Audio Gear Geeks Tech

Introducing: The Google Home Max

Google Home Max

I got the opportunity to play with a Google Home Max. Here’s what I thought.

The Google Home Max

The Google Home Max was released on May 9, 2018, in Canada, Geeks and Beats were invited to the launch party. We gave away a FREE Google Home Max recently on a recent episode. My review unit, however, was lost in transit for the better part of a month, which is why this review has taken far too long.

The Google Home Max is the latest in Google’s existing line of smart home speakers which first launched on December 11, 2017, in the US. What sets the Google Home Max apart from Google’s previous smart home speakers besides its larger size is sound. The Max is a premium speaker – set at $499 CAD – focusing on music playback, both in sound quality and volume. The unit was designed for music and it delivers, from the deep bass response to the rich textured output.

Google Home Speakers

Set up is simple and requires the download of the Google Home app which is used to set up all of Google’s ecosystem of smart home devices. After the installation of the ubiquitous system update, the 11.7-pound speaker was ready to learn your voice and respond to voice commands. The Max uses your unique voice to customize its responses, so for example if you say “Ok, Google, call mom” it knows to call your mom and not your partner’s. Up to six distinct voices can be added in this way.

Beyond the regular Google Assistant tricks, like telling you the weather and setting cooking alarms, the Max really shines as a music playback speaker. With its six built-in microphones, the Max uses machine learning to match the acoustics of the room and location it is set in. For example, when placed against a wall it will adjust its bass response. When paired with another Max unit the devices will work together to provide left and right output. Each auto-tuned for their location inside your space.

Talk To Me

Image result for kirk talk to siri

While I have been a smartphone user since 2001, with a then-beta Handspring Palm OS Smartphone, I have not fully embraced the latest voice assistant features, like Siri and Google Assistant. This in itself is odd given my affection for Classic Star Trek and its voice-controlled computer system. Outside of the car, I have never found it that convenient to talk to my phone. I am usually out in public or work where talking out loud still seems out of place. So the idea of an always listening “speaker” was difficult to get used to at first. However, the Max is slowly starting to find its way into our normal routine.

Chromecast Audio

Image result for chromecast audio

In spite of being slow to adapt to voice assistants, I had previously fully adapted to Google’s Chromecast Audio streamers. Once I grasped what these inexpensive devices could do, I quickly added them to all the devices around my home that had a line input. This seamless network interconnected with my home WiFi and created a whole home music system. The Google Home Max effortlessly connects with this network of music playback devices and becomes the voice-controlled centre of the system.

Smart Home Hub

The Google Home Max, when paired with other compatible home automation systems can also become the easy-to-use control hub for these devices. Controlling home lighting, security systems, and thermostats. I only had one such device in my home – the Honeywell Lyric thermostat. The Max found and configured the WiFi thermostat automatically and can now be controlled with simple voice commands using the Google Home Max.

Image result for lyric honeywell thermostat

This unexpected home automation control got me thinking about what other home automation devices I could add? I will leave that for a future article.

What’s that you’re playing?

Given the primary function is music playback, one limitation that quickly becomes obvious is you really need to subscribe to some form of music subscription service to really take full advantage of the music capabilities. The Home Max supports a lot of services including Spotify or Google’s own Play Music. Without this, you will only have limited control of what music can be played back unless you already have a large cache of your own ready-to-stream music.

Image result for google play music

For the purpose of this review, I signed up for Google Play Music service, this was in addition to my own music collection that I uploaded to the Google Play Music storage years ago. While interacting with the Max it was difficult to tell just where the music it was playing was coming from, my own library or Google’s. You can set up the default service that it queries for playback in the settings. However, since both of my sources were from Google it was impossible to tell if what it was playing titles from my own library or Google’s library. I found this frustrating at times, since every time you asked the assistant to play a song, it would continue playback of other songs based on your initial request.

I also found the voice control is still not completely natural, I often struggled to remember exactly the phrasing the device was expecting. This is one area that Google continues to improve. For example, in the month since the device launched in Canada, the Google assistant will now accept up to 3 commands spoken to it at once making for a more natural conversational interaction. Your own experience, of course, may vary.

While I am still hesitant about having a private companies device complete with AI software always listening in my home – one that now also knows my unique voice. Once you get past that the Google Home Max is a solid sounding premium smart speaker that delivers on its promise.

Full Specs

Dimensions

  • Width: 13.2 in (336.6 mm)
  • Height: 7.4 in (190.0 mm)
  • Depth: 6.0 in (154.4 mm)
  • Power cable: 6.56 ft (2 m)

Weight

  • 11.68 lbs (5300 g)

Colours

  • Chalk
  • Charcoal

Materials

  • Acoustically transparent fabric
  • Rigid polycarbonate housing
  • Silicone base

Supported Audio Formats

  • HE-AAC
  • LC-AAC
  • MP3
  • Vorbis
  • WAV (LPCM)
  • Opus
  • FLAC with support for high-resolution streams (24-bit/96KHz)

Wireless network

  • 802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz) Wi-Fi for high-performance streaming
  • Bluetooth® 4.2

Speaker

  • Two 4.5 in (114 mm) high-excursion (+/- 11 mm) dual voice-coil woofers
  • Two 0.7 in (18 mm) custom tweeters
  • Sealed rigid housing
  • Acoustically transparent fabric

Processor

  • 1.5GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM® Cortex™ A53

Sensors

  • Ambient light sensor
  • Orientation sensor

Power

  • AC Power 100-240 V, 50/60 Hz

Ports & Connectors

  • USB-C*
    • USB Type-C and USB-C are trademarks of USB Implementers Forum.
  • 3.5 mm jack with analog audio input
  • AC power

Other

  • Far-field voice recognition supports hands-free use
  • Chromecast built-in
  • Multi-Room audio
  • Wireless stereo pairing

Requirements

  • Wi-Fi use requires 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac access point (router).
  • Syncing services (such as backup) require a Google Account.
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