Apple HomePod vs. Google Home Max: Which high-end smart speaker is right for you?

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited February 1
While the $399 Google Home Max and the $349 Apple HomePod are roughly aiming for the same market, both have taken very different approaches. AppleInsider compares the hardware, and delves into which speaker might work the best for you.


Google Home Max versus the HomePod, on paper

We have the advantage of the Google Home Max already being "out in the wild," so to speak. Reviewers have been beating on it for a month now and, as you might expect, they have opinions.

Generally, the impressions are good. The device is noted for its sound quality, with a punchy bass. It has been criticized for still needing audio settings adjustment after being moved, despite claims of it having a "smart sound" feature for audio adjustment depending on positioning.

The Google Home Max, at 13.2 x 7.4 x 6 inches, is larger than the HomePod at 6.8 inches high, by 5.6 inches wide. In theory, this allows for a larger chamber volume for the Home Max, improving the physics of sound -- but looking at the cutaway of the device, there's just not a lot of speaker volume for the enclosure.




Apple's HomePod is less than half the weight of the Home Max, at 5.5 pounds. Google's offering exceeds 12 pounds, and has been called awkward or bulky by more than one reviewer.

Connectivity for both is provided by Wi-Fi. The Google Home Max adds a 3.5mm jack, and a USB-C port. The Google Home Max uses it's Cast technology to push audio to it, where Apple, naturally, uses AirPlay -- with AirPlay 2 coming "later this year, presumably when iOS 11.3 launches to the public.




Audio codec support is equivalent between the two devices, with Apple finally embracing FLAC in the HomePod, at least in part.

Two 4.5-inch dual voice-coil woofers are on the Google Home Max, supported by two 0.7-in "custom tweeters," according to the company.

Apple has gone with a "high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier" and an "array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier." Boosting that, there are low-frequency calibration microphones for bass correction, beamforming to adjust to the size and composition of the space, and "transparent studio-level dynamic processing."

Digging past the buzzwords and tricky phrases, Apple has gone with a system that can conform to a space better. The horn-loaded tweeters fire independently of each other with the custom amplifiers dedicated to each one, with the A8 controlling the audio from the array on-the-fly for the best possible sound that the track can deliver.

Apple's beamforming inclusion on the HomePod has riled up the audiophile community a bit -- they remain surprised at how the technology normally limited to super-high end equipment is on a $350 consumer-level device. It's not clear if the layman will get much from that, but as with any sound quality assessment, it greatly varies from person to person.

Google hasn't gone into much detail on its microphones. Apple, however, has, with the HomePod having a six microphone array for far-field Siri. Given that the HomePod is designed to be plunked anywhere in the space, while the Google Home Max is really intended to go up against a wall, it's not clear how much difference this makes in the real world.

The Home Max has the ability to play multi-room audio and multiple units can be paired for stereo pairing now -- but, as with AirPlay 2 support, we have to wait for it for the HomePod.



Not yet an audio Thunderdome

Audio quality is not just a function of hardware slapped together. We're not going to declare a winner, here, as we don't have a HomePod to listen to -- but there are clearly prime candidates for either device based on other factors.

All of the reviewers of the Google Home Max say that the sound quality is excellent -- and for a $400 speaker, that had better be the case. But, Google Assistant integration without it being your major driver on your smartphone is problematic, and not fully baked.

Apple is unapologetic about Siri being lobotomized for the HomePod -- for now. But, by itself, and without handing off to a tethered device, Apple Music subscribers can play just about anything they want on the HomePod without "pushing" the music from a device.




HomePod connectivity will open up a bit when AirPlay 2 support comes to the device. But, that day is not today, and is a nebulous "later this year." The same goes for pairing to HomePods for stereo -- but it can be argued that if you're looking at doling out the cash for a pair of HomePods or Google Home Max devices for stereo pairing, it's time to look into receiver and speaker setups.

So, the Google Home Max is shooting at those fully bought into the Mountain View search engine's way of life. The same with the HomePod. Pick your walled garden -- the only difference is the height of the wall, be it four-foot or six.

So, which?

This is the part where you expect AppleInsider to dive in and wholeheartedly recommend the HomePod as the one speaker to rule them all. But, we're not going to -- and we're not going to declare Google's offering the ultimate winner, either.

For most of us, we use Apple products not as a religion, but as the right tool for the job. Cupertino's paladins will choose as they always do, and so will the Google devout.

What remains is the rest of us, making decisions about what will work the best with our devices. In this case, with sound quality being as subjective as it is and dependent on literally hundreds of factors and not all of them controllable by the speaker hardware itself, it comes down to the other features of the devices in question.




