Google Home Maxxed Out – Our Review

It’s the audio equivalent of a banana split — it’s got everything you’d possibly wish all-in-one delicious device.  But is it’s price tag worth it?   Ah, that’s the rub.

So, first the good news.   The Google Home Max is technically priced at $399, but it won’t cost you that.  For early adopters,  Google throws in a free Google Home device ($80), so the purchase price is closer to $300.   Over the coming months, expect even greater discounts.   We expect that the “Big Max” will likely be down in the $200-$250 range by mid-2018, especially when Apple’s HomePod is finally released.

Second, the Big Max is a solid piece of engineering.   Touting two 4.5-inch woofers, as well as two 18mm tweeters under the hood, it delivers the sonic goods.  (In comparison,  the HomePod reportedly has seven tweeters arrayed along the bottom, as well as a single up-firing 4-inch woofer, while the Sonos One has just one tweeter and one mid-woofer, but it does have dual amplifiers)  The Big Max also wields six far-field microphones that did an excellent job of recognizing your voice even when the music is cranked up.   The bass response is excellent, highs are clear without being shrill and it’s very, very loud.   The Max’s performance is closest to the Sonos Play:5 — the Max isn’t quite as good, but it’s also $100 cheaper and includes built-in voice-assistant features.

While it has far more intelligence than the Alexa-linked Sonos speakers,  it doesn’t offer as many music options.   With Google Home Max, you will be able to stream from YouTube, Google Play, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.  Sonos links to Apple Music. SiriusXM. Google Play Music. Amazon Music. Pandora. Spotify. Tidal. TuneIn. Deezer. I Heart Radio. Pocket Casts. Slacker. Stitcher. … you can find the whole list here.  And it’ll easily do locally sourced music, too, such as on a home server.   So, if your heart is connected to lots of music services, the Big Max will feel restrictive.  But don’t forget that any app that works with Google Cast can be used as a remote to send music straight to the speaker. It also supports Bluetooth, which isn’t nearly as elegant, but it’s a good option if you just have to have your Apple Music.

Music adaptability is another interesting feature.  While Sonos lets users tune their speakers to the room, Google does that work for you.  The Big Max has a built-in, machine-learning-assisted algorithms that automatically modify output to best fit where you place the it. Google calls it Smart Sound, and the first feature that falls under that category is Room EQ, which adjusts for bass output. It’s done automatically and the speaker readjusts every time it is moved.  Some audiophiles might want to do that work with their own ears, but there’s something comforting about Google’s willingness to take on that heavy listening.   Google even claims to have custom-designed  the fabric for better sound on its Big Max.

Some consumers, especially Apple aficionados,  will wait for Apple’s long-rumored HomePod.   It promises positional awareness, high-quality sound and voice control. It’s Siri, rather than Assistant or Alexa, that you’ll use with a variety of Homekit-enabled accessories, with all of the attendant benefits and burdens that entails. Apple claims that in addition to voice control and smart tuning, you also get the benefit of Apple’s broad and deep ecosystem, including its music offerings and integration with AppleTV (via AirPlay 2) and your iOS devices.   But is it really worth waiting for Apple to go?

The better option for audiophiles might lay in powered bookshelf speakers.   There are many pairs of incredible bookshelf speakers on the market that you can get for around $150-250.  They offer really high end sound quality.   Connect a $35 Chromecast Audio and a $29 Home Mini and you’ll have basically the same features as the Home Max, with better stereo performance to boot.  This particularly audio concoction is probably the Big Max’s most daunting competition and is the reason that we believe the Home Max price will drop to below $250 in very short order.   Get it now for closer to $300 if you want another Google Home device and you have impatience issues.   But hold off for about six months, and you’ll find yourself with a very affordable and beautifully integrated banana split……er, smart speaker to show off to your friends.

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