Personal data protection is a top concern of consumers around the globe, and Google wants to earn your trust with its inviting Google Nest Audio smart speaker. The company abandoned the Google Home’s air freshener design in favor of a unibody build. This soft silhouette is approachable and comforting; in fact, the company took inspiration from an everyday item: the pillow for Nest Audio. Even with the revamped aesthetic, the philosophy remains the same: Nest Audio is an entry-level smart speaker for people who want an affordable, versatile product that they can trust.

This doesn’t look or sound like an audiophile sound system, because it isn’t one. Instead, this speaker appeals to those who want an all-in-one solution with little tinkering. Let’s see how it performs, and what the differences are between the Nest Audio and Amazon Echo (4th Gen).

Editor’s note: This article was updated on October 22, 2020 to reflect the Google Nest Audio’s reception of the Editors Choice award.

Who should get the Google Nest Audio?

The gray Google Nest Audio speaker pictured on a white desk in front of computer screens.

The Google Nest Audio has a minimal design wrapped in a nice fabric.

  • Anyone invested in the Google ecosystem should add the Nest Audio to their collection. This speaker works well with other Google Nest and Google Home products; it even supports both multiroom and stereo playback.
  • Google Assistant users will appreciate the responsiveness of this smart speaker. You can make calls, set reminders, ask questions, and more.
  • Music and podcast listeners will love Google’s music service support and Chromecast (or Google TV) integration.
  • Smart home fanatics will appreciate the ability to control everything from the Nest Audio speaker. You can even broadcast to Nest Audio from your phone when away from home.

What is the Google Nest Audio?

Pictured is the gray Google Nest Audio fabric stitching on a bedside table

You may manually control media playback and volume from the top, front-facing part of the speaker.

A single seam bisects the cloth-wrapped Nest Audio, but otherwise this is a virtually seamless device devoid of angles and brazen logos. There isn’t much to the Google Nest Audio; Google provides the speaker and a DC power adapter. That’s it. Google included a hardware mute button, which is meant to make Nest Audio users feel more comfortable and confident about when Google is, and isn’t, listening. Every time you flip the mute switch, Google Assistant reassures you with a voice prompt.

The top of the speaker is invisibly segmented into three touch-sensitive panels. The middle segment lets you control music playback, while the flanking outer segments control volume levels. Below these invisible panels are four centered LEDs that alight to indicate Google Assistant activation, Bluetooth pairing mode, when you’re in a call, and more. If you choose to mute the microphone, the four LEDs will remain amber until overridden by another function.

A picture the Google Nest Audio touch controls used to lower the volume.

The touch controls are useful but very sensitive.

A dedicated machine learning chip with one TeraOPS of processing power sits in the belly of the beast. This chip hastens Google Assistant response time (US only), because it learns your most common smart home commands and music preferences. During my five-day testing period, I was unable to notice a marked increase in response time but will update the review as the speaker grows privy to my habits.

You might like: A guide to Google Assistant commands

Unlike the mountable Google Nest Mini, the Google Nest Audio only allows for one placement option: it must stand vertically on a flat surface. Placement matters, too: initially, I plopped the speaker toward the back of my coffee table which is cornered toward back of the room. The table’s surface and adjacent walls reflected soundwaves and created resonant distortion. Once I moved it toward the end of an open shelf, the sound was much more pleasing.

How do Media EQ and Ambient IQ work?

A picture of the Google Nest Audio in a bathroom as someone brushes their teeth.

Running water triggers Nest Audio to increase volume levels when streaming podcasts.

Media EQ and Ambient IQ promise to enhance the sound quality of your Google Nest product. Media EQ, not to be confused with Google’s Room EQ, dynamically changes the sound signature of your speaker spending on the type of media. In other words, Nest Audio uses a different tuning for music relative to the one used for Google Assistant responses.

If you’re not fond of automatic EQs, you can always adjust the speaker’s sound signature from the Google Home app. Google provides users with a basic equalizer, and I do mean basic. You can adjust the bass and treble to be “less” and “more.” Yes, that’s all you get.

Google Nest Audio in black next to person wearing Google socks.

The cutesy rounded design fits in perfectly with Googles’ design aesthetic.

Ambient IQ differs from Media EQ, because it changes the volume according to your environment. This is limited to spoken word content like podcasts and audiobooks: such content is typically the center of attention when you play it. Alternatively, music often serves as a tool to passively entertain or set a certain mood. It would be annoying if Nest Audio increased the volume every time you spoke at a dinner party.

Ambient IQ works well when streaming podcasts and listening for Google Assistant responses.

To test the volume changes, I played a podcast while walking around the room with a loud hairdryer in hand. To my surprise, I still heard the host thanks to the automatic volume increase. For Ambient IQ to work the mic has to be enabled, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

How to connect the Nest Audio

Google Nest Audio in black on nightstand next to bed

The Google Nest Audio has a mute switch on the back that physically disconnects the microphone when you don’t want it listening for the hot word.

