Nest Audio Review: Music as the Artist Intended

Rating: 9/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $99.99
A Nest Audio near a tea pot, cup, sunglasses and plant on a nightstand.
Josh Hendrickson

Google’s new $99 Nest Audio set out to accomplish one thing—make a better sounding Google Home. The original $130 Google Home is a competent smart speaker but produces a muddy sound. Thanks to a shape change and improved speakers, the Nest Audio promises to be louder and maintain a natural sound. Did Google succeed? Why yes, and it’s music to my ears.

Here's What We Like

  • Crystal clear audio
  • Compact enough to fit on narrow shelves
  • Will look good in most settings

And What We Don't

  • No headphone jack
  • Can't change the colors like Google Home

It Looks Weird to Sound Good

The new Google Nest Audio is a strange-looking device at first glance. I want to call it pillow-like, but it’s something closer to a piece of stretched Chicklet gum. Still, aesthetically it’s an improvement over the Google Home, which, to be charitable, resembles an air freshener. And it’s a long way from the new ball-shaped Amazon Echo.

But the shape serves a purpose. First, it’ll fit more spaces than the original home. Do you want to place it on a narrow sill? You do you, cause that’s possible now.

A Nest Audio next to a Google Home, showing it is skinner and taller than the Home.
The Nest Audio is noticeable taller, wider, and yet skinner than the Google Home. Josh Hendrickson

But the expanded shape also allows room for more speaker hardware. Whereas the original Google Home has a single 3-inch speaker, the Nest Audio packs a  75mm woofer and a 19mm tweeter. That gives it a leg up at producing high-pitched sounds, which helps everything from vocals to instruments.

Turn the unit around and you’ll find its mic switch and power port, which is a barrel-jack like other Nest smart speakers and displays. That placement means you can’t lay it down, despite the Nest Audio’s shape. The bottom is a white rubber that picks up hair and dust in a heartbeat but sticks to surfaces well enough. You can knock it over, but it’s probably not going to fall over on its own. Like the Google Home, you won’t find a headphone jack on the Nest Audio.

Though you can’t see it, the top portion of the speaker contains touch controls. Touch the left or right corners to turn the volume up and down. Touch the middle of the top to play or pause the music. They work fine for me, though you’ll want to hit the extreme corners to make sure you get volume and not pause/play.

Aesthetically, it’s fine. It’ll probably melt away into the background of your home, which is better than an eyesore that stands out. You can’t swap out the colors like you could with the Google Home, but that’s a small sacrifice when it improves the most important part of any smart speaker—the sound.

Nest Audio’s Sound Is Crystal Clear

If you don’t care about audio quality, you can always buy the Nest Mini for $50. At half the price, that’s tempting, especially when you consider that you it works with Bluetooth speakers you may already own.

The bottom is a white rubber base, it does the job but collects hair and dust.
Josh Hendrickson

To justify the extra $50, the Nest Audio needs to sound fantastic. And not just for one genre, for every genre. Anyone who loves classical music will be disappointed in speakers designed for dubstep, for instance.

I’m happy to say the Nest Audio nails sound. I’ve been listening to music on it and a Google Home to compare the two, and there’s a clear different and obvious winner. The Google Home is fine up to a point, but the Nest Audio wins every time.

I started with Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin. In my mind, Rhapsody in Blue is an excellent test of a speaker’s capabilities because it veers all over the place musically. It has soft themes and loud themes, and it calls for delicate instruments and bodacious instruments. And sometimes, it moves from soft to loud and back without warning. 

Frankly, the Google Home can’t keep up. It stays too loud when it’s time for a delicate sound, and when all instruments come in, you get the audio equivalent of mud. Everything washes together, and you can’t pick out individual instruments.

You Hear Every Instrument and Vocal

But the Nest Audio, thanks to its better hardware, is a totally different story. When the music should be soft, the Nest Audio pulls back. When the music ramps back up, the Nest Audio follows. You can hear every instrument, whether it’s a bass clarinet, piccolo, or trombone. 

The Nest Audio on a nightstand.
Pick your color carefully, cause you can’t change it once you buy it. Josh Hendrickson

At just under 11 minutes in, Rhapsody in Blue gives us one the most somber and beautiful themes in all of music. Listening to it on the Google Home left me disappointed because I knew what I missed. But the Nest Audio gave me all the shivers of a live piece. I heard timbre, vibrato, even the soft reverberations of the timpani.

Classical music isn’t the only thing that benefits either. Pump up the volume for Tron Legacy’s soundtrack and the Google Home struggles, but the Nest Audio shines. Every blare rings true. The same goes for pop songs.

You get MORE with the Nest Audio. You get the full and complete tone, lows, mids, and highs. It’s the music as the artist intended, not as some speaker mangled. The Nest Audio is the smart speaker George Gershwin deserves. 

And a bonus, it can control your home, too.

It’s a Smart Speaker, Too

Google says the Nest audio will even adjust to your room and ambient audio, so you can put it in the kitchen without worry. If the dishwasher is on, the Nest Audio will turn up so you can still hear.
I wasn’t able to test that thoroughly; my dishwasher is quiet. But it sounded good in every room I put it in, as long as I placed it somewhere sensible. But that’s just one facet of an important fact—the Nest Audio isn’t just some Bluetooth speaker, it’s a smart speaker.

The backside of a Nest Audio
On the backside, you’ll find the mute switch and the charging port. Josh Hendrickson

Like all Nest Speaker products, it has Google Assistant baked in. Three mics listen for your commands so you can start music or control your home by voice. That might not seem like a lot, but Google does some great wizardry with its software.

The Nest Audio easily heard me from a room away. And when I had it, a Google Home, and a Nest Hub all in the same room, they didn’t get confused. I’d face one more than the other and issue a voice command, and the right one always answered.

That’s great because if you have more than one Nest speaker you can turn them into a whole-home audio system. You either do that in an app or on the fly from a Nest display. When I was testing, I often said things like, “Transfer this to the dining room speaker,” and it moved the music from one speaker to another.

Google says that thanks to an upgraded processor, your voice commands will work more quickly over time as it learns what you ask for most. I didn’t notice that right away, and my smart home didn’t work any faster. But it may not have been long enough.

An Affordable All-in-One Smart Speaker

So, should you get the Nest Audio? Maybe. Probably. If the Nest Mini didn’t exist, the answer would be a resounding yes. After all, the Nest Audio sounds amazing and works well as a smart-assistant device. However, if you already have great Bluetooth speakers, the cheaper thing to do is buy a Nest Mini and use them together.

That’s not as convenient, though, and takes up more room. And if you don’t already have Bluetooth speakers to connect to the Mini, you’d have to buy them, too. In that case, the Nest Audio makes the most sense. It’s compact enough to fit on any side space or nightstand you have available, and it sounds better than any speaker its size should. If you want a simple solution to great sound with a good voice assistant built-in, buy the Nest Audio. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 9/10
Price: $99.99

Here’s What We Like

  • Crystal clear audio
  • Compact enough to fit on narrow shelves
  • Will look good in most settings

And What We Don't

  • No headphone jack
  • Can't change the colors like Google Home

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »

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