Google has a difficult task: it needs to steal your attention - or rather, your ears and voice - from the competition, as the world of smart home and voice-controlled tech products continues to hot up. These days it's not just Amazon with its Echo line - which features Amazon Alexa, the best-known voice assistant - but also Apple, Microsoft, and a number of other players with their own systems.

There are a tonne of smart speakers available now, all at various price points and with differing degrees of features, so it's up to you to navigate through them all and figure out which one is the ideal match. Do you want to spend the least amount possible? Have the widest range of connected features? Or is price no object and you want the most premium sound? Do you care more about fancy features like a touchscreen display?

Well, if price isn't a thing and you're mostly concerned about audio quality, consider the Google Home Max speaker (note: it's only available in the US). It's basically the same thing as Google Home and Google Home Mini, only it's physically massive and packs a far bigger sound.

Google Home Max Review image 9
  • Weighs nearly 12 pounds (5.3kg)
  • Has a 336.6mm x 190mm x 154.4mm footprint
  • Comes in either "chalk" or "charcoal" shades

It's called Max for a reason. It weighs nearly 12 pounds and looks almost comically large, especially when sat next to the Google Home or Google Home Mini. Its considerable footprint lets you know it's a proper speaker. If we had to compare it to another premium speaker on the market, we'd say it's close in size to the flagship Sonos Play:5.

Pocket-lintGoogle Home Max review image 6

The front grille is cloaked in an "acoustically transparent fabric", which is the same soft-touch material on the Google Home Mini, available in either "chalk" or "charcoal" minimalist grey finishes. The rest of this rounded, rectangular beast has a polycarbonate housing with a smooth silicone base.

  • Detachable power cable is 6.56 feet (2m) long
  • Has a magnetic, rubbery pad
  • Can be placed in horizontal or vertical orientation

Unfortunately, Home Max lacks any wall-mounts or floor stands. So, you'll have to put this speaker on a flat shelf, bookcase, TV stand or wherever else you fancy. Luckily, the detachable power cable is long enough to cater for various locations without issue. We recommend moving it around to see where it fits best (just don't put it by your TV's built-in speakers - more on that later).

Due to it's large size, it'll be hard to find a great spot for Home Max in a typical living room - unless you have one of those extra large, fancy ones. However, thanks to a magnetic, rubbery pad - which helps to reduce vibrations - you can place the Max either vertically or horizontally.

Pocket-lintGoogle Home Max review image 4

Google promises Max has a "carefully crafted shape and sensor" for either orientation, although you'll only get stereo sound in horizontal orientation. That's right, turn it vertically and it will switch over to mono. There's an orientation sensor on the inside that does this all automatically - we even discovered while taking pictures of Home Max that if you place the speaker upside down, it'll promptly tell you that. Cool.

When you unbox Google Home Max, simply plug it into the wall and then wait for it to play a chime to say that it's ready.

While it's doing that, download and open the Google Home app, then sign-in with your Google account and select the Devices icon in the top right corner. You'll see Google Home Max at the top of the menu.

Tap on Set Up and follow the on-screen prompts that will walk you through connecting the smart speaker to your local Wi-Fi network. You'll have to specify where Home Max will be placed within your house, then setup Google Assistant and connect it to your services. Home Max will play a chime when it's fully good to go.

  • Capacitive touch strip to adjust volume
  • "OK/Hey Google" voice commands
  • Google Home app

There's a capacitive touch strip on the top of Home Max (well, when it's horizontal). You can slide a finger across it to adjust volume or tap it to pause playback. It works similarly to the touch ring on Google Home. If you don't want to use your finger, you can always use "OK Google" or "Hey Google" voice commands, or you can use the Google Home app.

There are six far-field microphones for picking up voice commands, ensuring voice pick-up in various environments, including when sound or music is eminating from the speaker.

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On the back of Max there's a switch to disable the microphones, should you wish. There's also a USB Type-C port, which you can use with an Ethernet adapter for wired networking, plus a 3.5mm input jack to hook it up to other audio sources, giving plenty of options - more than in other Home products.

  • Packs four drivers and six Class-D amplifiers
  • Has Smart Sound for automatically tuning itself
  • Supports dual-speaker stereo and multi-room audio

Part of the reason Max is so large is because it packs four drivers - that's two 4.5-inch/114mm high-excursion dual voice-coil woofers and two 0.7 inch/18mm custom tweeters, audio geeks - and six Class-D amplifiers.

Pocket-lintGoogle Home Max review image 13

The result? Home Max is a solid speaker with a high-quality sound. It's loud enough that, if it's downstairs and you're upstairs, you'll still have no problem jamming out. It's also powerful enough for a party and remains clear even at 100-per cent volume. It doesn't have heart-thumping bass, but you can still hear - and feel - it plenty.

We're no lab-based audiophiles, so we can't give you detailed graphs about whether the highs are too sharp and the bass too loose, but in our real-world tests it blew our minds - especially as the only other speakers in our house are the first-gen Amazon Echo, Echo Show, and Google Home, which all sound paltry by comparison.

