Google Home Max: First Impressions

Posted on December 15, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Cloud, Hardware, iOS, Mobile, Music + Videos, Smart Home with 28 Comments

Google Home Max: First Impressions

I’ve chosen Chromecast as my whole-home audio solution, so I was very interested in testing Google Home Max, a Sonos-like high-end smart speaker that is based on this technology.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my desire to find something like Sonos, but not Sonos (Premium). Long story short, I really enjoy the sound quality of Sonos, even with the low-end Sonos One/Sonos Play:1 speakers. (I own three of them.) But the issues are many: Sonos comes with incredibly high prices, has major compatibility issues, and lacks support for basic features like line-in on all but the very most expensive speaker model.

So I’ve been looking for an alternative. I still haven’t found exactly what I’m looking for. But Google’s new Home Max takes a few major steps in the right direction.

First is compatibility. Home Max is more broadly compatible than Sonos thanks to its integrated Chromecast support. And it has a line-in jack and Bluetooth compatibility so you can use it with devices that do not support Chromecast. That is a huge advantage.

Pricing is also a (small) win: The Sonos Play:5 with which this device most clearly competes, costs $499, fully $100 more than the Home Max. And that high-end Sonos lacks any support for a digital assistant, though presumably a new model is coming sometime in 2018 that will.

But at its heart, the Google Home Max does deliver on the Sonos promise: Killer sound quality in a wireless and extensible speaker system, coupled with a premium design that looks great in your home.

On that note, the look and feel of Home Max is indeed premium, and you can place it in a horizontal or vertical position on a shelf or other surface. It comes in two colors, chalk (off white) and charcoal (black); I chose chalk.

But sound quality, of course, is key. I don’t have a Play:5 or any other high-end speaker(s) with which to compare Google Home Max. But this is one of the best- and loudest-sounding speakers I’ve ever used. It offers rich, sumptuous sound.

A sticker explains the touch-based volume controls.

And aside from Google Assistant compatibility—which is also key for me, since I have chosen this as my personal digital assistant at home, too—the big selling point here is the device’s machine learning prowess: Alone or in a stereo pair, the Home Max will allegedly match the acoustics of any room on the fly—meaning you can move it at any time and it will adjust—in order to provide the best possible sound.

I’m going to experiment with that. But for the now, I am simply blown away by the sound quality that this speaker delivers. And while I know that $400 for a single speaker doesn’t exactly put this on everyone’s radar, it does indeed rise to the Sonos challenge. And without any of the issues—and delays—of choosing Apple’s similar (but vaporware) HomePod.

More soon.

 

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Comments (28)

28 responses to “Google Home Max: First Impressions”

  1. Avatar

    ChristopherCollins

    Interesting... I hung tight with one echo and put it in a room I like to hear music frequently that has no audio system. I am also waiting for more options before I go 'all in' and do a whole home system. You are further along than I, since you have picked Chromecast... The Alexa unit does decent, but I'm a bit of an audiofile, so while it serves its purpose in the bathroom (yes, that is where it is), I plan on picking something besides Sonos for whole home soon. I hope to see more of these articles or even a tour of the setup you are using with Chromecast.

  2. Avatar

    wolters

    Hey Paul...I've been waiting on the Google Max to complete my migration to Google Home and I am not disappointed at all. Sounds great with a great bass balance. My problem is finding a place for it...it's huge.


    By the way, I picked up a Pixel XL 2 to complement my Note 8. First up, the "problems" with the Pixel XL 2 have been quite exaggerated and the screen isn't bad. And oh, I forgot how good a clean Android feels...no duplicate apps for calendar, contacts, etc and no Bixby button to get in the way. The AR Stickers are a lot of fun. And that Camera...it is even better than the original Pixel. I can't believe how fast I've turned on my Note 8.

  3. Avatar

    Awdsyco

    I love Google products, have most devices from Chromecast, Home, Mini, Audio with fair prices instead of gouging Apple products. I almost put my money down for Max but I find I can get beautiful music from a Vizio sound bar and subwoofer together with Chrome Audio optical device for $15. Not only it's practically frugal, I also can pair my soul bar via Bluetooth for my LG TV when watching movies.


