While the JBL Link smart speaker lineup includes four different speakers – the Link 10, the Link 20, the Link 300 and the Link 500 – it’s the top of the line Link 500 that we’ll compare with the Google Home Max, today, to see if you are better off with the Google offering, or whether you should go for a Google Assistant-enabled third party option.
First off, just like the Google Home Max, the JBL Link 500 costs $400, while the first obvious difference between the two is the form factor, the Link 500 being slightly larger.
Like the Home Max and the other three speakers in the JBL lineup, the Link 500 also has a fabric outer shell and it comes in two color options, black or white.
While the Google Home Max has a touch bar on the top which only allows you to adjust your volume and play or pause music, the Link 500 boasts a couple more top buttons that, obviously, allow you to do a little more than the Max.
A dedicated button allows you to activate Google Assistant, the absence of which on the Max is somewhat hard to understand.
Double pressing the Play| Pause button allows you to skip a track directly from the speaker; again, something that the Google Home Max doesn’t afford its users.
A dedicated Bluetooth button on the Link 500 is a handy option to have, especially when there isn’t any WiFi connectivity available unless you want to use it just for the heck of it.
And then, finally, there’s the microphone mute button; press that and the Google Assistant’s female voice tells you “the mic is muted.”
Now, coming to the front of the speaker, you will find white LED notification lights that glow when Google Assistant is listening to you just like it happens on the Home Max, and at the bottom – this time unlike the Max – there’s that ubiquitous WiFi indicator light synonymous with the entire JBL Link lineup.
While the Google Home Max boasts an AUX jack and a USB Type C port, the same can’t be said about the JBL Link 500. Why JBL chose not to add these handy ports to the Link 500 is a bit hard to fathom; having them would have been an out and out no-brainer.
At 7.7 pounds, the Link 500 is notably lighter than the Max which weighs in at a burly 12 pounds.
In so far as the Google Assistant’s performance on the Link 500 is concerned, it is just as spot on and speedy as the Home Max, or, for that matter, any other Google Home speaker.
Now let’s get down to the real thing, something that matters the most when you are in the process of deciding the best smartspeaker for your home – the audio quality.
While the Google Home Max is equipped with dual 4.5-inch woofers and dual 0.7-inch tweeters, the JBL Link 500 has dual 3.5-inch woofers and dual 0.8-inch tweeters. It also has an exposed passive radiator on the back that really pulsates when the bass is going big time.
At full volume, both the JBL Link 500 and Google Home Max dwell in the low 80s decibel range and the sound distortion is also about the same.
However, the Max is just a tad louder than the Link 500 at max volume. So, if loudness is your thing, there’s not much to differentiate between these two speakers.
The Google Home Max has a V-shaped sound signature with much emphasis on the highs and the bass while the vocals and mids are somewhat subdued.
The JBL Link 500, on the other hand, has a more evened out sound signature with a clear emphasis on the vocals, and while the bass is also good, it is not as assertive as it is on the Max. Also, the lows don’t resonate as strongly as they do on the Max.
While both the speakers sound exceptionally good, the Google Home Max is the fuller of the two and, hence, better suited to pop, hip-hop, rap, or dance listeners. However, if big bass is not your thing and you prefer a flatter sound signature, then you’d be better off buying the JBL Link 500.
It is always great to have choices in hardware and there is no denying the fact the JBL Link 500 is indeed a worthy Google Assistant-enabled speaker, but don’t forget that third-party hardware often encounters delays when it comes to the latest upgrades in features.
Another disadvantage with the JBL line of speakers is the fact that you can’t make phone calls like you would be able to do with the Max.
Plus, with the JBL Link 500 you can’t use the broadcast feature nor can you adjust the equalization, like you can on the Google Home Max.
Unless third-party smartspeakers, including the JBL Link 500, keep abreast with all the latest Google Home features, it is unlikely you’ll see them create the kind of niche they would like to, unless they start selling dirt cheap.
I, personally, would recommend the Google Home Max – regardless of how good the JBL Link 500 may be – for the simple reason that using Google’s own hardware would mean access to the newest features as soon as Google drops them.
However, if you are not a fan of the V-shaped sound signature that Max has to offer, and if you are not willing to compromise on that, then the JBL Link 500 should be your automatic choice.
Looks-wise, the Google Home Max is better, but again, that too is a matter of personal choice.