Part of Max's impressive sound is due to "Smart Sound", a nifty feature that enables the speaker to automatically tune itself to its surroundings using machine learning. Google says it can adjust the equaliser settings to match the acoustics of your room for the most balanced sound - which might sound like nonsense, but Sonos has been delivering with Trueplay for some time.

Pocket-lintGoogle Home Max review image 15

What's even better is that two Home Max speakers can be paired for a dual-speaker stereo configuration. Google just recommends you place them 10 feet apart. So, if you want an even more massive sound, that's available. It can get kind of pricey, though, but the Google Home app enables Home Max to be grouped with other Cast-enabled speakers for multi-room audio if that's more suitable.

  • Stream tunes over Wi-Fi from compatible apps
  • Play songs over Bluetooth from your mobile device
  • Plug it into a device using an AUX stereo cable

Home Max lets you stream tunes over Wi-Fi from compatible apps on your phone or laptop, and play songs over Bluetooth from your mobile device. You can also plug it into your record player using an AUX stereo cable. Home Max is a standard Cast speaker, so it supports Google's Cast protocol and will work with several compatible services.

Go here for a full list of compatible apps and services, but some of the more popular ones include YouTube, Google Play Music, Spotify, and Pandora. Unfortunately, it doesn't stream from Apple Music, though, as we said, you could always stream to the speaker over Bluetooth or plug it into an iPhone through the 3.5mm jack on the back.

  • Has six far-field microphones
  • Won't hear you at higher volumes
  • Only one Max will respond when two are paired

Home Max has six far-field microphones so that it can hear your voice commands from across the room, in theory. Like most other smart speakers, this works in limited situations. For instance, if the house is quiet, it'll hear you. If a couple people are talking nearby, it'll still hear you.

Pocket-lintGoogle Home Max review image 12

But if it's playing at higher volumes, forget it. You'll need to scream at the thing to get it to notice you. And, more often that not, that won't even work. You'll physically have to walk over and touch the strip to turn down the volume. Also, we tried putting the Home Max next to our 65-inch 4K LG TV, but, for some reason, it couldn't hear us at all if the TV was on and outputting any sound.

We also noticed that Home Max seems to hear us better if it's playing in mono. Speaking of which, we found that, when two Max speakers are paired in stereo, only the left master speaker will respond to voice commands. Both will output music, of course, but you'll only get responses from the left one.

  • Works like Assistant on Home and Home Mini
  • Play music, control smart devices, and more
  • Connect to other Google Home devices like Chromecast

Google Assistant on Home Max works just like Assistant on Home and Home Mini. You can use you can use it to play music, ask Google questions, control smart home devices, connect to other Google Home devices (like Chromecast and Chromecast Audio), and more. Go here to see our Assistant guides, links below, for more information.

We mostly use Assistant on Home Max to play YouTube videos on our 4K TV (via Chromecast Ultra), turn our basement heater on or off (via the TP Link smart outlet), and get updates about the weather and news. Assistant is very much like Amazon's Alexa, but it's much better at contextual conversational commands and finding info on the web.

Price when reviewed:
$399

Verdict

At $399, the Google Home Max isn't exactly budget, and with such a large footprint it's a whole different prospect to the easy-to-place Home and Home Mini. It's clearly a speaker for those who are married to Google and its ecosystem - you want Google Assistant, not Amazon Alexa - and want premium sound. Right now, that's a niche crowd.

However, make no mistake: there's a war for ears and voice going on, and Google is doing everything it can to win over Amazon. We think the Home Max gives it a clear advantage, but Amazon, too, has a huge range of Echo devices, including some premium ones that are much more attractive in price. Plus, let's not forget about the forthcoming Apple HomePod.

Google Home Max offers maximum sound, but it also has a maxed-out size and price tag. If you're tied to Google's ecosystem - not Amazon Alexa - and want premium sound, however, then it's a potentially perfect fit. But can Google really demand Sonos-level pricing on its first large-scale outing? It sounds good, sure, but we think would need to undercut on the price front to be a true rush-out-and-buy-it-now speaker.

Pocket-lintAmazon Echo Plus preview image 1

The biggest criticism of the first Echo was sound quality. The Echo Plus, however, sounds quite different, delivering a much more substantial sound 360-degree sound with better defined bass. Of the two new Echo productss, this is undoubtedly the model you want if you're going to be using it for music on a regular basis.

Read the full article: Amazon Echo Plus review

Pocket-lintAlternatives image 1

Sonos added smart connectivity to its speakers and came up with the Sonos One.It is, basically, a Sonos Play:1 under the skin, but with the added benefit of Alexa voice control. That means that this speaker works both within the Sonos system, as well as standalone as an Alexa speaker. Sonos sound quality and substantial design means it trumps the Echo and Echo Plus, but it's also twice the price.

Read the full article: Sonos One review