The concept of smart speakers is only a relatively new, yet we’re already a few generations in now. Google started with the air freshener looking Google Home in 2016, and after iterating in smaller (and larger) speakers, and Smart Displays, the follow-up to the original Google Home is here, and it’s called Nest Audio.

Priced at $149 it’s cheaper than the original Google Home speaker it’s replacing, and it’s also technically more powerful.

Google has also managed to get a bit more ‘green’ with the Nest Audio. The fabric, housing, foot, and a few smaller parts inside are made of 70 percent recycled materials – nice one Google.

Like their previous models, the Nest Audio is the physical manifestation of the Google Assistant which (if not muted) sits listening for the ‘Hey/Ok Google’ wake words so you can control your smart home, stream your music, answer questions and more.

Setup for new Google Assistant devices is easy, simply download the Google Home App for Android or iOS and then simply turn it on, and the new device will show up for configuration in the app very quickly.

Hardware and Design

Nest Audio looks more like a souped up Nest Mini with the same acoustically transparent cloth covering the speaker, though with a seam splitting the speaker into two distinct halves, a change from the more omni-directional Google Home with it’s very air-freshener looking body.

The front of the Nest Audio carries no branding, though there’s four hidden LED lights that illuminate when Google Assistant is listening, or which light up orange when you flick the mute switch on the rear.

As well as the mute switch, the rear is where you get a tiny little ‘G’ logo and the barrel style power connector. While it’d be nice to get a USB-C style plug, the speaker requires more power (24W) than the USB-C plug can deliver.

The additional power requirement is reflected in the larger speaker setup that now includes a 75 mm woofer and 19 mm tweeter, which Google says ‘Delivers 50% more bass and 75% more volume than original Google Home’.

While technically this is a single speaker setup, you can pair two Nest Audio speakers, or other ‘Nest/Google’ smart speakers you already own in the Home app for stereo sound. You can also easily add it into any of your existing audio groups and expand your whole home sound. As a standalone speaker you miss out on some of the spatial audio effects you get with tracks like Bowie Space Odyssey, but it doesn’t drop information, it’s just played on the single channel.

The sound quality on the Nest Audio is excellent. It’s a big improvement over the Google Home in terms of oomph and clearer overall with good highs and a respectable low end. You can play around with treble/bass settings as well as volume in the Google Home app.

The sound on Nest Audio was tested in a range of environments before launch and it’s telling, there’s some great tuning across the range of music I tried on the Nest Audio. Clarity wasn’t a problem, nor volume with the sound very clear even at top volume, so unless you really need super deep bass it’s a good sound. Google said the tuning has been balanced so that nothing is lacking or overbearing across the lows, mids and high sounds.

For clarity, Google says they’re using something called Media EQ on the Nest Audio. This Media EQ tunes the speaker for the content you’re listening to on the fly, whether it’s music, podcasts, audiobooks or even the Assistant. The result is that Nest Audio sounds great.

Nest Audio works pretty well for all the size it is, and I paired it with an original Google Home, and a Nest Home Mini for stereo sound tests and it sounds pretty good. It’s pretty easy to drop the new speaker into your existing audio groups, or pair some in stereo.

I like the recent addition of moving your music to another room with commands like ‘Hey Google, move the music to the living room speaker’. Then again, if I’m home alone the whole home audio group – which the Nest Audio slots into nicely – gets a workout, so no need to transfer music :).

Thanks to the new speaker setup and new smarts, the Nest Audio body is also fairly heavy, weighing in at 1.2 kg, a big jump from the 130g Google Home. There’s a rubber mat on the base of the Nest Audio for cushioning, and there’s been no marks left by it on the wooden table it’s been resting on for the past few days.

The Nest Audio also includes Capacitive touch controls with a play/pause in the centre with volume up/down controls either side. The controls are quite responsive, though I was more inclined to use voice controls for the Nest Audio, which is where the three far-field microphones come in.

The mic setup appears similar to previous Nest smart speakers, and works just as well. The voice pick-up is excellent on the Nest Audio, with the mics also used for the Ambient IQ feature which can gauge the background noise and boost the Assistant, news or podcasts. It’s actually a pretty good feature with the volume on our smart speakers constantly being turned up or down, so I’m never sure what level the volume is when I ask the Assistant a question.

Google Assistant

The Google Assistant is at the heart of Nest Audio, and offers all the benefits like smart home controls, streaming music and just asking Google questions which is where the Assistant truly shines for me.

The Nest Audio is ‘twice as fast as the original Google Home’, thanks to the inclusion of the same on-device machine learning chip that was introduced in the Nest Home Mini last year. The chip has ‘one TeraOPS’ – or the ability to perform 1012 operations per second – of processing power. What that means for us is that the chip is learning your most common music and smart home commands, so it’s ready to perform functions faster when you want them.

My love for Google Assistant also extends to the smart home, and the various smart home devices I have around the home are all instantly controllable once the Nest Audio is setup.

There’s an absolute motza of compatible smart home devices from loads of brands to choose from. So, within a minute of setting up, I was issuing commands like ‘Hey Google, turn on my electric blanket/light’ and we’re away. It’s that simple.

I also love the communication features with Nest Audio and other Google smart speakers. The option to make voice calls with Duo, or broadcast messages is also beneficial in calling the kids to dinner, or even letting the family know when I or my wife are on our way home.

Google Assistant is the heart of the Nest Audio and the additional smarts paired with the great sound is the combo that makes it worthwhile.

Should you buy it?

Nest Audio is probably one of the best looking speakers that Google has put on the market and though it’s fairly compact, it has great sound.

The sound has an emphasis on the mids-high end sound with a natural reproduction of sound that means you get a clear sound, though the bass isn’t quite going to make you feel it through your feet.

As far as things ‘missing’ from Nest Audio there really isn’t much. It would be nice to get a 3.5mm jack, but with bluetooth and WiFi options available, there is less of a pressing need. It’d also be nice to get more colours…I mean chalk and charcoal are ok, but the Sage (green), Sand (pink) and Sky (blue) colours are much more fun, and I’d like the option.

Nest Audio is staring down the new Amazon Echo speaker which is also priced at $149 with this release, and to a lesser extent the Sonos One. While we haven’t tested the sound on the new Echo yet, I prefer Google Assistant for most functions and though the Sonos One has better sound, the Google Assistant integration hasn’t been great.

For anyone (including myself) who does use the Google Assistant, then the Nest Audio is a great buy. $149 is a decent price for a great sounding speaker that will work well on its own, or give you more power if you invest in a second for stereo. There’s also the bonus of smooth Google Assistant integration, and all the benefits that brings.

You can pre-order the Nest Audio online through the Google Store, or through JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, and The Good Guys. Nest Audio will go on-sale on October 15th.