Much like Apple, Google wants its products to be accessible to all, so you don’t have to be a whiz kid to setup the Google Nest Audio. Google’s paperwork lays the directions out clearly. Once you download the Google Home app, Google prompts take care of the rest.

Related: Google Nest Mini review

If you have multiple Nest speakers or Nest displays in your home, you can broadcast to certain ones or to the entire house. This is great when your kids are in their bedrooms, and you want to let them know dinner’s ready without yelling at the top of your lungs.

It takes just a few minutes to complete the setup:

  1. Open the Google Home app.
  2. Tap Set up devices, and follow the prompts.
  3. Select Get started > Set up new devices > create another home > next > enter the household name.
  4. To add more devices, tap the “+” sign, and select Set up device > Set up new devices in your home.
  5. From there, you can configure things like Voice Match or Personal results. The former ensures that the Google Assistant only recognizes specific voices (e.g., home residents, rather than all the commercials that casually drop, “Hey Google”).

How to group multiple Google Nest Audio speakers together

  1. Follow the previous steps to independently connect both Nest Audio speakers to your Wi-Fi network. Make sure both products are associated with the same Google account.
  2. Open the Google Home app, and select “create speaker group.”
  3. Select the speakers you want to group together.
  4. Assign a group name (e.g., kitchen).
  5. You can now use your voice to begin music playback by saying, “Hey Google, play music on the kitchen group.”

There is no limit to how many speakers may be grouped together. It’s only limited by your network’s bandwidth.

How to setup stereo playback with multiple Google Nest Audio speakers

  1. Connect both speakers to the same Wi-Fi and Google Account.
  2. Open the Google Home app.
  3. Tap one of the speakers you want to pair.
  4. Tap the Settings menu.
  5. Tap Speaker pair and then tap Next.
  6. Choose the two devices you want to pair, and tap Next.
  7. One of the speaker’s LEDs will flash white. Tap Left or Right to designate its channel. Tap Next.
  8. Under the tab “Where is your pair?,” select a room for the speaker pair. Tap Next.
  9. Name your speaker pair. Tap Next and Done.

Does the Nest Audio stream over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth?

Pictured is the gray Google Nest Audio on a bookshelf with the lights blinking.

The lights on the front of the speaker light up to let you know when it hears you.

The Nest Audio supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity (2.4 GHz/5 GHz) for high-quality playback. It supports FLAC, HE-AAC, LC-AAC, MP3, Opus Vorbis, WAV, and WebM Source audio formats.

Chromecast integration makes it easy to cast from your smartphone, tablet, or computer directly to the Nest Audio. All you have to do is tap the cast button from your favorite music streaming app, and select the desired speaker. YouTube Music, Deezer, Spotify, and Podcast Addict are all supported by Google Chromecast just to name a few. Surprisingly, you can even cast from Apple Music.

The Nest Audio supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming but lacks a 3.5mm input and ethernet port.

If your Wi-Fi is offline, you can stream directly via Bluetooth as the speaker uses Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and supports just the AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs. This means that even Amazon Music HD and non-Chomecast service subscribers can stream music with the Nest Audio speaker.

How do you charge the Nest Audio?

You don’t charge the Nest Audio! This smart speaker is meant for the home, rather than for joining you on your next adventure. Google provides a proprietary power adapter (30W, 24V) to keep Nest Audio chugging along. It’s easy to move the speaker from room to room as long as an outlet is within 1.5 meters.

How does the Google Nest Audio sound?

The Nest Audio sounds quite good for its size, and performs well with a wide variety of media from spoken word to music. This neutral-leaning frequency response extends from 90Hz, and it means that music sounds close to how the audio engineers and artists intended—though some may not appreciate a lack of sub-bass emphasis.

A frequency response chart of the Google Nest Audio smart speaker, which accurately reproduces midrange frequencies with notable bass de-emphasis.

Midrange and treble response are fantastic with Nest Audio, so long as it’s properly positioned away from corners.

A 75mm mid-woofer and 19mm tweeter lies beneath the Nest Audio’s cloth exterior. This two-pronged approach allocates bass and midrange reproduction to the woofer, while the tweeter is tasked with high-frequency output. Sub-bass notes are still attenuated due to physical limitations, so you won’t feel a skull-shaking bump. If you’re looking for a party speaker, you’ll have to invest in the Google Home Max instead.

Lows, mids, and highs

In the song Read Receipts by Kyle Thornton & Company, the introductory trumpets sound great even as the synchronized kick drum enters the fray. Thornton’s playful lyrics remain easy to hear even during loud brass instrumentation. This clarity is attributed to the de-emphasized low-frequencies: auditory masking is a non-issue with Google’s smart speaker so there’s little to no harmonic detail lost.

