Google’s Nest Audio Is the Best Sounding Smart Speaker You Can Get for $149

Google’s Nest Audio Is the Best Sounding Smart Speaker You Can Get for $149
Image: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

After buying Nest back in 2014, Google has been repositioning all of its smart home products under the brand, and that includes its smart speakers. One of the last holdouts to be upgraded as a Nest was one of the company’s first smart speakers, the 4-year-old Google Home. But the new Google Nest Audio sounds like it’s actually packing in a decade’s worth of improvements.

Google Nest Audio

WHAT IS IT?

The first upgrade to the Google Home smart speaker in four years.

PRICE

$149

LIKE

For $149, the sound quality is impressive and Google Assistant responds faster than ever.

DISLIKE

Google Assistant still doesn't play nice with Apple Music, requiring you to use Bluetooth to play music streamed from an Apple device to the Google Nest Audio.

When we first reviewed the Google Home four years ago we were blown away by the sound when compared to competing products at the time, like the Amazon Echo. But in the world of technology, four years is a very long time, and the competition has stepped up its game. Google has since been joined by other companies like Apple, whose $469 HomePod remains one of the best sounding smart speakers on the market for those looking to splurge (and deal with the challenges of Siri). At this point, the original Google Home looks out of place amongst Google’s other Nest-branded smart home speakers and hubs, but for its size its sound performance is still quite good — at least that’s what I thought until I plugged in the new Google Nest Audio.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

It's a bit taller and wider than the original Google Home, but the Google Nest Audio is still a surprisingly compact speaker given the sound it produces.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Wrapped in acoustically invisible fabric,

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Like the Nest Mini,

During the reveal of the Google Nest Audio, the thought that kept popping into my head was how much larger the new speaker was compared to the original Google Home, but when sitting side by side the Nest Audio doesn’t actually look much bigger. It’s definitely taller and wider, but it’s also slightly thinner than the Google Home, and its overall footprint means you’re not going to have to make extra room for the Nest Audio if you’re putting it where your Google Home used to live.

To squeeze as much sound out of Google Home’s relatively tiny speaker, Google’s engineers paired a 50-millimetre full-range driver with a pair of passive radiators located on each side. Powered by nothing but the air pressure generated by the main speaker, these radiators did an admirable job at boosting the lower frequencies coming out of the Google Home. It was a loud smart speaker that delivered a good amount of punch, but the approach left a lot to be desired in the sound quality of those lower frequencies.

The Google Nest Audio splits the Google Home’s single 50mm driver into a 19mm tweeter for higher frequencies, and a 75mm woofer for the lower. The results are, not surprisingly, a stark contrast. Knowing what’s going on under the hood, I’m still surprised at how good the old Google Home sounds, but the Google Nest Audio does a much better job at pumping out cleaner, crisper, room-filling sound that’s more natural, particularly on the lower end. The clever tricks used to make the Google Home sound as large as it did came with compromises; the bass felt a little artificial and overly boosted. But with the new Google Nest Audio it’s hard to complain about the device’s larger footprint when the dual speakers sound so much better.

That being said, this is still a speaker that stands just 6.89 inches tall and costs $149, so don’t expect it to compete with a nice set of bookshelf speakers featuring dedicated drivers for mid-range frequencies, too, or even larger smart speaker options like the $399 Google Home Max. The Nest Audio is a tiny speaker that punches a fair amount above its weight class, and I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed in what it can do for a Benjamin. (Had Google compromised a little more on its size and included a rechargeable battery, I’d even be tempted to recommend the Nest Audio over most Bluetooth speakers at this price point too.)

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Don't want Google listening to you all the time? A mute switch on the back, the only physical button on the device, disables the Nest Audio's microphone.

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo, In-House Art

When the mic is muted the Google Nest Audio's four LEDs all turn orange and remain on to remind you why Google is ignoring you.

Aesthetically, the Google Nest Audio isn’t going to leave anyone fawning over its groundbreaking design. As with the company’s other Nest products it’s designed to blend in with your home’s decor and all but disappear. It’s completely wrapped in an acoustically invisible fabric (available in five different but very muted pastel colours) and its only real distinguishing features are a button on the back for muting its microphone, and a set of four colour-changing LEDs (they turn orange when the mic is muted) on the front hidden beneath the fabric, a design element that Google first introduced with the Home Mini speaker years ago.

Proprietary power adapters are never a win, but the Google Nest Audio is power-hungry. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo) Proprietary power adapters are never a win, but the Google Nest Audio is power-hungry. (Photo: Andrew Liszewski - Gizmodo)

Functionally the Google Nest Audio is exactly the same as the recently updated Nest Mini speaker. You can tap the top of the Nest Audio in specific places to control music playback or adjust the speaker’s volume, but I will admit I miss the Google Home’s touch dial that allowed for faster volume adjustments. Like the Nest Mini, the Nest Audio now also benefits from an onboard dedicated machine learning chip that Google promises makes Google Assistant respond twice as fast to voice commands. I’ve never been frustrated with Google Assistant’s response times (it’s Siri that has me pulling my hair out) but when accidentally setting off multiple smart speakers in my home with a command, the Google Home does sound like the ageing grandparent in the room who’s slow to respond.

If you’ve been relying on the Google Home for your home’s sound system for the past four years, the Google Nest Audio is without a doubt a worthwhile upgrade. The difference in sound quality and performance is immediately noticeable, which isn’t always the case with iterations of a product, but Google has clearly spent the past four years perfecting a worthy successor to the Google Home. Other upgrades aren’t as immediately obvious, but if you’ve come to rely on Google Assistant in and around your home, the Nest Audio will also bring the other under-the-hood improvements the company has made to its smart speaker line over the past year. That means you’ll be all set for the next four years, too.

README

  • It’s the best sounding smart speaker on the market for $149.
  • There are now two speaker drivers inside the Nest Audio, a tweeter and a woofer, but the speaker itself should still easily squeeze into the Google Home’s old spot.
  • The Nest Audio’s design is extremely subdued, bordering on boring, but that’s what Google is going for: a device that will easily disappear in your home.
  • If you opted for Apple Music over Spotify as your music streaming service, you’ll have to settle for Bluetooth as the easiest way to stream your tunes through the Google Nest Audio.
  • Thanks to an onboard machine learning chip, Google Assistant response times are faster, and as with the Nest Mini, spoken responses take into account background noise to ensure they’re always easily heard over other noises.