The Google Home Max has other inputs, to allow users to, say, plug in an iPhone 6s through a headphone jack and make a rudimentary Siri-powered smart speaker with a Google label. The converse is not true -- connecting your Android phone to the HomePod with a cable just isn't going to happen.

That all said, the HomePod is the ultimate choice for the Apple Music subscriber. Don't even bother looking elsewhere unless you're looking at stereo separation not relying on bouncing the audio off walls, where things get a little murky when you throw receivers into the mix at that price point.

But, like we said, the choice is less clear-cut if you're platform agnostic. We recommend a side-by-side listening when the HomePod ships, if you can wrangle it.

Hearts and minds

Google is looking for a further toe-hold in houses with the Home Max, another set of ears for Google to use to listen to its users. Whether you think that's for good or for evil is up to you. Apple couldn't care less about that, and will happily skim the cream off the top of the market the same way it seizes the majority of the smartphone industry's profits, or take a bit more cash from the Apple faithful fully bought into its services and ecosystem.




Based on assessments of the HomePod by audiophile communities, the HomePod looks to have jammed a great deal of high-end technology found in thousand-dollar boutique systems into a consumer-priced device. Whether or not Apple's choices pan out in real life remain to be seen.

But, both the HomePod, and the Google Home Max sit in a difficult position. They're both trying to convince smartphone users who have historically listened to music on earbuds that they want to dole out $350 or $400 for a single speaker to listen, now.

When the iPod launched, on this very website's forums, there were complainers that they didn't see how it fit into Apple's vision, or how they would use it. For most of us, author included, it took using one for a few hours to push us over the edge.

We suspect that the HomePod, and the Google Home Max, are facing a similar challenge, and only time will ultimately tell how well they do -- but we're not worried about the fate of either company because of it. Neither the HomePod nor the Google Home Max are products that were designed to make one ecosystem more appealing than the other, but we're glad they both exist.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,661member
    Some testers on YouTube confirmed that Sonos Play:3 or even 2 Sonos One blew the HomeMax out of water. HomeMax got sound distortion at high volume.
    watto_cobraracerhomie3
  • Reply 2 of 36
    If I was choosing one it would obviously be the HomePod, just like probably everyone on this website, but still not sure I need one yet.
    airnerdwatto_cobraracerhomie3
  • Reply 3 of 36
    I have an old LG 1woofer/2tweeter system plugged into my Mac @ home. Not sure how big the woofer is, but I'm sure HomePod will blow it away. Still works fine for now though, but when it finally croaks the Google system will not be on my list.

    Edit: PS can't wait for the iFixit teardown!
    edited February 1 lolliverwatto_cobraracerhomie3
  • Reply 4 of 36
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 1,798member
    A nice, balanced run down of the units and oozing common sense. Well done!
    holmstockdmuthuk_vanalingamsaltyzip
  • Reply 5 of 36
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 17,800member
    fallenjt said:
    Some testers on YouTube confirmed that...HomeMax got sound distortion at high volume. 
    While other testers and owners claim it does not.  Personally I've not tested nor even heard one.
    edited February 1 lukei
  • Reply 6 of 36
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 17,800member

    Google hasn't gone into much detail on its microphones. Apple, however, has, with the HomePod having a six microphone array for far-field Siri. 
    The Home Max also has a 6-microphone array.

    Well-written article by the way. 
    edited February 1 muthuk_vanalingamjony0
  • Reply 7 of 36
    Good to emphasize that everything that the Google speaker hears is uploaded, unencrypted to Google's servers where it is associated with your "universal identifier" number, so you are just adding to the dossier that has everywhere you drive (Google Maps), every photo you take or receive (Google Photos), every email sent or received (Gmail), every document you upload (Google Docs), every web site you visit (Google Analytics via almost every single website unless you use tracking blocking), every post you make, etc., etc.  All of that is available to law enforcement, intel agencies, hackers, and of course to Google and its subsidiaries or any company it chooses to sell to in the future.  Choose wisely.
    Bluntairnerdpatchythepiratelolliverwatto_cobraracerhomie3badmonkDAalseth
  • Reply 8 of 36
    The Home Max, by virtue of having it's drivers front facing and so close together, will never be able to achieve stereo separation as good as the HomePod. It might as well be a mono speaker.
    patchythepiratelollivercornchipwatto_cobracgWerks
  • Reply 9 of 36
    robjnrobjn Posts: 177member
    I can’t wait to listen.

    you write: In theory, this allows for a larger chamber volume for the Home Max, improving the physics of sound.

