This week we reviewed the Google Home Max speaker, the largest of the three smart speakers commercialized by Google. After the Google Mini and the Google Home, the Google Home Max provides an interesting solution for voice-controlled musical listening in a large living area, with Google Sound Smart technology.
Google Home Max: Google Assistant
This speaker integrates the famous Google assistant and its pair of microphones picks up the user’s voice commands, whether they’re nearby or farther away. After saying the key phrase “Ok Google”, you can ask the speaker to play a playlist, a radio station (TuneIn is integrated), a specific musical genre, an album or a song, but you can also ask it to control the other smart speakers in the house, televisions that feature Android TV or even Philips Hue smart lighting for example. Google Assistant can give you the weather forecast, find recipes, carry out calculations, plan routes, wake you up on command and tell jokes. And this list of features keeps getting longer.
Google Home Max: acoustic solutions
The Google Home Max speaker is a lot more imposing than the little Google Home and incidentally, its acoustic design is totally different. While the Google Home features a small driver paired with two passive radiators (for low frequencies), the Google Home Max implements a classic configuration, with two 4.5” drivers in a sealed enclosure, each paired with a dome tweeter (non metallic). The sound distribution is frontal and the speaker can be associated with a second speaker via WiFi to achieve stereo sound.
Google Home Max: Google Smart Sound
One of the Google Home Max speaker’s interesting features is the Smart Sound auto-calibration technology. Completely autonomous and automatic, this technology adjusts the speaker’s frequency response according to the program being played and the characteristics of the room. To do this, the speaker uses its microphone and analyses the user’s musical preferences.
Google Home Max: provided accessories and connectors.
The Google Home Max comes with a power cable and a magnetic rubber mat. However, the speaker is equipped with an analog line input to connect stereo sources. Because the connector is in mini-jack format, it’s necessary to use the appropriate cable: stereo RCA to 3.3 mm stereo mini-jack for a turntable with a built-in phono pre-amp or a CD player for example.
Google Home Max: bidirectional Bluetooth
The Google Home Max speaker can receive music through Bluetooth, and can send music to Bluetooth headphones. It’s therefore possible to stream music from a smartphone via Bluetooth transmission, or use the speaker as a Bluetooth relay to Bluetooth headphones. In the latter case, the listener can use voice command to ask the speaker to play the song that they’re listening to with their headphones.
Google Home Max: test conditions
The magnetic rubber mat can be moved to position the speaker either horizontally or vertically and to ensure stability. There’s no risk of the speaker slipping once it’s installed. As soon as it is activated, the speaker invites you to install the Google Home app on a smartphone. This mobile app allows Wi-Fi network connection information to be shared with the speaker, and makes assigning a room to the speaker possible. Google Home also allows you to choose a default music service from which the Google assistant will choose tracks to play. The installation and configuration of the Google Home Max speaker takes less than five minutes. A second Google Home Max speaker can be installed and paired with the first one, for a stereo listening experience.
For our review, we mainly listened to Google Play Music and Spotify.
Google Home Max: listening impressions
There are two ways to listen to music with the Google Home Max speaker. You can either ask “Ok Google, play Kashmir by Led Zeppelin” or you can use the speaker’s integrated Chromecast. To use Chromecast, simply click on the Cast button in any music streaming app (Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Qobuz, Google Play Music, etc.) to immediately start playback. When the speaker is in playback mode, after a voice command, a notification is visible on your smartphone which allows you to change the track, and pause or stop playback.
The Google Home Max speaker’s tonal balance is pleasant, and benefits from an interesting linearity. We expected an efficient restitution of low frequencies because of the speaker’s large size, and we were not disappointed. However, the lows aren’t clear and nuanced enough to really catch the listener’s attention. The restitution of the mids might be to blame for this, as they lack in flexibility and have a tendency to compress the soundstage. The sound doesn’t flow through the listening area and the speaker, though it isn’t aggressive, can be tiresome to listen to for long periods. The equalizer available in Google Home helps to tame the speaker in the high-lows, but the Google Home Max remains strained around the 60 Hz point.
It’s a shame that it isn’t possible to configure the Google Sound Smart’s calibration yourself.
Lastly, the highs are somewhat withdrawn, but don’t affect the overall balance of the speaker.
Google Home Max: compared to…
Sonos Play:5: a direct rival of the Google Home Max, with the same proportions. For the sound, Sonos has a big advantage. For the voice assistant and interactions with the home’s other connected devices, Google Home has the upper hand. The Google Assistant is more exhaustive than Alexa in our opinion. The Sonos speaker is 150 € more expensive than the Google Home Max, which is not negligible, but it’s the price to pay for a truly convincing restitution.
Klipsch The Three with Google Assistant: the tonal balance is more pleasant with the Klipsch speaker, the Google Assistant control functions are identical. The Klipsch The Three comes out on top.
Google Home Max: conclusion
The Google Home Max smart speaker is an interesting option thanks to its ease of use and its pleasant sound restitution. A little more structure and airiness would have allowed Google to provide an even better speaker, at a competitive price.
What we liked:
- The integrated Chromecast which grants access to numerous music streaming services.
- The Google assistant.
- The possibility of using a second speaker for stereo sound.
- The ease of installation and use.
- The possibility to connect Bluetooth headphones to the speaker.
What we would have liked:
- More finesse and a more spacious restitution.
- To be able to adjust the auto-calibration function imposed by the speaker.