Assemble audiophiles, this might just make you start talking to a speaker.
For long, speakers have done one thing, pour sound into our living spaces. But ever since we’ve started talking to the all-knowing butlers nestled within our smartphones, the space under ₹10,000 gets all sorts of funky audio devices. The puck-sized Nest Mini and Amazon’s Echo Dot are fine examples of kicking quality for functionality and Google’s own Home speaker was designed to take commands quickly. Does that mean our What Hi-Fi? Magazine Editors spent more time with their cupboard sized speakers than their loved ones in the living room? Definitely. Although, the Nest Audio might change their perception for the quality and the price it drops at.
We mostly yawned through the Nest Audio presentation during the Launch Night In event by Google. Draped in all fabric and the new tissue-box-shaped-but-curved-on-sides Nest Audio didn’t feel as exciting back then. But having spent some time with it now I can confidently say that the Nest Audio is on to something here. Especially for the folks looking to grab a good audio speaker under ten grand.
This Charcoal coloured speaker also comes in Chalk (fancy for white) colour. If you’re looking for the other three colours that were shown during the presentation, forget it. We don’t know where they’re and don’t think they’ll be showing up soon in India.
It’s 75mm woofer and 19mm tweeter are sitting in the front where the LEDs and touch strip are placed. The backside doesn’t get any love so you’ll want to place this in a way where the audio is directed towards you. We haven’t got our hands on the ball-shaped Amazon Echo (2020) that is priced at ₹9,999 but judging from its shape we know its a top firing speaker. Which I think might produce more distributed audio, unlike the Nest Audio that is firing in a straight line.
Albeit, that doesn’t hinder the Nest Audio from filling the space with toe-tapping music. The Way You Make Me Feel by Michael Jackson will get you into the groove and you might even find yourself moving in your chair with the King of Pop. The speakers also pick up the rhythm when playing 2Am by SummerClub but you won’t find the same clinical finish which is present on the otherwise expensive Apple HomePod.
Just having one in your house will be enough to throw the sound around the house. At full volume, the Nest Audio absolutely crushes any smart speaker in this price range. And it even picks up the clarity in Anderson .Paak’s voice in Heart Don’t Stand a Chance. If you drop the volume below 50%, things start to become less desirable. The definition almost vanishes from the room between 0 to 30% and punches back to acceptable levels from 50% onwards. It’s weird but this speaker needs to be kept around or above 50% to get the most of. Nest Audio is also not a champion at creating a wide soundstage. It has the energy and precision when playing Milton At Midnight by Zero 7 but audiophiles might stroke their chin from the lack of depth. It’s not a deal-breaker though. This thing is priced at ₹8K and you can’t find a better one that does sound and smarts together.
Google’s own Nest Hub which we reviewed last year comes with a screen plastered on it which some might find to be a better deal. So if audio isn’t your top priority then the Nest Hub and Echo Show 8 is where you’d want to throw your money at.
That said, judging from the sound alone the Nest Audio might convert any non-believers into staunch worshippers of smart speakers. Three far-field mics pick up audio even on 100% volume. If you want to trouble the neighbours, get the audio to a screaming 100% while playing the Sugaan Essena by The Hu and towards the second half of the song the band really kicks it into full swing. Their Mongolian roots start to sink in and the speaker keeps up with the energy and pounding bass. The Nest Audio does a fantastic job of capturing the strums from the horsehead fiddle (morin khuur), Mongolian guitar (tovshuur) and the Jew's harp (tumur khuur) in the song. It does justice to all these traditional Mongolian instruments without scraping the vocals. Even the alien-sounding Wolf Totem is executed with punch and definition. The speaker makes sure to keep the vocals sharp without colouring the lows or the highs when TS. Galbadrakh’s throat singing starts to swing from unbelievable lows to exhilarating highs.
We had no issues connecting with our AI butler at full volume and that’s when the speaker really starts to show its money’s worth. If you feel your AI butler is ignoring you then you can increase the sensitivity of the mics in the settings on the Google Home app. And if you’re paranoid about Sundar Pichai finding out how you trick people in Among Us, there’s a hardware-level mute slider at the back. You can even access your data which is stored with Google and delete them at any time from the myactivity page on Google’s website.
It does what we’ve come to expect from Google AI. Control your Android telly and smart bulbs are just the start of home automation. If you have another Google speaker, throw it the Speaker Group on the Google Home app and you can have them playing audio together at the same time. Even though Google is platform agnostic, we had some connection issues with the Speaker Group feature on iOS. Google wouldn’t execute commands or play music when it was clubbed with another speaker on the iOS Google Home app. When we switched to an Android phone, the thing worked flawlessly. Giving you individual audio controls and a master volume for both speakers as well. You can also pick up two Nest Audio devices and have them play audio in stereo, it didn’t seem to work with other Google Home speakers though. You’ll definitely need another Nest Audio speaker for a stereo setup.
Google also says that the speaker EQ adapts to the content you’re listening to. So if you’re sticking to podcasts, the AI will do its mumbo jumbo and lay emphasis on voice. Not that we noticed a big difference but it's one point Google wants to talk about.
The smart speaker that puts audio first. We’re going to use the Nest Audio for its audio and controlling smart home products is an added bonus. The AI butler is always on our beck and call even at the highest volume and the touch controls on top are for those who want a bit of muscle movement. Not us, we’re happy commanding the Google AI to do our bidding with voice alone and it’s definitely the smartest in the room with Alexa just hot on heels and Siri arriving on the spot slower than the Internet Explorer.
The fact that 70% of the speaker is made from recycled plastic is something we’re very happy to talk about. We wish more products go the eco-friendly route soon.
The only problem we have with the Nest Audio is that there’s no Apple Music or Amazon Music support. We had to use Bluetooth to get our Apple playlist in or shift to Spotify or Google’s music platforms. Jio Saavn and Gaana are also supported. Another thing Google did is that they removed the 3.5mm jack from the rear which means you can’t add AI brain to your expensive but dumb speakers.