    How so?
    I would argue the opposite. The smaller the volume the more pressure can be generated when the woofer compresses the air. More pressure = louder bass.

    The challenge is being able to do this without distortion which is why HomePod uses a special microphone to constantly measure and then dynamically adjusts to keep the woofer in phase. Without this advanced technology you would have to scale up to get more bass.
    patchythepirate
  • Reply 10 of 36
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,661member
    gatorguy said:
    fallenjt said:
    Some testers on YouTube confirmed that...HomeMax got sound distortion at high volume. 
    While other testers and owners claim it does not.  Personally I've not tested nor even heard one.
    The tester was unbiased. His YouTube channel was to test electronic devices including speakers with the same audio source side by side playing the same songs. He then gives them away to subscribers. He didn't own any of them. I'd rather trust his reviews than any other owner.
    Here is one of them:


    edited February 1 lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 36
    While the $399 Google Home Max and the $349 Apple HomePod are roughly aiming for the same market, both have taken very different approaches. AppleInsider compares the hardware, and delves into which speaker might work the best for you.


    Google Home Max versus the HomePod, on paper

    We have the advantage of the Google Home Max already being "out in the wild," so to speak. Reviewers have been beating on it for a month now and, as you might expect, they have opinions.

    Generally, the impressions are good. The device is noted for its sound quality, with a punchy bass. It has been criticized for still needing audio settings adjustment after being moved, despite claims of it having a "smart sound" feature for audio adjustment depending on positioning.

    The Google Home Max, at 13.2 x 7.4 x 6 inches, is larger than the HomePod at 6.8 inches high, by 5.6 inches wide. In theory, this allows for a larger chamber volume for the Home Max, improving the physics of sound -- but looking at the cutaway of the device, there's just not a lot of speaker volume for the enclosure.




    Apple's HomePod is less than half the weight of the Home Max, at 5.5 pounds. Google's offering exceeds 12 pounds, and has been called awkward or bulky by more than one reviewer.

    Connectivity for both is provided by Wi-Fi. The Google Home Max adds a 3.5mm jack, and a USB-C port. The Google Home Max uses it's Cast technology to push audio to it, where Apple, naturally, uses AirPlay -- with AirPlay 2 coming "later this year, presumably when iOS 11.3 launches to the public.




    Audio codec support is equivalent between the two devices, with Apple finally embracing FLAC in the HomePod, at least in part.

    Two 4.5-inch dual voice-coil woofers are on the Google Home Max, supported by two 0.7-in "custom tweeters," according to the company.

    Apple has gone with a "high-excursion woofer with custom amplifier" and an "array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier." Boosting that, there are low-frequency calibration microphones for bass correction, beamforming to adjust to the size and composition of the space, and "transparent studio-level dynamic processing."

    Digging past the buzzwords and tricky phrases, Apple has gone with a system that can conform to a space better. The horn-loaded tweeters fire independently of each other with the custom amplifiers dedicated to each one, with the A8 controlling the audio from the array on-the-fly for the best possible sound that the track can deliver.

    Apple's beamforming inclusion on the HomePod has riled up the audiophile community a bit -- they remain surprised at how the technology normally limited to super-high end equipment is on a $350 consumer-level device. It's not clear if the layman will get much from that, but as with any sound quality assessment, it greatly varies from person to person.

    Google hasn't gone into much detail on its microphones. Apple, however, has, with the HomePod having a six microphone array for far-field Siri. Given that the HomePod is designed to be plunked anywhere in the space, while the Google Home Max is really intended to go up against a wall, it's not clear how much difference this makes in the real world.

    The Home Max has the ability to play multi-room audio and multiple units can be paired for stereo pairing now -- but, as with AirPlay 2 support, we have to wait for it for the HomePod.


    image

    Not yet an audio Thunderdome

    Audio quality is not just a function of hardware slapped together. We're not going to declare a winner, here, as we don't have a HomePod to listen to -- but there are clearly prime candidates for either device based on other factors.

    All of the reviewers of the Google Home Max say that the sound quality is excellent -- and for a $400 speaker, that had better be the case. But, Google Assistant integration without it being your major driver on your smartphone is problematic, and not fully baked.

    Apple is unapologetic about Siri being lobotomized for the HomePod -- for now. But, by itself, and without handing off to a tethered device, Apple Music subscribers can play just about anything they want on the HomePod without "pushing" the music from a device.




    HomePod connectivity will open up a bit when AirPlay 2 support comes to the device. But, that day is not today, and is a nebulous "later this year." The same goes for pairing to HomePods for stereo -- but it can be argued that if you're looking at doling out the cash for a pair of HomePods or Google Home Max devices for stereo pairing, it's time to look into receiver and speaker setups.

