For a few years now, Google has maintained three sizes of smart speakers: small, large, and just right. With the new Nest Audio speaker, Google has taken “just right” to a whole new level.

Which Nest speaker is right for you?

When buying a smart speaker, there are really only a few key factors most people need to keep in mind. The first, and debatably most critical, is your preferred voice assistant. If you want Siri or Alexa, you’ve got solid options in the Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo series, respectively. As for the Google Assistant, your best bet is with Google’s own Google Home and Nest speakers.

From there, it’s simply a matter of the size of the room you’re putting the speaker in. For a bathroom or small office, a $49 Nest Mini — or two, for stereo sound — will suffice, filling the room without bothering the neighbors. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the $299 Google Home Max brings a massive soundstage and volume enough for a whole studio apartment or even an outdoor space.

For everything in between those extremes, the Nest Audio is your Goldilocks of Google Assistant speakers. In my own usage, the Nest Audio has plenty enough volume to manage both my moderately sized bedroom and my apartment’s much larger combined kitchen/dining/living room space. Beyond that, Nest Audio is a front-firing speaker, helping more sound reach your ear, rather than your neighbor’s walls.

Google Nest Audio (Sage) in bedroom

Look and feel

To accommodate the wide variety of places you may wish to place a Nest Audio or two, Google has opted for an aesthetically pleasing yet undeniably neutral design. Between its fabric exterior and pillow shape, I’d describe the speaker’s look as soft and comfortable. No matter which of the five colors you choose, Nest Audio can cleanly blend into your home’s decor.

As you would expect from a Made by Google speaker, the Nest Audio has touch controls located on the upper front of the speaker. A tap to the left or right corner will adjust your volume down or up, respectively. Meanwhile, the middle touch area serves different purposes in different contexts, letting you pause/play music, dismiss timers and alarms, answer/end Duo calls, and more.

The placement of the touch areas feels natural, making it easy to manage volume without looking directly at the speaker. And as always, the fabric Google used feels pleasant to the touch.

Google Nest Audio (Sand) underside

Sizewise, the Nest Audio’s footprint on a surface isn’t much larger than that of two Nest Minis, making it easy to slip in almost anywhere. About the only places I wouldn’t use Nest Audio, due to the outer fabric, are the kitchen and the bathroom. While I’m sure there are ways to keep the fabric clean, the extra effort seems counterproductive for what is supposed to be a device that simply blends into the background. Of course, that particular complaint applies to almost every Google Home, Nest, and even Echo speaker.

Smarts

At its core, Nest Audio is fundamentally the same smart speaker experience that Google has offered for a few years now, taking advantage of the small improvements that have happened along the way. If you’ve used a Google Home or Nest speaker before, you know exactly what to expect. The only advantage I noticed was that the setup process of adding the speaker to my “Home” felt just a few seconds faster than usual.

If you’ve not used a Google Assistant speaker before, all of the setup happens through the Google Home app for Android or iOS. In the short process, you’ll teach the Google Assistant to recognize your voice — or compare notes with your phone if you’ve set up “Hey Google” there before — and pick out your preferred music and video providers.

With that, you’re now able to control your various Chromecasts and other smart home products, start playing music, set timers and alarms, and ask general questions to the Google Assistant all by voice. On its own, the Nest Audio is a great hands-free media experience, but as you add more smart things to your home, the experience gradually feels more useful and impressive. Starting a game on Stadia on your Chromecast Ultra or moving music from one speaker to another solely by voice is a very cool feeling.

Additionally, to help put the “Nest” in Nest Audio, Google allows the speaker’s built-in microphones to act as something of a secondary security system, listening for sounds like glass breaking or a smoke alarm and alerting your devices. However, this functionality requires a Nest Aware subscription.

