We Tested the Google Home Max—Here’s What We Thought

The Google Home Max sitting on a kitchen counter
 Image Courtesy of Google

At long last, Google Home Max has landed in our home for testing—and is available for purchase if you want one in your house.

Back in early October, when Google announced a slew of new products alongside its new Pixel 2 smartphones, Home Max was announced as a premium speaker with the focus on sound quality—and its sights set on Sonos (and Apple’s yet to be released HomePod). The big difference, of course, is Home Max has Google Assistant built in, so your voice searches tap into the search giant’s powerful algorithms.

We have the bookshelf-sized speaker atop a kitchen cabinet in our apartment, sitting directly next to a first-generation Sonos Play:5 and positioned vertically. That last distinction is somewhat important because it changes the speaker’s audio output to mono—if the speaker sits horizontally, the two 4.5-inch woofers and dual tweeters separate the audio into stereo tracks. You can also pair two speakers for stereo sound, if you really want to kick things up a notch.

Setup was a breeze, as it should be, when using the Google Pixel 2 XL and Google’s Home app, and we quickly linked up Spotify and Pandora music services (Google also, of course, supports Google Play Music and YouTube Music). You can also set up Home Max using an iPhone and the Google Home app just fine, and control your tunes directly via the Spotify app or using voice commands. “Hey, Google, play Bob Seger.”

So, how does it sound? Well, it gets loud, as you’d expect, and is clear across its range. But when we switched songs back and forth between Home Max and the Play:5 (instantaneously via the Spotify app), the sound felt thin, lacking some bottom end. Whether listening to classics from the Allman Brothers or the latest Zeppelin-like numbers from Greta Van Fleet, the speaker just didn’t seem to have the same powerful drive and energy.

The Play:5, it should be noted, has been tuned using Sonos’ Trueplay feature, which analyzes the room and tweaks the speaker’s sound for the space. Google Home Max, on the other hand, is supposed to do the same thing all the time with a feature called “Smart Sound.” Google says the speaker “uses machine learning to automatically adjust the equalizer settings to match the acoustics of your room.” Even so, we went into the settings and thumbed the bass slider to the right.

In any case, its sound is still leaps and bounds beyond any other smart speaker you can buy right now. And, if you’re not already deeply rooted in Alexa’s ecosystem or have a houseful of Sonos speakers, the Home Max is a solid option for streaming audio throughout your home and seamlessly integrating voice control.

[$399; store.google.com]