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Erika Rawes / Lifewire
Exceptional voice recognition
Environmentally friendly materials
No Apple Music
Design isn’t really exciting
Few smart home upgrades
The Nest Audio is a winner in the audio department making it a boon for music lovers, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of smart home improvements.
We purchased the Nest Audio so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
The best smart speakers offer excellent sound quality and useful smart home features. Google Nest has put out quite a few speakers and hubs since it first introduced the original Google Home in 2016, but the brand doesn’t update its smart speakers as frequently as Amazon updates its Echo lineup. When a new Google Nest speaker hits the market, we expect to see a lot of new features and hardware updates.
Google Nest recently came out with the Nest Audio—a $100 speaker that is supposed to sound significantly better than the original Google Home, with 50 percent stronger bass and 75 percent louder sound, according to Google Nest. Does the Nest Audio really sound all that much better than other speakers in its price range? Is it worth an upgrade to the Nest Audio if you already own a smart speaker? I tested the Nest Audio to find out, evaluating its design, setup, sound, voice recognition, and features.
The Nest Audio looks completely different from the Google Home. The original Google Home resembled one of those battery-operated scented oil diffusers, with a cylindrical shape and hard plastic covering much of the surface. Many of the newer speakers have less hard plastic and more grille, and the Nest Audio has an all-grille design. It also ditches the cylindrical look for a rounded-off rectangular shape. Four LED lights on the front of the device light up to show the speaker is active.
You can use voice commands to control the speaker’s functions, but it also has capacitive touch controls. Tap the left side to turn the volume down, tap the right to increase the volume, and tap the front to play/pause. There’s also a slider switch to turn off the mic when you want to make sure the Nest Audio isn’t listening.
While the speaker looks sleek and aesthetically pleasing, the design didn’t exactly wow me. I recently tested the new Echo, and I was more impressed with its spherical shape, which looks more futuristic and eye-catching. I had a guest come by during testing, and both the Echo and Google Nest were sitting in the same room. My guest enthusiastically asked me about the Echo, but they didn’t seem to notice the Nest Audio.
On the plus side, the Nest Audio is sturdy, and you can feel it’s made with quality components. It sits just under seven inches tall and slightly under five inches wide, with a depth of a little over three inches. It comes in five different color options: chalk, charcoal, sand, sage, or sky. I tested the chalk color. It looks pretty good in my living room, and it will match just about any home decor. Combine that with an environmentally friendly enclosure made from 70 percent recycled plastic, and you have a well-designed speaker.
The Nest Audio sounds extremely clear, and I could hear each lyric, instrument, and audio effect.
Setting up the Nest Audio should take less than 10 minutes if you already have the Google Home app downloaded. If not, you’ll need to download the app on your mobile device. Then, you just plug in the speaker and add the Nest Audio to your account. You can even get Google Home on PC if you really want to.
There are a few things to look out for: you’ll need to make sure you have Bluetooth turned on, you need to make sure you have local network turned on in your phone’s app settings, and you want to have your phone connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the speaker, but the app will walk you through all of this with prompts. It will also help you set up features like voice match, music streaming, and more.
To evaluate sound quality on smart speakers like Nest Audio, I use audio applications like sound tools, but I rely more on how powerful and pleasant the speaker sounds to my ear. I have three go-to test songs that include a range of low, mid, and high tones: “Titanium” by David Guetta featuring Sia, “Chains” by Nick Jonas, and “Comedown” by Bush. I also listen to a few different streaming services, as each service can sometimes put out a better or worse-sounding track (with different bitrates). The Nest Audio supports Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, and Deezer. It doesn’t currently support Apple Music or Amazon Music.
The Nest Audio has a 75 mm (about 3-inch) woofer and a single 19 mm (0.75-inch) tweeter, along with audio tuning software that helps promote cleaner, clearer audio in any room. The speaker has Ambient IQ and Media EQ technology, which makes it so the speaker can adapt to the environment and the content you’re listening to, allowing it to make volume and tuning adjustments that promote better sound.
