Google Home Max review


IT TOOK ALMOST an entire year for the Google Home Max to reach UK stores, but it’s finally here.

We’re guessing, and indeed hoping, that its arrival so close to the next Google event means that there are no plans for a version 2 at the moment. But then, we’re not sure exactly what Google could change anyway. Except for the weighty price tag.

Be in no doubt, the Google Home Max is a beast of a machine, designed to be your main source of sounds in the living room. Following the design language of the Google Home Mini, its hessian-covered front looks great in either horizontal or vertical position.

But in order to fit in the two 4.5in woofers, it’s also deep as well, meaning it will jut out fairly far from a standard bookshelf.

The four “thinking” lights for Google Assistant appear between the speaker cavities when required, representing the only real evidence that the device is on, which allows it to sink nicely into the background when required.

The device comes in two colours which for the sake of unpretentiousness we shall refer to here as “black” and “white”. Again these tie in with the colours of the Google Home Mini – though sadly, there’s no red option.

Finally, just in case we have another Homepod-ruining-the-furniture incident, Google has kindly included a silicone coaster to put it on.

Features and specs
Essentially, if you’ve ever used a Google Assistant device, then you pretty much know what to expect. Only this is bigger.

The audio power is said to be 20x that of the standard Google Home, and that means that it can belt out some serious decibels.

The main addition to the Max is the ‘Smart Sound’ feature, using AI to make the sound match up with the setting compensating for position, obstacles, potential dulling or echoing agents and so on.

In reality, it sounded very much the same wherever we put it, but maybe that’s sort of the point.

And that’s not to say it doesn’t sound good – it’s huge room-filling sound with deep bass tones and crisp upper registers. The AI also adjusts to the music, which means not everything sounds like trying to hear Chopin through a second-hand pair of Beats by Dre.

As well as streaming – which is of course there in spades courtesy not just of Google Play Music, but also the likes of Deezer and Spotify, but if you feel so inclined you can also plug in an external source with the stereo RCA ports or beam from a device using Bluetooth.

As well as multiroom support with other Google devices, including other Home and Cast, there’s an option to string two Max devices together and make a wireless stereo sound.

Let’s just think about that for a second. To do that, you’d need two units, one of which is effectively a slave that doesn’t need all the jiggery-pokery. And yet, that would clock in at an eyewatering £800. It would probably sound great – the AI would see to that – but ouch. This option makes it more expensive than Sonos and that shouldn’t be.

Surely Google can bring out a separate “dumb” speaker for the other channel? If there was a second speaker for, say £150, we’d be more inclined. That’s not to say there’s no stereo with one speaker, but the effect is always far greater if they’re split between rooms.

A lot of the “features” are actually just Google products that it supports, and there’s no point in waffling on about it here, but it is worth mentioning that multiple voices are supported, so it can tell whether to play your rainy day playlist or the other halves.

We appreciate good quality sound, but equally, we’re not audiophiles. We’re not going to get into the whys and wherefores of how good the nuances of the sound are. But it’s good quality, and (we can’t stress this enough) it’s LOUD. Like, really loud. In an average size living room, you’d not want it above about 30 per cent for fear of upsetting the neighbours.

Yet, even at the high volume (we managed for a short time before someone called the council) the clarity is nothing short of superb. We tried a range of music – from Chemical Brothers to Monkees to Haydn to Dave Brubeck and it all sounded natural.

The bass thumps through you at this volume but not in an unnatural uncomfortable way. Our only criticism is that at this volume, it really showed up the imperfections in the original material. Nevertheless, we could pick out the stereo channels even on our single speaker albeit with some unwanted hiss on older tracks. Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer In The City’ had an entire layer of tape noise you wouldn’t otherwise have spotted. 

We wouldn’t want to be listening to this on 128kbps MP3 files, but the native Google Play Music and YouTube Premium service clock in at a more reasonable 320kbps and with a bit of jiggery-pokery, Tidal would be done justice. 

We’re sure the lossless audio junkies out there will take exception, but we don’t have any lossless files to hand to check how it copes. Sufficed to say, the above average listener will struggle to pick fault.

Google Assistant is as Google Assistant does and we’re not here to take issue with that. Our only concern with it on the Max is that it sometimes pipes up without being invited – made worse if you leave the “conversation” setting on to minimise the “OK Google” shouting.

In short
If you’re baked into the Google ecosystem, it’s actually very difficult not to praise the Google Home Max. Design, specs and implementation are all fabulous.

Our only real issue is that of the price. We’d be more on board at £250 or £300, but given that you can spend £30 or less on a Chromecast Audio and £40 on a Google Home Mini, and achieve the same effect with your existing speakers, this seems like a hugely audacious way to spend £399. However lovely it is. Doesn’t stop us wanting one. Well, two actually. µ 

The good
Stunning sound, Google Assistant is better than Alexa, native support for multiple streaming services.

The bad
£400 is a bit steep and £800 for separated stereo is just stupid, bulky design.

The Ugly
Seriously. That price.

Bartender’s Score
8/10 (But at £249 it would have been a nine or a ten so watch out for deals). 




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