Google’s Home Max speaker is Google's new flagship home AI + music box. It’s the company's largest, most sonically powerful (and most expensive) Google Home speaker. It has the potential to be the entirety of your home music system, that also exists as the centerpiece of your home AI network.
It’s a machine of two parts. There is its job as a speaker, and how good it is at that, and, its functionality as a Google Home device. Because Google Home is a technology you get in this box, but is in actuality is something that umbrellas across many products -- including your Android phone and the many third-party AI speakers -- that aspect is really an independent adjunct to this product. However, it’s a critical part of it and there’s relevance to how Google has improved its engineering of the hardware to work well with the little talking robot voice.
For the Home Max, Google has a new SoundSense technology. In respect to Google Home it’s able to cleverly identify your voice commands even when there’s very loud music playing, even if you almost whisper, and do that from another room. It’s quite magical to mumble “Hey Google, play some Cat Stevens” from the kitchen right when Led Zepp is blasting. It can’t do this trick when the volume is coming from a source Google didn’t initiate, like a loud TV, but that just underlines how sophisticated SoundSense is, in being able to isolate your voice so effectively when it knows what’s going on.
The other SoundSense trickery is that is tailors the audio output to optimize for the room and its particular acoustic characteristics. It does this whenever it’s powered on just in case something has changed. Other devices can do this so it’s not unique, but this was once audiophile territory that requires time consuming semi-manual calibration.
Inside are two 114mm woofers and a pair of 18mm tweeters, all in a very sturdy and weighty shell, free of branding. Across the top are quick access touch controls, with a long area running across the top that you brush your fingers across to raise or lower the volume. Very nice.
Other design flourishes impress. The speaker unit rests upon a dampening rubberish pad that’s magnetically attached. The idea being you can put on its side and have it sit vertically, so the pad is easily repositioned. Oh, and when you do that it knows, and changes its audio output from stereo to mono.
Around the back is a 3.5mm aux plug. Google is talking up how you can connect a record player, which nobody will do, but many will plug other devices in this way, should it not pair or stream wirelessly. A Type-C USB plug is there, too, for high speed networking. Thoughtful. Add a second Home Max and, should you wish it, Home Max will split the stereo channels across both speakers.
Its closest competitors are the Sonos Play:5, which is pricier at $749, yet has six speaker drivers compared to the Home Max’s four and is an Amazon Alexa ecosystem product. Or, there’s the Apple HomePod, similarly priced at $499. The HomePod also tailors its sound to the environment it’s in. It a sonic face off, though, the Home Max wins. Its audio is a slightly more neutral and natural sound but (perhaps) more importantly, can hold its quality at higher volume levels. There’s more than enough volume at hand than any apartment dweller (or their neighbours) will ever need. The bass in particular is very well mannered. This is no rib-thumper, instead it’s a tighter more defined bass that by design won’t blur the rest of the sound stage.
At medium volume levels there’s less in it compared to the HomePod, but audio is far from the whole story. Google Home is simply legging it away from the competition for what a voice-controlled AI assistant can do.
When teamed up with a Chromecast -- or any Google Home-compatible speaker for that matter – it can be the new thing you talk at to command your TV to do things. While the smartphone app is still useful for seeing what’s happening, browsing content and configuring things, it’s plainly nicer to be able to give your TV orders by voice. Plus, once you have Google Home active, whether with the Max or something else, it really is difficult to resist the urge to add more devices so a Chromecast is the logical one if you don’t have one already.
Google’s punched out a most impressive bit of audio kit, and one that’s going to transform your life it it’s your first entry into the world of Google Home. Even if you currently run a smaller Home speaker, the imposing size and room filling audio of the Max make the experience feel more tangibly satisfying.