Home Max: Happiness When Google Meets Your Ears

I come originally from an era where music was especially important to us, before the ability to watch pretty much any movie or other video program at the click of a mouse. But we did have radio, and vinyl records, and later CDs. 

And as each new plateau of technology was reached, we’d be able to hear our music with ever better fidelity. (Yes, I know all too well that there were some utterly atrocious early CD players and early CD pressings — but overall the trend line has been constantly upward in terms of audible quality.)

Since I’ve done quite a bit of audio work in my time, over the years I’ve had the opportunity to hear some really great sound systems, including incredibly expensive studio monitor speakers. But I never had the opportunity to really choose what I wanted to hear on those super speakers. Nor are they necessarily the best kind of speakers for simply enjoying music — they’re typically designed for the kind of “flat” response you want for a music mix, but that’s not ideal if you’re — for example — listening to music in your bedroom.

I’ve written before about Google Home, e.g. in “Why Google Home Will Change the World” — https://lauren.vortex.com/2016/11/10/why-google-home-will-change-the-world — and elsewhere.

The original Google Home and Home Mini can be reasonably described as Google Assistant terminals that happen to also play music. 

Google’s latest edition to the Home pantheon, the Home Max, is best described as a very high quality audio system that happens to also include Google Assistant. 

Google recently sent me a Max to explore (thanks Google!) and I wanted to offer my initial impressions to date.

There are articles all over the Web that describe the impressive specifications of Max in great detail. I will not repeat them all here.

Is Max heavy? Yep, you wouldn’t want to drop it on your foot. Is Max loud? Indeed. I’ve rarely run it over 65% volume so far, and that was for an experiment, not for routine listening. Great bass response? Certainly!

Does Max do all the good stuff that you expect of Google Assistant? Of course, and it even does so while music is blaring from the speakers, though you might have to raise your voice just a wee tad to get its attention when it’s really booming out the decibels.

Max uses Class D amplifiers, so it barely gets warm even at high volume levels. I’ve seen some reviewers actually complain that Max is somehow “dull” looking in design. I don’t know about you, but personally I listen to speakers — I don’t spend a lot of time staring at them. I consider it a plus for Max to blend into the visual background.

But it’s my subjective impressions of Max (in combination with Google Play Music and YouTube Red) that I really want to describe.

While I certainly enjoy much current music, my preferences more often than not steer toward classical music, classic rock and pop, and film scores (typically orchestral). As an aside, one of my favorite streaming stations — available on Home via TuneIn — is “M2 Classic” from Paris, which just happens to specialize in film scores and classical music!

Many of the reviews you can find about Max emphasize its very high maximum volume levels. That’s good, but there are aspects of audio reproduction that are even more important.

Quality. Clarity.

Volume without clarity and quality is the audio equivalent of Donald Trump’s incoherent and moronic rants. No matter how much you turn up the volume, he’s still just agonizing, stupefying noise.

And so it is with speaker systems. I don’t claim to have “golden ears” anymore (if I ever did), but you don’t have to be an audio expert to know that many people consider loud to be good no matter how painfully distorted the result.

Max’s magic is that no matter how far you crank up the volume, the results are crystal clear and a joy to behold.

Are they as good as high-priced studio monitors? That’s an apples and oranges question. I don’t want flat response audio monitors in my bedroom. I want speakers that do the best job possible of reproducing music in a quality way given the complex acoustic environment in that room, very different from a studio where you can install speakers in ideal locations in a space specifically designed for audio work. 

I want appropriate equalization for my listening at home. Max accomplishes this automatically. It just works. I don’t even have to think about it.

And that’s not just for high quality music streams coming in from Google or third party sources. Max includes a standard audio input jack. I have my TV plugged in there and Max does a great job with that audio too (plus, I get the bonus of voice control to mute or change TV volume levels).

Now here’s the seriously subjective section of this discussion.

There are songs, albums, scores, classical works, and all manner of other musical selections that I’ve heard innumerable times over my life, in some cases first on a little AM transistor radio tucked under my pillow at night.

Each subsequent technology sounded better than the previous, even though I was never in a position to own really good speakers of my own.

What I’m finding with Max is that I’m now hearing those familiar songs, that familiar music, in an entirely new way. I’m listening to the tracks, the compositions, the scoring cues properly for the very first time.

It’s sort of similar to how one feels when first seeing an old movie in the theater or on a big flat screen TV in proper aspect ratio, when originally you had seen it on a little black and white set with the vertical hold needing adjustment every few minutes, or on an early NTSC color set where tints would go awry with every minor temperature change.

It doesn’t matter with Max whether I’m listening quietly or with the volume cranked up, what I hear is clear as a bell. I’m now hearing utterly new aspects of music that I thought I already knew like the back of my hand.

Rock bass lines that I’ve never heard before. Underscore instrumentations that I didn’t know existed. Vocals that sound like I’m standing in the studio just across the glass from the singer. 

Perhaps these sound like small things to you (no pun intended, naturally).

But music matters a lot to me, and thanks to Google and Max I’m now able to hear pretty much anything in the musical realm that I wish, whenever I wish, and to hear it with the highest audio quality of my life.

And given the toxic world of pain in which we reside today, that’s one hell of a lot more than a modicum of happiness.