Usually, I’d ding Google Nest smart speakers because they lack a 3.5mm audio jack. However, this isn’t really necessary with the Nest Audio. Multi-room music lets you group Nest devices and play the same music on different speakers simultaneously or move music from one speaker to another as you travel through your home. Plus, if you have two Nest Audios, you can pair them together for stereo sound.
The speaker can adapt to the environment and the content you’re listening to.
Overall, the Nest Audio sounds extremely clear, and I could hear each lyric, instrument, and audio effect. At the beginning of the song “Chains” shortly after the lyrics begin, there’s a sound effect that almost sounds like a door closing. I could hear that effect loud and clear. The drum beats sounded punchy, and the music was loud enough to play throughout the entire first level of my home. There were moments when the bass sounded slightly scratchy, like during the chorus, but I was impressed with the audio considering the price of the speaker. Everything sounds noticeably better than the original Google Home.
The Echo (4th Gen) has six far-field microphones—three more than the Nest Audio. However, the Nest Audio more consistently recognized my voice commands. When I stood at equal distance intervals from each speaker, the Nest Audio could hear my commands more often than the Echo. It could hear commands even when music was playing loudly, when the TV was playing, or when there were conversations happening in the room. On a few occasions, I’d have to raise my voice to get Google Assistant to hear me, but the Nest Audio has better voice recognition than most smart speakers in its price range.
The Nest Audio is powered by Google Assistant—the same Assistant you get on other Google Nest smart speakers. Backed by a quad-core A53 1.8 GHz processor and high performance-machine learning hardware engine, the Nest Audio’s Google Assistant is highly intelligent. It provides useful answers to questions, and it will ask for clarification if it doesn’t understand what you need.
For instance, I asked the speaker for information on mid-century modern home decor, and instead of saying “I don’t know that,” the Assistant asked me follow-up questions to see exactly what information I was looking for. In addition to answering questions, you can use Google Assistant for so many tasks. You can check the news, check the weather, make calls, check messages, and so much more.
Voice match technology is useful in helping the Assistant to differentiate between different members of your household. This feature also helps the Assistant tell the difference between your voice and that of someone on television. Interpreter mode is an especially helpful feature that can translate conversations in different languages in real-time.
I had a guest come by during testing, and both the Echo and Google Nest were sitting in the same room. My guest enthusiastically asked me about the Echo, but they didn’t seem to notice the Nest Audio.
For those who prefer Google Assistant over other smart assistants like Siri and Alexa, this is an excellent option. It provides enough in the way of design and hardware improvements over the original Google Home to be worth the upgrade, and anyone new to the world of smart speakers will appreciate what the Nest Audio has to offer.
Amazon packed a lot of features into the 4th-gen Echo, combining the Echo Plus and Echo into one cheaper device. The $100 Echo has a built-in Zigbee hub, temperature sensor, and a second tweeter. The speakers are also front-firing on the Echo, which makes the audio sound a bit better, especially when playing music. Amazon’s assistant, Alexa, can control more smart devices than Google Assistant (around 140k for Alexa vs. 50k for Google Assistant). The Alexa app is also smart-home-centric, allowing you to easily create routines. The Google Home app lets you create routines, but it’s not as intuitive.
If you’re already an Amazon Echo user, you’ll probably prefer the new Echo over the Nest Audio. New smart speaker users focused on smart home control may also prefer the Echo. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a Google Assistant-powered speaker, you’ll be happy with the Nest Audio.
A quality speaker with clean sound and an intelligent assistant.
The Nest Audio is a worthwhile addition to any smart home that uses Google Assistant. It's improvements to music represents a big jump over the Google Home and its machine learning capabilities are more impressive than most rival voice assistants, though it doesn’t bring much new to the table in terms of smart home functionality.
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