Feature-wise, Nest Audio is basically identical to Nest Mini and other Google Assistant speakers, so what I really wanted to know was how it sounds. My initial impression was not particularly positive. Out of the box it sounded a bit muddy, especially at lower volumes. Notably, the mids and highs mixed together, although the bass performance was clearly better than what you’d get from the original Google Home or Nest Mini. This is thanks to the dedicated 75 mm woofer and 1
For context, I spend most of my days listening to a single Apple HomePod ($ 300), a pair of Google Home Max speakers ($ 600), or a pair of Sonos Play: 1 speakers (Play: 1 is no longer available. , but two of the Sonos One SL soundly identical cost $ 360). Expecting similar sound from a $ 100 speaker that’s a lot smaller than that isn’t really fair.
After spending some time with Nest Audio, I gained an appreciation for its sound quality. For a relatively small single speaker, it manages to deliver drastically better audio than what you’ll get from options like the original Google Home, Nest Mini, or Amazon’s old Echo Dots (haven’t heard the new one yet). As a speaker meant to be affordable while delivering good music quality at the same time, I think Google has hit the mark.
Turning up the volume to between 50 and 80 percent gave a noticeable punch and greater clarity to electro-pop like Chvrches or The Japanese House, and did a good job of reproducing the different layered guitars from the Metallica, although not stereo speaker. A delicate song like “Beatrice” by Dizzy built on a wonderful crescendo with the voice coming loud and clear. The unusual instrumentation of Gustavo Santaololla’s score for The Last of Us Part II it was another good test, as the baritone and bass used throughout had enough bass to get power. Overall, the presence of the bass is not massive, but it is obvious.
That said, Nest Audio can’t compete with just one Sonos One. When tuned properly using the company’s TruePlay algorithm, the One is much louder and delivers fuller, more distinct sound. But again, we’re talking about a speaker that costs twice as much. What Google gets here for $ 100 in a compact space is impressive and far exceeds what it did in 2016 with the Google Home. But if you are an avid music listener you might benefit from a bigger speaker.
Google’s Home Max and Apple’s HomePod dynamically listen and tune their sound, which prevents bass from becoming excessively boomy when a speaker is propped against a wall, for example. The Nest Audio, on the other hand, doesn’t continuously tune by itself. Instead, Google tuned the speaker in its labs and test houses using data from more than 2,500 simulated speaker placements.
However, the speaker has adaptive software. Media EQ analyzes what you are listening to (music and podcasts, for example) and adjusts the audio to best suit the content. Ambient IQ, meanwhile, adjusts the Assistant’s output based on background noise so you can hear it better in a louder environment. I can’t say I noticed much difference, but I mostly used the speakers for music.
Probably the biggest problem I had with Nest Audio was simply that its three-microphone array wasn’t as sensitive as the ones on the HomePod or Home Max. I often had to repeat myself a couple of times to get the attention of the speaker while playing music. And once, the speaker made the grave mistake of thinking I wanted the volume to be 100 percent while just asking him to turn the volume down. In case you were wondering, Nest Audio can be painfully loud at full blast.
This is doubly true when pairing two Nest Audio speakers in stereo. Basically all smart speakers allow you to do this now, so it’s not an unexpected feature, but it improves the whole Nest Audio experience in a notable way. Of course, stereo separation is important for serious music listeners, but having two speakers at the same time means everything just sounds better, with significantly improved presence, bass response and overall volume. If you have a larger living room that you want to fill with sound, I recommend that you fork out two of these speakers and use them as a stereo pair.
At this point, the smart speaker market is pretty crowded, but there aren’t many speakers in the $ 100 range that have Nest Audio’s goal on sound quality. A natural point of comparison is Amazon’s new spherical Echo, but we haven’t had a chance to test it yet. That said, I was pretty impressed with the audio improvements Amazon has made to its Echo products over the years – if you prefer Alexa to the Google Assistant, there’s a good chance the new Echo may be the better option.
If you raise the budget to $ 200, however, speakers like Amazon’s Echo Studio and Sonos One offer even better sound quality. No surprise, as they cost twice as much and are considerably larger than Nest Audio. But if you’re looking to spend that much, two Nest Audio speakers give you the flexibility to run in stereo or set up a multi-room system.