    So, the Google Home Max is shooting at those fully bought into the Mountain View search engine's way of life. The same with the HomePod. Pick your walled garden -- the only difference is the height of the wall, be it four-foot or six.

    So, which?

    This is the part where you expect AppleInsider to dive in and wholeheartedly recommend the HomePod as the one speaker to rule them all. But, we're not going to -- and we're not going to declare Google's offering the ultimate winner, either.

    For most of us, we use Apple products not as a religion, but as the right tool for the job. Cupertino's paladins will choose as they always do, and so will the Google devout.

    What remains is the rest of us, making decisions about what will work the best with our devices. In this case, with sound quality being as subjective as it is and dependent on literally hundreds of factors and not all of them controllable by the speaker hardware itself, it comes down to the other features of the devices in question.




    The Google Home Max has other inputs, to allow users to, say, plug in an iPhone 6s through a headphone jack and make a rudimentary Siri-powered smart speaker with a Google label. The converse is not true -- connecting your Android phone to the HomePod with a cable just isn't going to happen.

    That all said, the HomePod is the ultimate choice for the Apple Music subscriber. Don't even bother looking elsewhere unless you're looking at stereo separation not relying on bouncing the audio off walls, where things get a little murky when you throw receivers into the mix at that price point.

    But, like we said, the choice is less clear-cut if you're platform agnostic. We recommend a side-by-side listening when the HomePod ships, if you can wrangle it.

    Hearts and minds

    Google is looking for a further toe-hold in houses with the Home Max, another set of ears for Google to use to listen to its users. Whether you think that's for good or for evil is up to you. Apple couldn't care less about that, and will happily skim the cream off the top of the market the same way it seizes the majority of the smartphone industry's profits, or take a bit more cash from the Apple faithful fully bought into its services and ecosystem.




    Based on assessments of the HomePod by audiophile communities, the HomePod looks to have jammed a great deal of high-end technology found in thousand-dollar boutique systems into a consumer-priced device. Whether or not Apple's choices pan out in real life remain to be seen.

    But, both the HomePod, and the Google Home Max sit in a difficult position. They're both trying to convince smartphone users who have historically listened to music on earbuds that they want to dole out $350 or $400 for a single speaker to listen, now.

    When the iPod launched, on this very website's forums, there were complainers that they didn't see how it fit into Apple's vision, or how they would use it. For most of us, author included, it took using one for a few hours to push us over the edge.

    We suspect that the HomePod, and the Google Home Max, are facing a similar challenge, and only time will ultimately tell how well they do -- but we're not worried about the fate of either company because of it. Neither the HomePod nor the Google Home Max are products that were designed to make one ecosystem more appealing than the other, but we're glad they both exist.
    This was probably one of the best WELL WRITTEN, FAIR and Balanced articles here. Thank you Appleinsider for your honestly! I agree glad are both here, as well as many third party options. Since I use other devices besides apple, and in particular Spotify then the Apple option is already out, as long with the fact of lacking Bluetooth connection.  
    avon b7muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 12 of 36
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 3,890member
    fallenjt said:
    gatorguy said:
    fallenjt said:
    Some testers on YouTube confirmed that...HomeMax got sound distortion at high volume. 
    While other testers and owners claim it does not.  Personally I've not tested nor even heard one.
    The tester was unbiased. His YouTube channel was to test electronic devices including speakers with the same audio source side by side playing the same songs. He then gives them away to subscribers. He didn't own any of them. I'd rather trust his reviews than any other owner.
    Here is one of them:



    Here is the thing, I know personally I am not good at measuring total sound quality, I know what sounds good to me. I have a friend who is an audiophile and he can hear things I can not and he listens for very specific things. As such, review like these are not worth much and many people out there can not tell the difference between good and bad sound. Testing sound is like testing displays. Humans are very poor at doing analysis which everyone can agree on. Some people have very poor hearing, some people have better or worse low end hearing as well as high end. younger people can hear higher frequencies then older people. Back in the day kids use to use ring tones which were about 12Khz since most adults can not hear frequencies above 12KHz. If something is using their ear to tell you which one is better beware it their personal opinion it may have not baring on what you think is good or bad.

    To do a sound test, you need a sound spectrum analyzer and you need to test in different environments. This guy used his phone, do you really think it is a good device to measure sound. Also do you trust this guys ears how do not know he did not damage his hearing by blasting music into his ears, and what about the microphone he is using. How do you know his line out of his phone does not have some level of distortion is impedance which does not match well with any or all speakers.
    edited February 1 cgWerks
  • Reply 13 of 36
    airnerdairnerd Posts: 394member
    Most important will be what ecosystem you have.  If you have all Apple devices (phones, watches, TV) then Google isn't the best fit for you and vice-versa.  

