Google Home Max Review: Smart Gets Loud

The war for your living room is on. But I’m not talking about the one battling for your eyeballs, I’m referring to the one jockeying for your ears and your voice.

The world of smart, connected, wireless audio for your home has exploded over the past few years, thanks to companies such as Sonos and Amazon. Not to be left out, Microsoft and Google have both released their own takes on smart speakers, and Apple’s version is on the way. Most of the smart speakers so far have been low-end and inexpensive – they are great for casual music listening and accessing a virtual assistant with your voice, but they won’t replace a high-end audio system. Sonos, on the other hand, has built its brand on wireless speaker systems that provide high-quality sound.

This is the place where Google’s new $399 Home Max speaker comes in. It’s the biggest (seriously, it’s huge) and most expensive smart speaker to date, and though it has all of the same smart features as the smaller Home and Home Mini, its real pitch is sound quality. This is the smart speaker that’s supposed to replace your home stereo and give Sonos a run for its money.

Weighing in at almost 12 pounds, the Home Max dwarfs the Home, Home Mini, and anything in Amazon’s Echo lineup. It’s a serious speaker – closer in size to Sonos’ flagship Play:5 than any smart speaker before it.

It is substantial. How substantial? Well I (stupidly) put it in a somewhat precarious spot on a mantle, and it managed to slip off while playing music and fell about four feet to the stone landing below. (The speaker itself is in better shape than my fireplace, as it just has a few tears in the fabric cover, but still works perfectly fine. The fireplace, on the other hand, needs a new stone landing.) In retrospect, the mantle was not the best place to put the speaker, as it isn’t perfectly level and has just enough space to cover the base of the speaker and no more. But it goes to show that you should treat this big ass speaker like a big ass speaker, and place it accordingly. One thing that the Max is missing is any sort of mounting points for floor stands or wall mounts, which are commonly found on speakers of this class. Basically, you have to put it on a flat shelf or bookcase that has plenty of room for it, as there’s no way to affix the speaker to a surface.

One nice touch included with the Home Max is a rubber pad that sits under the speaker to help isolate its vibrations from whatever surface you put it on. The pad attaches to the Home Max via magnets and works whether you have the speaker in horizontal or vertical orientation. (The pad is not enough to make up for ill-advised placement, as my experience above shows. It’s just designed to minimize vibrations and rattling.)

In horizontal mode, the Max provides stereo sound, but if you turn it to vertical, it will switch to a mono output. An internal orientation sensor handles this switch automatically, and it will even tell you if the speaker is placed upside down. Two Home Max speakers can be paired in a stereo configuration, as well, and both horizontal and vertical orientations work in this mode.

The only control on the speaker itself is a touch strip on top (or the right side when vertical) that’s used to adjust the volume and pause playback. The volume control is rather finicky and not intuitive – a single swipe across it does not adjust the volume from 0 to 100 and you have to swipe multiple times to do so. Fortunately, you can control the volume with voice commands or your mobile device instead.