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Google's first Assistant speaker, Google Home, turns four this year. The company says that device was designed primarily as a means to access the Google Assistant, and music playback was secondary. But the de facto second generation, the new Nest Audio, was purpose-built as a media device — and boy, does it ever show.
|Audio||75mm woofer, 19mm tweeter, 3 far-field microphone array, stereo pairing, multi-room grouping|
|Controls||Capacitive touch, voice control, mute switch|
|Power||30W DC barrel adapter, 1.5m cable|
|Connectivity||802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4 GHz/5 GHz) Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0|
|Colors||Chalk, Charcoal, Sage, Sand, Sky|
|Dimensions||6.89" x 4.89" x 3.07", 2.65 lbs|
|Sound||A vast improvement over Google Home. Really good.|
|Microphones||I didn't have to shout to be heard, even with music cranked.|
|Price||Launching at $99, $30 cheaper than the first-generation Home did.|
|Design||Google Home's "air freshener" look was interesting, but Nest Audio blends in better. Comes in great colors.|
|No wired input||You can't wire the Nest Audio to an audio source the way you can the Google Home Max.|
|Bluetooth performance||Significant A/V lag over Bluetooth.|
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The first Google Home had an iconic (if funky) design that kind of looked like an air freshener. The Nest Audio trades that eccentric character for a more discreet look, and while that's probably going to disappoint some, I like the direction. The Nest Audio is kind of a featureless, rounded rectangle, coated in the same "acoustically transparent" recycled fabric used on the Nest Mini. Shaped and textured the way it is, it reminds me of a throw pillow, and it blends easily into home decor. You can get it in five colors: Chalk (light gray, seen here), Charcoal (dark gray), Sage (green), Sand (kind of an earthy pink), or Sky (blue). Chalk and Charcoal are both pretty low-key and easy to hide; the other three stand out more.
With its new fabric-coated design, the Nest Audio more closely resembles the Nest Mini and Google Home Max than the original Google Home. There's nothing on the front side of the speaker — it's just an expanse of fabric. The top edge houses capacitive touch controls: tapping the left or right corner will adjust the volume down or up, and tapping the middle will play or pause. There's no way to activate the Assistant by touch, presumably because of the always-listening fiasco from the Google Home Mini's launch. The Nest Audio's backside is home to a physical microphone mute switch and a barrel plug port for the included 30-watt power brick — but no auxiliary jack, unfortunately.
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 to the Home's one pound and change. The increase in weight is because there's so much more stuff packed into the speaker's housing. It's got a 75-millimeter woofer and a 19-millimeter tweeter, whereas the first Home only had one 50-millimeter "full-range" driver.
Those improved drivers coupled with a jump from 300 to 520 cubic centimeters of back volume (the hollow space behind the drivers) mean the Nest Audio can muster a whole lot more oomph than the Google Home could. Google says it can produce 75 percent more volume and 50 percent more bass, and while I have no means of scientifically testing those claims, they sure seem to hold water. This thing gets surprisingly, neighbor-botheringly loud, and the low-end frequency response feels extremely robust compared to the Google Home.
It just sounds larger than you'd expect for its size.
The word that came to mind as I listened to the Nest Audio was big. It just sounds larger than you'd expect for its size. That's not only because it's louder and the bass is stronger, but also because it doesn't have the compressed, slightly muffled flavor Google Home had. (Google says that muffled sound was because the Home's two passive radiators — essentially internal vents that let sound leak out the sides in addition to the direction the driver faced — caused low frequencies to reverberate for longer. The Nest Audio has no passive radiators.) The Nest Audio also uses new Google-developed software to limit compression and improve the sound further.
Across genres, I was consistently impressed by how well-represented highs, lows, and mids are. Bass really thumps in '90s R&B and jangly indie rock guitars are clear as a bell. Dynamic range is wild for a speaker this size, too. Even in busy arrangements, little details come through: I was taken aback to pick out guitar parts in my favorite metal album that are all but inaudible when listening on Google Home.
I had two first-generation Google Home speakers in two separate rooms when my Nest Audio review unit arrived. I figured I'd make them a stereo pair in my office, where I listen to music more often, and stick the Nest in the bedroom. After testing the Nest Audio, though, I've decided to swap that setup. It's that good.
