Nest Audio review: The Google Home successor has serious audio chops

Improving on the original Google Home in every way, the Nest Audio is the new $100 smart speaker to beat.

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Music and audio quality

Of course, one of the Nest Audio’s primary upgrades compared to the Google Home is—you guessed it—is audio performance. Google says the Nest Audio should be about 75 percent louder than the Home, while delivering 50 percent deeper bass along with better overall clarity.

While the discontinued Google Home had a single 50mm full-range driver and dual 50mm passive radiators to enhance its bass response, the Nest Audio comes equipped with a 75mm paper-cone mid-woofer and a 19mm textile-dome tweeter driven by a pair of Class D amplifiers. A wave guide enclrcling the tweeter helps to spread higher frequencies evenly around the room (bass is generally nondirectional). The Nest Audio’s DAC can handle audio with up to 24-bit resolution and sampling rates up to 48kHz.

google nest audio drivers Google

The Nest Audio comes equipped with a 75mm paper-cone mid-woofer and a 19mm textile-dome tweeter.

Now, I don’t have a Google Home speaker on-hand for an A/B comparison, but I can say that for a $100 powered speaker, smart or otherwise, the Nest Audio punches well above its weight. Just to be clear, we still think that the three-year-old Google Home Max and the Amazon Echo Studio, which supports 3D audio (including Dolby Atmos), deliver better sound. But at $300 and $200 respectively, the Home Max and Echo Studio are both much pricier than the Nest Audio.

Teeing up Carlos Kleiber’s legendary recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon, I was impressed not only by the detail of the strings and the punchiness of the timpani but also the attention to the mid-range; in other words, we’re talking full, detailed, deep (but not overly boomy or muddy) and surprisingly well-balanced sound, which you generally don’t hear from a $100 speaker.

I also sampled the title track from Bruce Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad, and I liked the natural sound of The Boss’s spare vocals, the reediness of his harmonica, and warmth of the synthesizers. The driving beats of Ciara’s “Level Up” sounded deep but pleasingly tight, while “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings was impressively crisp and full-bodied, even when I cranked the volume. That’s high praise for a smart speaker in this price range.

Besides the design of its drivers, the Nest Audio employs a trio of audio technologies to boost its sound in different scenarios. An Ambient IQ feature ups the volume of Google Assistant (but not music) depending on the background noise, which I noticed when the Assistant raised its voice to compete with a whirring fan. Media EQ tunes the sound according to whether you’re listening to tunes, podcast episodes, or Google Assistant, while a bass extension feature favors lower frequencies when you dial down the volume.

The Nest Audio is a monophonic speaker, but you can pair it with a second Nest Audio for stereo performance. You can also ask Google Assistant to transfer your music from, say, the Nest Audio in your den to the Nest Hub Max in your kitchen, or you can add the Nest Audio to a Google speaker group to pipe tunes throughout your house. During most of my testing, I had the Nest Audio in a speaker group with a Nest Hub Max in my nearby kitchen, and I didn’t hear any latency issues between the two devices while they were playing the same music.

Like Google’s other smart speakers, the Nest Audio is compatible with music-streaming services as YouTube Music (naturally), Spotify, Pandora, and Deezer, and you can “cast” audio to it via Chromecast-enabled apps, including the higher-resolution music services Qobuz and Tidal.

Nest Audio or Amazon Echo?

Naturally, the $100 Nest Audio invites comparison with the $100 Echo, Amazon’s flagship smart speaker that just got a spherical revamp. That said, it’s tough to stack them against each other given that we’ve neither seen (not in person, anyway) nor heard the new Echo, which isn’t slated to ship until later this month.

We can tick off several empirical differences between the two speakers, starting with the most obvious: the Nest Audio is powered by Google Assistant, while the Echo runs on Alexa. Each of those voice assistants has its pros and cons—the Assistant has the edge on sheer knowledge thanks to Google, while Alexa (which is compatible with more than 100,000 smart home devices, versus about 50,000 for Google Assistant) is tops when it comes to smart home compatibility—but in the end, the deciding factor may be whether you’re already invested in one assistant or the other. If, for example, you already have a few Google Nest Minis scattered around the house, you’ll probably want to go for a Google Assistant-powered Nest Audio rather than the Echo and Alexa.

Other differences include the fact that the Echo has prominent physical volume and mic mute buttons rather than capacitive ones, while the Echo has twin tweeters that deliver stereo sound, compared to the Nest Audio’s mono sound. Now, it’s questionable whether the Echo’s drivers can offer much in the way of stereo separation within such a small housing, but again, we can’t pass judgement on the Echo’s audio quality until we’ve actually heard it.

The Echo also has a built-in Zigbee home hub, allowing it to control Zigbee-enabled devices like Philips Hue smart lights, and it will also act as a bridge for Sidewalk, Amazon’s upcoming long-range, low-power neighborhood network. That said, without also supporting the other big smart home standard—Z-Wave—the Echo isn’t the smart home ace in the hole that it could have been.

Again, though, we won’t render a verdict in the matter of Nest Audio vs. Echo until we’ve spent quality time with the new Amazon speaker.

Bottom line

Improving on the original Google Home in every way, the Nest Audio is the new $100 smart speaker to beat. It has great sound for a speaker in its price range, a handsome, homey design, intuitive controls (once you know they’re there), and Google Assistant, which gets a boost thanks to an on-device machine learning chip. We’re eager to compare the Nest Audio to the new, $100 Amazon Echo, which is set to arrive later in October. But for those already invested in the Google Assistant ecosystem, the Nest Audio is easy to recommend.

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At a Glance
  • Improving on the original Google Home in every way, the Google Nest Audio is the new $100 smart speaker to beat.

    Pros

    • Great sound for a $100 smart speaker
    • Handsome rectangular design (it grows on you)
    • Google Assistant aided by on-device AI chip

    Cons

    • Google Assistant’s smart home compatibility falls short of Alexa’s
    • Capacitive touch controls and mic mute switch are well hidden
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