Typically treble notes are hard for single-body speakers to reproduce well, but that’s why the dedicated tweeter is important. Skip ahead to 2:45, when blunted cymbal hits become present. Typically exaggerated mids mask these high-pitched sounds, but the hits and subsequent resonances remain audible during the outro even amid the saxophone, trumpet, piano, and vocal din.

Can I use the Google Nest Audio for phone calls?

Google Nest Audio on top of coffeetable with a book and pair of Google socks

The Nest Audio features a 19mm tweeter and a 75mm midwoofer that handles the lows.

You take and receive calls to and from mobile phones, tablets, and more directly through Google Duo—so long as you’ve set up Duo calling. You can call non-Duo affiliated numbers, though emergency calls can’t be made from the Nest Audio speaker. Every call is free since it’s through Google’s service and only requires a  Wi-Fi connection.

Nest Audio houses three far-field microphones to ensure that it registers your commands. The microphone quality is good, but this is highly dependent on where you’re standing relative to the speaker. Take a listen below as I speak from different distances and rub my hands together to create background noise.

Google Nest Audio microphone demo:

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What data does the Google Nest Audio collect?

An aerial photo of the Google Maps app open on a Google Pixel 3 smartphone, which is flanked by a Tamron lens cap and Casio watch on a white table.

Nest Audio may have access to your location, IP address, and more which could then be used to serve personalized advertisements.

We all know Google lives, breathes, and thrives off of data collection, yet the company is fairly transparent about what data it collects and how it’s used with your Nest Audio.

You might like: Headphones are collecting too much personal data

Audio recordings are kept separate from advertising, and will not be used for ad personalization (kind of). While Google doesn’t use the recorded audio, it retains the right to use a transcript of how you interact with the Google Assistant. If you purchase something with your voice, information derived from the commands can influence personalized ads. You can, however, limit Google ad settings and even opt out of ad personalization altogether.

Google uses voice recordings transcripts for ad personalization.

Google only receives audio data from your device when it detects interaction (e.g., “Hey Google”). You may access, review, and delete your audio recordings from your Google account at any time. The only time that Google shares audio recordings with third-parties is when you use third-party apps or services with the device. Google isn’t carelessly sharing audio data, but it will share information with an affiliated home security provider if appropriate.

When you use affiliated services with your Google Nest Audio, you’re subjected to each service’s privacy policy along with Google’s privacy policy.

Google Nest Audio vs Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

A picture of the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) in gray on an end table.

The Echo (4th Gen) has a much different build than the Nest Audio.

Both Google and Amazon departed from their previous smart speaker designs: Google went with a vertical pillow look, while Amazon cut corners with its spherical Echo (4th Gen). We don’t yet have objective frequency response measurements for the Amazon Echo, but can discuss features and supported services.

The new Amazon Echo acts as a hub for all of your smart devices.

Years ago it was commonly accepted that Amazon Alexa was the better smart home solution, and Google Assistant was better for mobile use, but both companies have improved their old shortcomings. One of the biggest improvements to the latest Amazon Echo is the integrated ZigBee Hub, which consolidates all of your smart home devices.

Google’s presence is inescapable and its assistant can be heard from the car to the kitchen and beyond. Neither smart assistant is the cut-and-dry winner in 2020, and many companies (e.g., Bosch, GE, LG, Samsung, Sony, Whirlpool, and more) support both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

A picture of the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) in black on a bedroom nightstand.

The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) is less obtrusive than the already compact Nest Audio.

Unlike the Nest Audio, the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) supports wired audio alongside Bluetooth and Wi-Fi streaming. You have more ways to connect and stream media with the Amazon Echo, and the woofer and tweeters are nearly identical in size. That said, Google’s tuning software is mighty advanced and may outperform the Echo, even though the two speakers share similar hardware.

The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) is available for pre-order, but shipping doesn’t  begin until October 22. If you’re itching to get your next smart speaker, the Google Nest Audio is available now. Both speakers cost $99, and have similar features, but we won’t know how the Echo sounds until the end of the month.

Should you buy the Google Nest Audio?

The Google Nest Audio is the smart speaker for the minimalists among us. Its playful, quiet design is approachable which matches the attractive price

Google Nest Audio on top of coffeetable with a book and pair of Google socks

The Nest Audio features a 19mm tweeter and a 75mm midwoofer that handles the lows.

You can choose from an assortment of colorways: Charcoal, Chalk, Sage, Sand, and Sky. Even if you aren’t familiar with Google Assistant, the Nest Audio is a great way to dive into the world of smart speakers before investing too much time and money.

As good as the Google Nest Audio is, it’s a clear middle ground option between Google’s Nest Mini and Home Max smart speakers. While the Nest Audio has the opportunity to be a real hit, casual consumers may find it hard to justify when the Nest Mini is more economical. Similarly, audiophiles and party hosts may be drawn to the Home Max’s Room EQ and impressive output.

Editor’s note: this review was originally written using cast firmware version 1.49.227185.

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