Google Home Max review: Maximum sound

Posted: 20 August 2018 3:54 pm News

The Google Home Max brings home sound fidelity and a whole lot of volume.

Quick Verdict
The Google Home Max is easily the best Google Home speaker if you're after audio quality, although you'll pay a hefty price for its hefty sound.

The good

  • Excellent audio
  • Multiple inputs for other audio sources
  • Simple design

The bad

  • Maximum volume blocks Assistant calls
  • No 360-degree sound
  • Heavy

Google's first set of speakers in the Australian market were the highly affordable Google Home Mini and mid-priced Google Home devices. They're both fine examples of what you can do with Google's AI smarts and a little home automation, but absolutely nobody was lining up to buy either if what they wanted was crisp audio quality.

In the intervening period, we've seen a wide range of competing Google Assistant ready speakers from the likes of JBL, Sony, Panasonic and LG. Google's contribution to the premium space is the Google Home Max, launched in the US late last year, and it's finally available on our shores.

Google Home Max: Design

  • Plain style to suit any decor.
  • Very heavy to move around.

You might think that the Google Home Max would look like a Google Home on steroids, but aside from the use of the same subtle fabric design, this isn't the case. Instead, it's a solid block of a speaker that looks more like an audiophile single speaker from a sound system than anything else.

The Google Home Max is a bulky unit at 336.6x190x154.4mm and a hefty 5.3kg carrying weight. That does mean that it's solidly built, but also that it's quite heavy. Just hefting the box around was effort enough, and while it's not impossible to move, compared to any other smart speaker (excluding the Sonos Beam, which is a soundbar anyway) it's a lot more work if you want to fling it around the place.

Actually that would be a terrible idea. A thrown Google Home Max could easily kill somebody, so don't do that.

It's a smart speaker, but that doesn't mean you don't get touch controls if you want them. A touch strip at the top of the Google Home Max covers sliding volume and playback controls. One neat touch here is that the speaker is smart enough to know if you've placed it in portrait or landscape orientation and adjusts how sliding your finger works, so that "up" is always volume up. It's a small but nice touch.

The back of the Google Home Max isn't quite as fancy as the front, but it's where you'll find the microphone switch if you'd rather it wasn't listening into your activities as well as a 3.5mm audio jack for wired devices, and a single USB C port for charging external devices, such as smartphones. Obviously Google would prefer that was a Pixel phone, but the port itself won't care if you're plugging in a different device.

Google Home Max: Speaker quality

  • Loud and clear output.
  • Stereo pairing is feasible, but expensive.

Where the Google Home and Google Home Mini's audio output is on the weaker side, audio is where the Google Home Max really shines. Its (speaker array) delivers crisp and clean sound from a variety of sources. A speaker this large is built for larger spaces, and here the Google Home Max impresses. Full volume is frighteningly loud.

I'm rather grateful that my neighbours are elderly and somewhat hard of hearing because I suspect otherwise I would have had a few angry knocks at my front door during testing time. Certainly, you'd be able to get a mid-sized party rocking with the Google Home Max, although if you do live in a smaller apartment, you might then face a visit from the boys in blue.

There's an obvious point of comparison here with Apple's heavily hyped HomePod, although I have my doubts as to whether all that many HomePod buyers would ever consider the Google Home Max or vice versa. Having tested both extensively by themselves and side by side, it's essentially a tie in pure audio quality terms that will largely come down to how you plan to use your smart speaker.

The Google Home Max gets a lot louder than the HomePod can, which could be beneficial if you've got a large or busy space to fill with music. On the other hand, its audio is entirely directional from those front-facing speakers, where the HomePod manages 360 degree audio, so room placement will obviously be key.

You can pair Google Home Max speakers for true stereo, and while I wasn't able to test this out for review, I was struck by the realisation that at that price, you could start building a real-world audiophile speaker setup. Something tells me very few users will opt for paired Google Home Max speakers.

