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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