    I'm sure both will meet the needs of the average homeowner and will be tailored to whatever peripherals you have.  
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 36
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 1,908administrator
    Once again, if you can't see your comment, it has been deleted for violating the Commenter's Guidelines, conveniently linked at the bottom of the page. 

    For some of you, it isn't your first deletion. We are keeping track.
    hoodslidepatchythepiratelolliverbluefire1watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 36
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 17,800member
    Notsofast said:
    Good to emphasize that everything that the Google speaker hears is uploaded, unencrypted to Google's servers
    You started off wrong...
    Apple's HomePod, Google Home and Amazon Echo all encrypt the voice recordings that are sent to their servers.

    What about this "recording everything you say" claim? All three require a wake-phase/hotword be recognised before uploading anything too. They all work the same way in that regard. But what if you really don't want your smart-speaker "listening" at all, nada, for whatever reason? There's a hacker-proof physical switch to turn off the microphones on two of the three companies smart-speakers. Use it and zero worries.   

    As for the rest both Apple and Google handle your data in the same manner and share it under the same scenarios. If you aren't comfortable with Google having any of your data because "Law enforcement!" you'll be no happier with Apple. You are right,  if that's a problem "Choose wisely". 
    edited February 1 muthuk_vanalingambeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 16 of 36
    tzeshantzeshan Posts: 1,589member
    Google is desperately trying to follow Apple in every foot step.  Why call it Home Max? None of the words is related to sound. It is only indirectly related to sound through Apple HomePod. LOL
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 36
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 17,800member
    tzeshan said:
    Google is desperately trying to follow Apple in every foot step.  Why call it Home Max? None of the words is related to sound. It is only indirectly related to sound through Apple HomePod. LOL
    ummm...
    The original speaker was named Google Home, 2016, and still being sold. No HomePod was in sight.  Home Mini followed last year and Home Max after that.  The Google Home line of speakers.
    In another 10 days you can listen to Apple HomePod :)
    edited February 1 muthuk_vanalingamsaltyzip
  • Reply 18 of 36
    HomePod is also a part of the HomeKit ecosystem.   I wouldn't buy HomePod specifically for that, just like I didn't buy AppleTV specifically for that. But once I had it, and I found a need for a little home automation (being able to turn off downstairs lights without going downstairs), I realized HomeKit was the quickest/easiest route to go because I already had the AppleTV.  I think Apple are hoping the same will go for HomePod: it'll drive up adoption of HomeKit simply by just 'being there already'.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 36
    chasmchasm Posts: 372member
    To me, there are three clear selling points for the HomePod against its high-end competitors in this space: 1. Doesn’t record/store/sell data about you/everything you say. For me this is a very big deal, but I freely admit most consumers will not care about it that much unless Apple makes a big point of it in the ads. 2. Works with Apple Music natively, can handle (contrary to some claims) any other music service through AirPlay. Point to Sonos and Google for handling more streaming services natively, but 99.9 percent of owners are only going to be subscribed to one of them, so handling multiple is not really a selling point — but for customers not on Apple Music, this is a minor point to the others. For those who are on Apple Music, this is a notable minus for the others. 3. Unknown at the moment, but I would bet that the HomePod will win most audio tests thanks to its more intelligent relocation adjustment and its lighter weight (the former is probably not a big deal, since few owners will be moving around a lot, but the weight could be a big advantage if people bring it to parties and gatherings One factor that I think is great among all three of the quality offerings from Sonos, Google, and Apple is that they are plugged in — so no reason for Bluetooth to sleep to save battery. As much as I like my UE Megaboom (and likewise with most other BT speakers), unless you are continuously streaming music to it, it goes to sleep after five minutes, making it unsuitable for a presentation speaker.
    lollivercornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 36
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,162member
    There's plenty of room in this market segment for both Apple and Google to very successful and each have substantial loyal customer bases. Heck, there should be dozens of choices at different price points in this particular product segment. The high fidelity audio market has been around for many decades and it has many more than two strong makers. Why is it that some people think that everything other than the brand that they personally prefer should be drummed out of the market or roll over and die? What's wrong with just enjoying what you like, basking in its greatness (for you), and just not giving a crap whether someone else likes something different than you do? Competition is good, and never more so than in markets that cater to personal tastes and preferences. Thankfully this article makes this point very clear. Well done AI.
    gatorguymuthuk_vanalingamchasm
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