Should you buy it?
That stereo pair will be solely wireless, though, because Google didn't include wired input in the Nest Audio. That's a real shame, because two of these would be great hooked up to a turntable. If you want to make a wired stereo with Google speakers, you'll have to shell out for two Google Home Maxes — which will run you $598 at retail. Not only is that super expensive, it's also overkill for most rooms, especially smaller ones. By contrast, you can get a two-pack of Nest Audios for a small discount: $179.
It's very hard to find fault with the Nest Audio.
But unless you really need to hardwire your speaker to an audio source, it's very hard to find fault with the Nest Audio. It's damn near the perfect smart speaker, and a sensible upgrade for anyone using the original Home.
(Don't really throw your old speakers away, though — donate or recycle them, please.)
Buy it if:
- You've had your Google Home(s) a while and want to upgrade.
- You're looking to start a whole-home smart audio setup. The Nest Audio is a great place to start.
Don't buy it if:
- You want a speaker with auxiliary input.
- You already have Google Home Maxes in every room of the house.
Where to buy:
One month later
In the weeks since I first reviewed the Nest Audio, I've continued using it on a daily basis. In fact, I got a second one so I could use two as a pair.
Individually, Google's larger Home Max speaker clearly beats the Nest Audio on sound, when it comes to both quality and volume (the latter in particular; living in an apartment, I very rarely have occasion to turn my Home Max up much past half blast). But two Nest Audios working as a pair — well, one Google Home Max beats that setup, too, but not by enough that I would recommend most people buy one $299 Max over a pair of Nest Audio speakers for $178 (Google gives you a discount when you purchase them as a set).
A single Home Max has two 114-millimeter woofers and two 18-millimeter tweeters, compared to the Nest Audio's single 75-millimeter woofer and 19-millimeter tweeter. So even with two Nest speakers working together, you're not going to get nearly as much volume or bass as you do out of the Max. Still, the quality is there, and unless you want to rattle the plates in your cabinets or fill a banquet hall with sound, a stereo pair of Nest Audios should satisfy all but the pickiest listeners, especially considering how much money you're saving versus buying a Home Max at retail. There's also the benefit of being able to place the two far enough apart to create appreciable stereo separation; the Home Max does technically have stereo sound, but with the drivers so close together, it's hard to tell that unless you're right up against it.
On paper, the $229 Nest Hub Max should be a pretty close match to the Nest Audio. It's got the same size woofer and two tweeters that are actually a little bigger. But those drivers are rear-facing, and to my ear, the Nest Audio has clearer, louder sound. The Hub Max is also a smart display and costs more than twice as much as the Nest Audio, so it's hard to imagine many people are trying to decide between the two.
Here's a breakdown of each device's specs, including the original Google Home for good measure:
Spec Nest Audio Google Home Home Max Nest Hub Max Size 6.9 x 4.9 x 3.1" 5.6 x 3.8 x 3.8" 13.2 x 7.4 x 6" 9.9 x 7.2 x 4" Weight 2.7 lbs 1.1 lbs 11.7 lbs 2.91 lbs Woofer(s) 75mm 51mm "all-purpose driver" 114mm x 2 75mm Tweeter(s) 19mm n/a 18mm x 2 18mm x 2 Mics 3 2 6 2 Price $99 $99 (discontinued) $299 $229
One sore spot did reveal itself through continued use: I was disappointed to find that a pair of Nest Audio speakers has crazy audio-video lag when playing sound over Bluetooth. We're talking sound in excess of a full second behind accompanying visuals. That's a shame, because I was really hoping to use them as computer speakers, and since they lack 3.5-millimeter jacks, Bluetooth would be the only way to do that. Still, that's an edge case complaint.
I remain resoundingly pleased with the Nest Audio on the whole; it sounds great by itself and even better in stereo. It might not be able to best the Google Home Max, but it's really not supposed to — it's one-third the price. And for $99, I still think it's a fantastic value that 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, the Nest Audio is a better buy than the Nest Mini, and a worthwhile upgrade from the first-gen Google Home.