In the home speaker segment, Google has really found a solid niche that has served to bring the Google Assistant into millions of homes in a simple, affordable way. Starting with the slightly-odd Google Home that began the Google-made smart speaker effort, Google has continued to hone and perfect its speaker offerings each year since. The Google Home mini was their first breakout speaker – mainly because of its small size and low price – and the Google Home Max showed that Google was able to build and deliver a premium sound experience even if the price was a tad high.
The caveats began to diminish with the Nest Mini as it kept the price low, the size on par with the Home Mini that preceded it, and increased the sound quality to good enough for most. With the permanent price drop of the Google Home Max to $299, Google had a solid speaker lineup missing just one thing: a middle ground. Enter the Nest Audio, a $99 speaker that is miles better at audio than the Nest Mini, not quite up to snuff with the Google Home Max, and an easy recommend at $99 for nearly anyone in the market for a smart speaker.
We’ve covered this before, but there are a few technical details worth noting with Google’s latest speaker. First, you’ll quickly notice that the entire exterior is completely covered with the same recycled fabric that Google has used since the Google Home Mini and it makes for a quiet, fits-anywhere aesthetic that I’m neither wowed by or upset over. It gets out of the way, looks fine, and the fabric is transparent to touch and to audio both in and out. That fabric also comes in five colors: sage, sand, sky, chalk and charcoal.
Apart from the fabric, the outside has 3 touch points on the top that act as the volume adjustments and the play/pause button. If you’ve used the Nest Mini, this is all very familiar. Around the back there is a lone hardware interactive point in the mic mute switch that does what you’d expect and mutes the onboard microphone.
Inside, you get a 3-mic array that is absolutely lights-out at detecting both near and far-field voice commands, 2 distinct speakers (75mm woofer and 19mm tweeter) that produce 75% more volume than the original Google Home and 50% more bass, and the built-in version of the Google Assistant. Additionally, on the software front, Google claims the Nest Audio adapts to the music you listen to, auto-mixing itself to match the style of the audio it is delivering. Beyond that, there are really no technical specs that matter at all to users. This is, after all, a speaker through and through, so it’s job is to hear your commands, respond quickly, and sound good while doing it all.
The actual experience
The number of mics or speakers on a device do very little when describing how a smart speaker will actually function. We can talk passive radiators and magnet sizes all day and never really give you any idea of how good something sounds. If you want more technical details, Google’s store listing for this device has plenty of measurements like that, but I get the feeling most of you reading this aren’t so inclined to just hear technical specifications on something you are looking to basically just experience.
While I can’t give you the actual experience in a video or an article, what I can do is tell you about how much I’ve enjoyed having this speaker around. While here at the office, I admit I wasn’t overly excited by it. We have large rooms and high ceilings, so the Nest Audio felt a bit lost in the larger spaces, especially considering we are quite used to hearing the pleasing tones of the Google Home Max on most days.
Once I got the Nest Audio in my home, however, things changed. Standard ceiling heights and normal room sizes are where this speaker comes alive. Bass was rich, mids were punchy, and the high end afforded clarity that few speakers I’ve had in my home could match. Simply put: this thing sounds pretty freaking amazing in my home. On top of the sound quality, the coverage was also top-notch. In the lower-level of my house, all the rooms bleed into one another, and I was very happy with the wide output of the Nest Audio and how it sounded the same from basically any angle in the room.
Google Assistant commands were not only picked up the first time I tried each attempt, they were also answered quite a bit quicker than the original Google Home. With the on-device Assistant, the Nest Audio doesn’t need to ping Google’s servers nearly as often, resulting in a better overall Assistant experience.
While we didn’t give it a try up to this point, Google is also touting this speaker’s ability to instantly pair up with another Nest Audio to quickly create stereo pairs for added volume, overall sound, and a full stereo image as well. We plan on having another Nest Audio to attempt to get this set up in the near future, but creating speaker groups in the Google Home app has always been simple and I’d expect this stereo pairing will be as well.
On the whole, I think Google has completely delivered with this speaker. At $99, there is great value to be had if you are looking for both a smart home control device and a great speaker for listening to music, books or podcasts. There are few speakers that cost this little that will sound this good and fewer that come with the on-device Google Assistant on board. While I still prefer the massive sound of the Google Home Max in the office, I think the Nest Audio is a perfect fit for most homes, and if you are even remotely interested, you’ll love the experience of owning one.