One of my favorite aspects of having a connected home is the ever-present smart speaker. I’m all-in on Google Assistant and appreciate having its capabilities in nearly every room of my house.
What started with the Google Home back in 2016 has evolved and iterated internally and through partnerships with other hardware brands.
Google’s own devices have gone through a few changes, perhaps most notably switching from the Google brand to the Nest brand. Moreover, it has expanded from a single speaker to a number of options, including some with displays.
The newest member of the Google and Nest family, the Nest Audio, arrives in time for the all-important fourth quarter buying season. Priced just $99.99, its closest counterpart is the original Google Home.
Having spent around five days with the Nest Audio, and getting a good sense of its capabilities, I’m ready to share my review.
The Nest Audio looks right at home in Google’s 2020 portfolio; the unassuming and modern design looks good in any environment. Sold in five colors, you’ll find the speaker in charcoal, chalk, sky, sand, and sage.
Similar to the Nest Mini, the Nest Audio is made from sustainable fabric that comes from plastic bottles. For every one speaker sold it offsets 1.2 plastic bottles.
The Nest Audio resembles a large bar of soap standing on edge. It’s a dense unit to be sure, and weighs more than expected.
I’ve only had the Nest Audio in place for a few days, but I can attest that it sounds terrific. It gets loud and has no problem filling a room with music. In fact, I’ve already considered taking it out of the office to take it home. Given the proximity of other building tenants I’ll never get the chance to play it at maximum volumes.
One of the first things I came to appreciate is how good it sounds at low volume levels. If you turn music down in a car or with a standard speaker, you’ll likely only hear highs and vocals.
I love Paul Oakenfold, Pink Floyd, Run the Jewels, and R.E.M. but none of them sounds all that good when you’re only getting the upper range. Really, it can sound annoying when you’re just hearing parts of cymbals, guitar, and/or synths.
Music begs to be listened to at loud volume levels but that’s not always possible. You can’t crank it when doing the dishes when other family members are just a room away. And just like crappy Wi-Fi, sometimes it’s better when you don’t even bother.
The Nest Audio is a different experience. I’m finding that everything sound crisp, clear, and even, regardless of volume. Lows are represented with bass showing up in all genres of music. It’s hard to express just how much that means to me.
The Nest team spent quite a bit of time working on improving the hardware, adding smarter sensors and better speaker components. That’s definitely noticeable as I find the promise of being 75% louder than the Google Home an accurate claim.
Likewise, the 50% bass boost is also apparent when you turn it up to loud levels. There’s a difference between loud bass and clear bass; the Nest Audio has both.
The Nest Audio is also packed with software features and smarts. Take for instance the Media EQ which adapts to the content you’re listening to and adjusts audio settings even if only slightly. It may be a placebo effect or me looking for it, but I think audiobooks sound different than music. The sound profile is just… different.
Ambient EQ, another setting, works on the fly and makes it easier to hear your Google Assistant, podcast, or news in noisier environments or where spoken word might be harder to discern.
There’s also a dedicated machine learning chip tucked inside. Add to that Google Assistant and you’ve got an incredibly smart speaker that learns from you and your usage.
The Nest Audio can be paired with another unit to create a true stereo sound. Similarly, you can group it with other Nest devices and TV (via Chromecast) to provide sound throughout the house.
The buttons aren’t obvious at first blush, but they don’t take all that long to learn. The Google Home app does a good job of showing where they are and how they work. If you’ve used a Nest Mini, you’re already hip to it.
For those worried about their speaker listening in on every conversation, or for those who don’t necessarily need the voice commands, there is a physical mute button on the rear. Toggling it flashes orange lights on the front, giving you a visual confirmation of the setting.
I was sold on the Google Home ($129) when it launched in 2016. I still am. The speaker still has a prominent placement in my house and I dig the little colors and lights when I call on it.
The idea of getting something smarter, louder, and less expensive only makes too much sense. After a few days with the Nest Audio I am happy to report that it’s just as good in practice as it is on paper.
I’ve yet to get rid of any Google Home, Google Mini, Nest Mini, or any other devices in my house. I shuffle them around the home, add them to the office, and create different groups.
The Nest Audio will likely replace my Nest Hub Max because I don’t need the screen in its current placement, plus the volume levels are nearly identical to me.
If you’ve yet to get started with a connected speaker, I would definitely recommend starting with the Nest Audio. It’s priced right, fills any room with a quality sound that’s natural and consistent, and looks cool, too.
The Nest Audio is available for $99.99 in Google’s Store and through other retailers across the US, Canada, and India. Look for it at retail stores like Target and Best Buy and in 21 countries starting October 15.