive smart speaker, when compared to an Amazon Echo ($100), Google Home ($130), and even Apple’s HomePod ($350). The hefty sticker price is worth it, though, if you want to feel the bass… because you will feel it.

Since the launch of Google’s Home speaker in late 2016, the tech giant has expanded its Google Assistant-powered smart speaker family with the Home Mini ($50) and Home Max. 

The Home Mini is great if you’re just starting out with a smart home, but sound quality isn’t a top priority. The Home is still Google’s best value for both a smart home hub and good, room-filling audio. The Home Max occupies its own class with the loudest sound and deepest bass in the group.

One big speaker

The Google Home (center) is huge compared to Apple's HomePod (left) and Google Home (right).

The Google Home (center) is huge compared to Apple’s HomePod (left) and Google Home (right).

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Whereas the Home and Home Mini are compact and blend in with your home decor, the Home Max is a big honking speaker. It’s nearly twice the size of a HomePod and about as large as a Sonos Play:5. There’s no hiding it in any room.

The Home Max is also heavy, weighing 11.68 pounds, which means you’ll want to carefully consider where you place it. Delicate bookshelves are a no-no.

A better look at how massive the Home Max (center) is.

A better look at how massive the Home Max (center) is.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Google offers the Home Max in two colors: Chalk (white case with gray fabric front) and Charcoal (black with black fabric front). Both look fine, but I feel like Google missed an opportunity here to make the fabric fronts customizable. You can swap out different bottoms for the Google Home so why not on the Home Max? 

Props to Google for rounding the corners and keeping the design as clean as possible. Frankly, there are only so many ways to make a directional speaker and the Home Max’s design is one of the least visually offensive once you’ve figured out where to put it.

The touch-sensitive strip is as responsive as physical buttons or voice controls.

The touch-sensitive strip is as responsive as physical buttons or voice controls.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Like the Home, buttons, controls, and ports are kept to the bare minimum. Up top is a touch strip for controlling playback. Tap it to play and pause and swipe on it to control the volume. 

Considering how responsive the touch-sensitive controls on the Google Home are, I was a little disappointed to find the strip on the Home Max to be inferior. On several separate occasions, the strip failed to register my taps and swipes. 

You’re better off just commanding the Google Assistant to do all of these things, which is what you’ll be doing most of the time anyway. But I still think it’s funny how the voice controls are more responsive than the physical controls.

Every smart speaker should have a physical mute switch somewhere. Thankfully the Home Max has one.

Every smart speaker should have a physical mute switch somewhere. Thankfully the Home Max has one.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

Around back, there isn’t much, but what’s there is important. In the center is a microphone mute switch. And in the lower left corner is a socket for power, a USB-C port for connecting an ethernet adapter, and an aux audio port. The power cable’s a pastel green on the Chalk version and though it gives the speaker a little pop, I think it’s is an odd color choice to pair with the speaker’s white and gray colorway.

Turned up to eleven

Your home might not even be able to handle the Home Max's highest volume.

Your home might not even be able to handle the Home Max’s highest volume.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

With a name like Home Max, you don’t even need me to tell you it’s a loud-ass speaker. Inside, Google’s packed in quite the sound package. 

The speaker’s got a pair of 4.5-inch woofers for your bass and dual 0.7-inch tweeters for your highs. There are also six Class-D amplifiers, two for each of the woofers and one for each tweeter. 

Combine these beefy specs with six far-field microphones for picking up your voice and measuring the acoustics of the room it’s in for auto-sound calibration and, well, you’ve got one powerful speaker that’ll raise the roof.

Compared to a Google Home or Amazon Echo, the Home Max is in another realm of loud. Apple’s HomePod gets pretty darn loud at its highest volume, but the Home Max is louder.

The Home Max plays audio in stereo, except when it's positioned vertically. Then, it switches to mono.

The Home Max plays audio in stereo, except when it’s positioned vertically. Then, it switches to mono.

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The Home Max can get so loud you can sometimes feel it. No joke, the hairs on your arm will stick up. Its vibrations will rattle your furniture, and it’s no wonder a rubber pad for the speaker to sit on is included in the box.

If you live in a house and want to rock out, the Home Max will not disappoint. However, if your living situation’s like mine — a post-war apartment complex with wafer-thin walls, floors, and ceilings — you won’t be able to get much out of the Home Max’s maximum volume setting. Not if you want to continue living in your apartment without getting visits from angry neighbors or the cops.

If you live in a spacious house and want to rock out, the Home Max will not disappoint.

At 100 percent volume, sound quality breaks just a little. To my ears, there’s more distortion compared when the Home Max is playing at max volume than on HomePod. Apple’s smart speaker is somehow able to maintain a cleaner sound separation at higher volumes, which I value more than pure resonance.

If you somehow have the dough for two Home Max speakers, you can pair them together for even louder sound. I didn’t get to test this out, but at SXSW Google had an an activation where they had two Home Maxes paired together inside of a custom lowrider. And holy sh*t, it double the loudness.

Of course, this is not to say the Home Max doesn’t sound good when it’s playing at “normal” room volume, because it does. 

Like HomePod, the Home Max is a warm-sounding speaker. Listening to “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato, her vocals are crisp and prominent and don’t get drowned by the track’s beat.

“Closer” by The Chainsmokers definitely sounded clearer than through an Echo or Google Home; the song’s gentle claps and synths never overpower Halsey’s verses. On punier smart speakers, the same song is more muddled and you don’t get as much dynamic range.

You can pair two Home Maxes together for even louder volume.

You can pair two Home Maxes together for even louder volume.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Where the Home Max really shines is with bass. Oh, man, does it bring the bass. In a blind listening test with several Mashable colleagues, they unanimously crowned the Home Max the champ for bass-heavy tracks, blowing away the HomePod and Sonos One.

I played “Hotline Bling” by Drake and “Yeah!” by Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris for each of them, and every single one agreed that, at a 50-80 percent volume level, the Home Max is able to produce a thick low-end. At max volume, you can feel the bass lightly punching through the air if you’re standing a 1-2 feet in front of the speaker. 

Sick sound first, smarts second

Don't forget the Home Max can control your smart home, check the weather, and all those other great things the Google Assistant does.

Don’t forget the Home Max can control your smart home, check the weather, and all those other great things the Google Assistant does.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

The Home Max is a smart speaker, which means it’s powered by the Google Assistant, which can do all the things the Assistant does on the smaller Google Home or Home Mini. It can play your music, tell you the weather, search for things on Google, and control your smart home devices — to name just a few of the many skills it’s capable of.

These are all great — the Assistant is more intelligent than it was when the Google Home launched and it’s far superior to Alexa and Siri when it comes to understanding context and voice commands.

But I’d argue the Assistant is of secondary importance on the Home Max because if you’ve got the cash to drop on this smart speaker, you’re doing it because you care about sound quality. Especially at deafening levels.

The Google Home Max has some minor flaws like the sometimes wonky touch strip and the Assistant has trouble hearing a “Hey Google” voice command over loud-playing music unless you shout. But neither of these are deal-breakers. The Home Max is overkill for most people, but at least it’s an option if you’re all about that bass.

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