    I don't disagree with you that Max has a internal high tech computer inside to adapt and tuned to any rooms but I'm not convinced yet it's worth $400 or even Sonos. Do you notice Google didn't post frequency response spec sheet on line? I asked them but never got an response. Regardless of how loud Max is, just never can go as low as 30Hz as subwoofer.


    Ok, you are willing to drop $400 for new technology like Apple products, well that's up to you but in the meantime I'm enjoying my Smart Google Home devices to cast different speakers through out our home for $15. Best of all, I'm having orgasm with my new Assistant and she's enjoying it too. I love my Assistant because when I told her she's dumb then her response was "I'm still learning" instead of Apple arrogant Siri replied "That's your opinion" Thank you Google and bye bye Amazon/Apple overpriced products.

  4. Avatar

    Stooks

    I want to thank everyone that buys these devices. This area of tech is in its complete infancy. Any hardware bought is basically dead on arrival. Meaning that because the tech is so new your new hardware will rapidly be outdated.


    Amazon, Google and Microsoft have showed their hands so far. Apple will soon. I suspect the Apple device to be more about sound quality and less about AI. Provided no government regulation gets in the way of these "assistants" because of ever growing privacy concerns, around version 3-4 they might be worth the money.....maybe.

    • Avatar

      offTheRecord

      In reply to Stooks:

      I'm sure the hardware will "improve" as this technology evolves, but the fact that most of this is software-driven on the back end provides enormous flexibility. Case in point is the privacy PR disaster Google faced with the Home Mini before it even launched. Their response to the "top touch" issue was to immediately and "permanently" disable that functionality. Not quite ideal to have to neuter a product just as you're launching it. I figured they'd address it in Home Mini 2.0 and those of us with Home Mini 1.0 would just have to live without that functionality (which, for me personally, is no big deal). However, Google just re-enabled most of the "top touch" functionality in a recent firmware update by making it work with a "side touch" rather than a "top touch." That kind of flexibility is what prompted me to take the plunge with the first-gen hardware (and, at Black Friday sale prices, it literally cost almost nothing).

  5. Avatar

    Polycrastinator

    I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the sound quality of Spotify through Home/Chromecast. It seems there’s no way to adjust the streaming quality and I can hear the sort of artifacts I expect from lower bitrate streaming in cymbals and the like. Since it’s a black box, I find myself wondering if they just send a better quality stream to the Max speaker.

    • Avatar

      JerryH

      In reply to Polycrastinator:

      Did you try going into the settings for the audio Chromecast in the Home app and turning on the "Full dynamic range" option? Not sure if that will help with Spotify or not because Google wouldn't control what Spotify chooses to send out in their stream. But for good quality speakers it can help if there is enough data in the stream.

  6. Avatar

    Jack Smith

    Made the mistake of going on YouTube to look at some reviews and now I really want one. What I did not realize is that a single unit will do stereo. I assumed it was like the HomePod with only mono and you had to buy two Google Max to get stereo.


    Just hope can actually get one at our local Best Buy today.

  7. Avatar

    Locust Infested Orchard Inc.

    In reply to Paul Thurrott: "And while I know that $400 for a single speaker doesn’t exactly put this on everyone’s radar"




    Any product from Google, be it the humble Google Search or Google Android, is certainly on my radar for inevitable take down, as I align the crosshairs onto the offending product through a telescopic sight.


    Time and time again, Google has perennially shown itself to excel in the black art of irregular data harvesting, often misguiding its users to the extent of its pervasive, often illegal activities.


    Only two weeks ago in the UK (30th Nov 2017), an unprecedented class action lawsuit against Google was launched, with the claims the insidious gutless entity unlawfully collected personal information, bypassing the default privacy settings on the iPhone between June 2011 and February 2012, thereby breaching the UK’s data protection laws.


    The case will be heard in the High Court in spring 2018, with a compensation claim expected to amount to £2.7 billion ($3.6 billion) for 5.4 million iPhone users, should Google be found guilty of its belligerent ways.


    #BoycottGoogle


    • Avatar

      George Rae

      In reply to Locust Infested Orchard Inc.:
      Hurry up Amazon is having a great sale on Aluminum hats for Christmas. My TV and phone talk with ultrasonic signals, just about every tech company whose products I use collect lots of data, then there is the Government... If they haven't figured it out yet, I'm a boring guy who buys stuff, eats stuff and watches to much TV. When these companies realize that vast amount of data collected doesn't really mean squat, that will be fun to watch.