Google Home Max: Smart home quality

  • Google Assistant remains the best smart assistant in Australia.
  • Home Max audio output sometimes blocks voice recognition.

Like the rest of the Google Home family (and any other Google Assistant-ready speaker), the Google Home Max also works as a smart speaker to answer your queries, remind you of your appointments and control a range of smart home appliances.

There's nothing especially different about the way that the Google Home Max handles Google Assistant. Unlike its Pixel phones, Google doesn't hold back any specific features from third-party manufacturers using Google Assistant. Set up the Google Home Max in a home where there are already Google Home devices (and it's a fair bet that most Max buyers will do just that) and it'll integrate seamlessly.

Well... mostly seamlessly.

There is one issue with the Google Home Max that could cause you issues with Google Assistant. At full volume, which is louder than you're going to want it in most cases unless you live on a quite remote property, the speaker output can and does overwhelm the ability of the far field microphones to accurately decipher your commands.

Which means, for example, if you do set it to full volume as a lark, you'll find it hard to then turn it down again without physically hitting the touch-sensitive volume buttons. Full volume is often a challenge for smart speakers, but I've been able to throw full volume audio out of other competing speakers with fewer comprehension issues than with the Google Home Max.

Google Assistant is itself an ever-evolving creature, but you're almost certainly going to hit its limitations at some point when asking it a question or getting it to perform tasks. Accents or children's voices can still be a challenge, but it's constantly improving across those scores. Bear in mind, though, that this will be true for every Google Assistant capable speaker, not just the Google Home Max.

Google Home Max: Verdict

  • A great speaker for the Google faithful.
  • High cost could make a smaller third-party speaker a better buy.

The Google Home Max adds the critical audiophile-grade component to the Google Home Family. If your smart speaker plans only incorporate Google-made speakers and you want better audio than the Home or Home Mini can deliver, it's your by-default option, and a fine speaker in its own right. You won't regret its audio output, and as long as you can keep the volume moderate, you won't struggle to be understood for smart speaker queries either.

However, it's also an expensive option, and that means you should stop and consider your smart speaker options carefully. There are plenty of competitor products with the same Google Assistant features onboard at lower price points. They don't have the full volume output of the Google Home Max, but unless you have a large space to accommodate that sound, their audio output should suit just fine.

Google Home Max: Pricing and availability

The Google Home Max retails for $549 outright. It's available from The Google Store, JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, David Jones, The Good Guys and Office Works.

Buy Google Home Max Chalk

Buy Google Home Max Chalk from The Good Guys

Control your home with your voice while listening to music at high quality using the powerful Google Home Max.

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Control your home with your voice while listening to music at high quality using the powerful Google Home Max.

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Google Home Max: Alternatives

If you want to keep it "pure" Google, consider the Google Home, or if you just want the smart without much audio quality, the Google Home Mini.

Outside of Google, you could consider the Panasonic SC-GA-10, the Sony LF-S50G, the JBL Link 20, or the LG WK7 speaker.

The Google Home Max is even more expensive than the Apple HomePod speaker, although you really do need to be happily ensconced in an Apple Music and iOS world to make the most out of that speaker.

Google Home Max: What the other reviewers say

Site Comment Score
Techradar "A big speaker that nails the small touches." 4.5/5
Mashable "Google Home Max is the best smart speaker if you love your music loud." 4.25/5
AFR "If max volume's your thing, go for the Max." N/A
SMH "The smartest and best-sounding smart speaker." N/A
CNET "Harder, better, stronger sound comes to Google Home." 7.8/10
The Verge "The war for your living room is just heating up, and it’s going to get a lot more interesting, and loud, before it’s over." 7.5/10
Engadget "The Google Home Max doesn't have any competitors that can match all of its features." 88/100


2 x 4.5-inch woofers + 2 x 0.7-inch custom tweeters
802.11 b/g/n/ac @ 2.4GHz/5GHz, Bluetooth 4.2
Ambient light sensor, orientation sensor
USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack

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