Google Nest Audio (Sage) Volume touch controls

As an aside, let’s take a closer look at the volume controls, which are probably the one thing Google hasn’t quite nailed on their speakers. When managing volume by voice, you either need to specify a number between 0 and 10 or a percent between 0% and 100%. Having these two separate scales is a pinch frustrating as you need to say something like “Hey Google, set volume to 68%” to get to a precise volume level. If you forget to specify percent, the Assistant is quick to tell you that the volume only goes to 10.

Beyond that, the amount that volume is adjusted by can be a bit inconsistent. Using the touch controls, volume is adjusted by 5% at a time, while Android’s volume rocker when casting does finer adjustments of about 2.5% per click. Meanwhile, saying “Hey Google, turn it down” does a much broader adjustment of 10%.

To my ears, the correct level of adjustment for Nest Audio is probably 2.5%, as there is a massive difference in volume between 60% and 70% and even between 60% and 65%. That said, I can see the opposite side of this frustration as people probably don’t want 40 separate volume levels when adjusting upward or downward by voice.

Sound quality

Of course, a smart speaker can have all the smooth looks and smart capabilities in the world, but at the end of the day, what really matters is if it sounds good. Without a doubt, my answer is an emphatic yes, the Nest Audio sounds great, especially for its price point.

Under the fabric cover, each Nest Audio is equipped with two speakers — a 17mm tweeter and a 75mm mid-woofer. This arrangement is effectively one half of what you would find inside of the bigger, beloved, and more expensive Google Home Max.

One thing Google has added with Nest Audio is the ability for the speaker to automatically tune itself to the room and surrounding objects. While I can’t say that I ever noticed this feature in practice, the Nest Audio also sounded roughly the same, no matter where I put it in my home.

In its default tuning, Nest Audio’s profile — to my ear, at least — emphasizes low and lower mid-tones, making the guitars and basses of rock songs feel powerful. Notably, these lows are only heard, not felt, likely due to Google’s use of a mid-woofer rather than a subwoofer. Lead vocals are able to shine through above the instruments, but vocal harmonies are a bit harder to pick out than I’d like, though definitely still audible.

My personal taste in music leans toward pop-punk, which often has a powerful drum beat, but I found the speaker lacking the proper punch of the drums and the shimmer of cymbals. While this didn’t ruin the experience for me, it’s definitely the one thing I’ve found disappointing about Nest Audio. You can tweak the treble and bass levels in the Google Home app to be more to your liking. That said, I was unable to find a tuning that brought the punchiness I was really looking for, but this was only an issue for the one genre.

Google Nest Audio (Sage) on bed

Every other genre I’ve thrown at it — classic rock, lo-fi, electronic, jazz, classical, you name it — the Nest Audio delivers an inviting sound profile for both casual background noise and intent listening sessions.

Unfortunately, I was unable to test Nest Audio’s ability to pair with a second speaker to offer true stereo sound. The fact that it’s on offer at all is impressive, but at $99 each — or $179 if you buy two at a time — it’s a bit cost prohibitive.

Setting aside my thoughts of Nest Audio’s sound profile from an analytical standpoint, the speaker also has a certain hard-to-describe quality to it. As just a person listening to music, this speaker manages to spark within me the desire to dance in a way that smart speakers typically have not. This is, of course, highly subjective and may not reflect your Nest Audio experience, but I felt it worth mentioning all the same.

Should you buy Nest Audio?

All in all, the Nest Audio is an overall fantastic package, bundling the long-standing smarts of the Google Assistant with a high-quality set of speakers for a fair price. As proven by the HomePod Mini, $99 is most definitely the sweet spot for smart speaker pricing.

If you’re looking to upgrade one of the — possibly many — Google Home Minis in your home to get a more full-bodied experience, Nest Audio is definitely the one to buy. Or, if you’re just getting set up with an Assistant smart speaker for the first time, Nest Audio fits squarely in the “just right” category in size, volume, and experience for most rooms at a price fit for most budgets.

Nest Audio is just $99 and is available at a variety of retailers.

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Kyle Bradshaw's favorite gear