5:00 PDTon October 5, 2020 and last updated 2020/11/01
9:24 PSTon November 1, 2020.
Google’s first assistant speaker, Google Home, turns four this year. The company states that the device was designed primarily as a means of accessing the Google Assistant, and music playback was secondary. But the de facto second generation, the new Nest Audio, was specifically designed as a media device – and boy, is it ever showing.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The first Google Home had an iconic (if funky) design that looked like an air freshener. The Nest Audio trades that eccentric character for a more discreet look, and while that is likely to disappoint some, I like the direction. The Nest Audio is a kind of strange, rounded rectangle that is coated with the same “acoustically transparent” recycled material that is used for the Nest Mini. Shaped and structured as it is, it reminds me of a throw pillow and fits easily into the home decor. You can get it in five colors: chalk (light gray, seen here), charcoal (dark gray), sage (green), sand (a kind of earthy pink), or sky (blue). Chalk and charcoal are both pretty low key and easy to hide. The other three are more noticeable.
With its new fabric-coated design, the Nest Audio looks more like the Nest Mini and Google Home Max than the original Google Home. There’s nothing on the front of the speaker – it’s just a piece of fabric. There are capacitive touch controls on the top edge: tapping the left or right corner decreases or increases the volume, and tapping the center plays or pauses the volume. There’s no way to activate the assistant by touch, presumably due to the always-listening fiasco when launching Google Home Mini. On the back of the Nest Audio there is a physical microphone mute switch and a barrel plug port for the supplied 30 watt power brick – but unfortunately no additional socket.
While it’s only about an inch taller and wider than the Google Home, the Nest Audio weighs more than twice as much: two pounds and nine ounces for the one pound and change on the Home. The weight gain is due to the fact that so much more material is packed into the speaker’s case. It has a 75-millimeter woofer and a 19-millimeter tweeter, while the first Home only had a 50-millimeter full-range driver.
These improved drivers, coupled with a jump from 300 to 520 cubic centimeters of back volume (the cavity behind the drivers) mean Nest Audio can shake a lot more Pep than the google homepage could. Google says it can produce 75 percent more volume and 50 percent more bass, and while I have no way to scientifically test these claims, they seem safe to hold water. This thing gets surprisingly noisy, and the low-end frequency response feels extremely robust compared to Google Home.
It just sounds bigger than you’d expect for its size.
The word that came to mind while listening to Nest Audio was large. It just sounds bigger than you’d expect for its size. That’s not only because it’s louder and the bass is stronger, but it’s also because it doesn’t have the compressed, slightly muffled taste of Google Home. (According to Google, the muffled sound was due to the house’s two passive radiators – essentially internal vents that let sound come out of the sides in addition to the direction the driver was facing – caused low frequencies to reverberate longer The Nest Audio has no passive radiators.) The Nest Audio also uses new software developed by Google to limit compression and further enhance the sound.
Across all genres, I was always impressed by how well highs, lows and mids are represented. Bass really Blows In the 90s, R&B and jangly indie rock guitars are clear as a bell. The dynamic range is wild for a speaker of this size, too. Even with busy arrangements, small details come through: I was surprised to find guitar parts in my favorite metal album that are virtually inaudible when listening on Google Home.
I had two first generation Google Home speakers in two separate rooms when my Nest Audio tester arrived. I thought I’d make them a stereo pair in my office, where I listen to music more often, and put the nest in the bedroom. After testing Nest Audio, I decided to swap out this setup. It is so good.
Should you buy it?
Difficult yes. At $ 99, Nest Audio is a bargain, especially if you remember that Google Home launched back for $ 129 in 2016. It does everything you’d expect from the Google Assistant and Google Home – just as good, thanks to improved processing on the device that speeds up certain commands like music controls. It also sounds fantastic for its size and it is capable of hearing hotwords amazingly well even when the volume is at its maximum. I’ll probably buy a second one to make a stereo pair.
However, this stereo pair will be entirely wireless as Google didn’t include a wired input in Nest Audio. That’s a real shame because two of these would be great if you plugged them into a turntable. If you want to make a wired stereo with Google speakers, you’ll have to pay for two Google Home Maxes that will retail you $ 598. Not only is this super expensive, it’s excessive for most rooms, especially smaller ones. In contrast, you get a twin pack of Nest Audios for a small discount: $ 179.
It’s very hard to fault the Nest Audio.
But unless you really have to firmly connect your speaker to an audio source, it is very difficult to find faults with Nest Audio. It’s almost the perfect smart speaker and a useful upgrade for anyone using the original home.
(Don’t really throw away your old speakers – please donate or recycle them.)
Buy it when:
- You’ve had your Google homepage (s) for a while and want to upgrade.
- You want to start a whole house smart audio setup. The Nest Audio is a great place to start.
Don’t Buy It If:
- You want a speaker with an AUX input.
- You already have Google Home Maxes in every room in the house.
Where to buy:
In the weeks since I first checked out Nest Audio, I’ve continued using it every day. In fact, I got a second so I could use two as a pair.
Individually, Google’s larger Home Max speakers clearly outperform Nest Audio in terms of quality and volume (especially the latter; when I live in an apartment, I very rarely have the opportunity to turn my Home Max far beyond half). . But two Nest Audios work as a pair – well, a Google Home Max outperforms this setup too, but not enough that I’d recommend most people buy a $ 299 Max over a pair of Nest Audio speakers for $ 178 (Google gives Discount if you buy them as a set).
A single Home Max has two 114-millimeter woofers and two 18-millimeter tweeters, compared to Nest Audio’s single 75-millimeter woofer and 19-millimeter tweeter. Even when two Nest speakers work together, you don’t get nearly as much volume or bass as the Max. Still, the quality is there, and unless you want to rattle your cupboards or fill a banquet room with sound, a stereo pair should Nest Audios will satisfy all but the pickiest of listeners, especially when you consider how much money you can save compared to buying a Home Max at retail. It also has the benefit of keeping the two far enough apart for a noticeable stereo separation. The Home Max technically has stereo sound, but with the drivers so close together it’s hard to tell it isn’t right.
On paper, for $ 229, the Nest Hub Max should be pretty much the same as the Nest Audio. It has the same woofer and two tweeters that are actually a bit bigger. But those drivers are rearward facing, and to my ear, the Nest Audio has a clearer, louder sound. The Hub Max is also a smart display and costs more than twice as much as the Nest Audio. Hence, it is hard to imagine that many people are trying to choose between the two.
Here’s a breakdown of the specs for each device, including the original Google home page:
One sore point became evident with continued use: I was disappointed to find that a pair of Nest Audio speakers experienced insane audio-video lag when playing sound over Bluetooth. We are talking about a tone that is longer than a full second behind the associated graphic. That's a shame because I was really hoping to use them as a computer speaker and since they lack 3.5mm jacks, Bluetooth would be the only way to do it. Still, that's a marginal complaint.
I continue to be very happy with the Nest Audio by and large. it sounds great on its own and even better in stereo. It might not be able to beat the Google Home Max, but it really shouldn't - it's a third the price. And at $ 99, I still think it's fantastic value, which makes the Home Max a questionable proposition for most buyers. If you want to use your smart speaker for anything other than the Google Assistant, Nest Audio is a better buy than the Nest Mini and a worthwhile upgrade from first generation Google Home.
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