    • Avatar

      cddouglas

      In reply to Locust Infested Orchard Inc.:

      I love Google and Google Home - take my data and give me awesome services, I don't care. Everyone else has it by now with all of the hacks and leaks so I may as well benefit from the exchange.

  8. Avatar

    rob4jen

    You should check out the JBL Link 300. I'm reviewing it now and it is excellent.

  9. Avatar

    Bats

    Congrats.

    I am thinking about buying this too to complement my personal and professional life, as well having it part of my smart home ecosystem.

    • Avatar

      wolters

      In reply to Bats:

      I think you will like it. I was a long time Echo user and just hearing about the Max made me migrate from Echo to Home and now that the Max is here, I have no regrets. The sound is great and has Google Assistant. Love it.

  10. Avatar

    bradster62

    I like the thurrott.com reviews/comments on the speaker market (Sonos, Invoke, Google Home Max). I've had the Harman Kardon Invoke ($99) for almost a week and have been enjoying it in the kitchen. My Invoke replaces a Bose SoundLink Portable circa 2011 that is now used in the garage or camper.


    In the near future, I'll probably look into an additional speaker purchase and will look at the reviews here for guidance. Was curious as to how the Home Max sound compares to the Invoke. I suspect that the Max pushes more volume than the Invoke due to the Max's forward facing projection vs. the Invoke's 360 degree radiation.



    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      In reply to bradster62:

      The Invoke is wonderful for a speaker that size. The Home Max is in a different category all together. It sounds pretty amazing and gets very, very loud without being distorted.


      Still, I'd rather have a stereo pair. And Home Max is way too big for many locations in my home.

  11. Avatar

    matsan

    Keeping my fingers crossed you will be happy.

    Meanwhile in Sonos land I got new firmware to my eight year old speakers that was part of my original investment in Sonos. Since then extended to 12 units today. I don't feel I'm missing any service but we enjoy spotify, nas with local music, streaming radio, service from a local Swedish company with audiobooks (nicely integrated into Sonos) and an appletv with hdmi-to-linein converter.


    Sonos and our home theater receiver is the only tech still around from the first decade of the 2000's which I think is amazing.

    • Avatar

      dvsctt

      In reply to matsan:

      I agree. The ONLY tech that has stayed the distance for me is my sonos. Every other piece of tech has been replaced over the years, tvs, computers, phones, even amps. I started around 10 years ago and none of the equipment has failed (though the old dedicated controllers arent really used much anymore). The price factor to me is not a valid argument as its almost always framed around tech that is replaced in two years. My value for money is extraordinary. The ability to slowly add on the network is great. I have outdoor, indoor, in garage speakers, and plays I use as portable speakers. On longer holidays I bring a play and stream it from my phone.


      The lack of compatibility? the list is long (https://www.sonos.com/en-us/streaming-music). The only thing Id personally like is audible but aside from that all tunein stations, major streaming services, local streaming, pocketcasts streaming/syncing, etc. No bluetooth? ok but everything I personally would stream from bluetooth is supported by their services at better sound quality. line in? if its really required then there are options there. Real Home theatre support...thats there too and it seamlessly integrates with the music side when you want without having to change an amp input.


      Sure chromecast and others are a cheap option but its at the mercy of support as much as the next product and frankly over the years I have a lot more trust in ongoing support with sonos than google or no name company X.


      In the end if there is some specific requirement that a product doesnt do then maybe thats a deal killer but the way the sonos related articles are written here, youd think it was a locked in apple product weith no access to anything and a high price tag for no other reason than a logo.


      When I buy a sonos product its a one time purchase with no subscription fees etc so the revenue to the company needs to reflect that I suppose.

      • Avatar

        matsan

        In reply to dvsctt:

        I really miss the dedicated controller. It was nice to have but we have worked around that with an old iPhone 6 in guided mode.

        I was worried when Sonos switched to using the "normal" WiFi - I thought this was the end of the line for some old speakers but they marched forward. Simply amazing.

  12. Avatar

    martinp17

    I got a Riva Arena and like it very much. Just like the Home Max it supports line-in and BT.

    Does the Home Max support broadcasting such inputs via Chromecast? (Riva doesn't)

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