While most other smart speakers are iterating quickly, the Google Home is finally seeing a replacement after three years. The $99.99 Nest Audio takes the middle spot between the $49 Nest Mini and the $299 Google Home Max. For a third of the price of the booming Home Max, the Nest Audio offers crisp, clean, room-filling sound that easily eclipses the Nest Mini. Google Assistant voice control is better than ever, and with multiple connectivity options via Bluetooth and Google Cast, the Nest Audio is an excellent smart speaker and a worthy rival to the Amazon Echo, earning our Editors’ Choice.
The Nest Audio can easily be mistaken for for the cylindrical Apple HomePod if you look at it from any one angle, but a quick walkaround reveals that it’s in fact shaped more like a giant bar of soap. The speaker measures 6.9 by 4.9 by 3.1 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.6 pounds, and is available in Chalk (white), Charcoal (black), Sage (light green), Sand (red-pink), or Sky (light blue). Four indicator lights sit behind the fabric grille on the front of the speaker, while the back holds a mic mute switch and a connector for the included power adapter.
You won’t find any physical control buttons on the Nest Audio, like you will on most other smart speakers. Instead, the entire top surface is sensitive to touch, with three capacitive touch areas to tap. The center area plays and pauses music, while the left and right corners control volume. Everything else needs to go through voice controls or your phone.
Setting up the Nest Audio requires the Google Home app on your Android phone or iPhone. The app also serves as the software hub for any smart home devices you want to control with Google Assistant. Setup is a simple process of plugging in the speaker, opening the Google Home app, selecting the Nest Audio, and following the prompts to connect it to your Wi-Fi network and (optionally) train it to recognize your voice. Once that’s done, the speaker is online and ready to receive your voice commands.
The Nest Audio has the same Google Assistant and Google Cast features as the Google Home Max and Nest Mini. To start, you can summon the voice assistant by saying, “Hey Google,” followed by a command. You can ask Google Assistant to play music, control your smart home devices, or get general information like weather and sports scores.
Google Assistant is a solid step or two ahead of Amazon Alexa in terms of natural language recognition. Perhaps Amazon’s new A1Z processor and further development of Alexa will make it less fussy to talk to, but as of now, I find the Nest Audio much easier to work with than my Echo Dot or Echo Flex. Voice command syntax is much more flexible and natural, letting me simply say, “Hey Google, turn up the bedroom lights,” or a handful of variations thereof to brighten my room. Alexa still stumbles unless you use very specific phrasing or program routines manually. For the record, I performed these tests using TP-Link Kasa smart bulbs with both Alexa and Google Assistant.
Google Assistant lags behind Alexa in terms of third-party skills, but this is a small sacrifice for the more flexible language it affords you. Most third-party skills on Alexa are gimmicky novelties, and since Alexa and Google Assistant now cover just about all major smart home device brands, you aren’t really missing that much.
You can also make phone calls through the Nest Audio using Google Duo. Attaching your phone number to your Google Account lets you make calls with your phone number from the speaker. The Nest Audio also features Bluetooth 5.0, so you can directly connect your devices for Bluetooth audio playback, though it lacks any wired connection, like the 3.5mm port on the Amazon Echo.
Like all Google smart speakers, the Nest Audio works with Google Cast, so you can stream music from your phone or tablet with any Google Cast-compatible app, or from any Chrome tab. Two Nest Audio speakers can be paired to function as stereo speakers, and any grouping of Nest Audio and other Google Cast speakers can be set up as part of a whole-home audio system.
The Nest Audio features a 75mm (nearly three-inch) woofer and a 19mm (three-quarters of an inch) tweeter, which is slightly behind the latest Amazon Echo (one three-inch woofer and two one-inch tweeters). It uses three far-field microphones, and the mic mute switch is a hardware cutoff so you can feel secure when you disable them.
The speaker can absolutely fill a room with music, but don’t expect loads of deep bass. Our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” doesn’t get much low-frequency presence through the Nest Audio, which isn’t surprising given the speaker’s size. Generally, you need a bigger speaker with bigger drivers in order to move enough air to produce really powerful bass. The kick drum hits and bass synth notes are present, but the speaker doesn’t attempt to give them any serious rumble, and the kick drum in particular sounds more poppy than thumpy, though neither distorts at maximum volume.
Yes’ “Roundabout” provides a better sense of how the Nest Audio performs without overwhelming bass. The opening acoustic guitar plucks get plenty of texture, indicating good high-frequency finesse, along with solid resonance in the low-mids. When the song really kicks in, the electric bass again sounds more poppy than anything else, but it’s still present, and the busy mix is generally represented with good balance. All of the elements can be clearly discerned, including the bass, even as it sits a bit in the background compared with the vocals, drums, and guitar.
The Crystal Method’s “Busy Child” also sounds very good on the Nest Audio. The bassline doesn’t reach too low, but it still can be clearly heard in the mix, and the driving backbeat sounds full and exciting, with a sharp attack on the snares and just enough low-frequency response to keep the drums sounding rounded and not tinny. The sampled vocals get plenty of detail, and the higher synth notes receive lots of attention without detracting from the bassline or the beat.
We haven’t yet heard Amazon’s latest Echo speaker, as it doesn’t come out until later this month. But for $100, it’s hard to find much fault with the Nest Audio’s sound quality. Its next closest competitor, the Sonos One (Gen 2) offers deeper, more robust lows (along with Amazon Alexa support in addition to Google Assistant), but it costs twice as much. The same goes for Amazon’s $200 Echo Studio. Of course, a $200 is going to sound better than a $100 speaker, but for just $100, the Nest Audio delivers a lot of bang for your buck.
More Than OK, Google
The Google Nest Audio is bigger, louder, and better across the board than the Google Home. It still isn’t a bass-filled powerhouse, but it offers detailed, room-filling sound with a strong balance that delivers enough presence across the frequency range to keep music full and exciting. If you want more power, the Google Home Max gets much louder and offers major bass for three times the price, and if you simply want Google Assistant in every room of your home, the Nest Mini is just $50. But the Nest Audio really sits in a sweet spot between the two, offering admirable music performance with Google Assistant for just $100, and earning our Editors’ Choice for smart speakers.