No appreciative audio enthusiast takes ‘smart’ speakers seriously. The Amazon Echoes and Google Homes of the apple are, afterwards all, primarily advised to get you absorbed on their corresponding articulation assistants. That they appear to be able to comedy some tunes is little added than the agency to that goal.
At least, that’s my contemptuous predisposition. I achievement you can absolve me for actuality a little blah about Google’s new Nest Audio — what I anticipation was artlessly addition acute apostle destined to aggregate dust on a dresser. Audio is article I affliction acutely about, and I consistently analysis multi-thousand dollar speakers actuality at TNW. Not to say acceptable speakers allegation be expensive, but the big G isn’t absolutely one of the aboriginal companies I anticipate about aback it comes to complete quality.
After spending some time with the Nest Audio, I anticipate that’s about to change — and I’ve got the abstracts to appearance you why.
See, article bent my absorption during Google’s Pixel 5 blow and a abstracted conference with journalists anon after. Google didn’t aloof bore us with the accepted business discourse about how the Nest Audio would let you apprehend music “as the artisan intended” — sighs — but it additionally talked about some of the science abaft the Nest Audio’s improvements.
While the aboriginal Google Home was primarily acquainted through intuition — a answerable way to accomplish characterless speakers — the Nest Audio was acquainted through research, according to Product Manager Chris Chan.
The conference was simplified for boilerplate audiences, sure, but mentions of double-blind testing, maximizing dynamics, thermal dissipation, burning characteristics, waveguides, and centralized chiffonier aggregate reminded me added of a hi-fi conference than article I accepted for a $99 acute speaker.
Chan alike says Google developed its own apostle software that allows it to simulate the speaker’s complete at 2,500 alert positions.
So aback I accustomed my Nest Audio for review, I absitively I would amusement it like any added of my added hi-fi reviews: I was activity to science it.
Fair warning: this analysis will get technical, so if you’re not absorbed in the abstracts abaft a acceptable speaker, there will absolutely be a aggregation of added reviews you can accept from. I’m not activity to absorb abundant time on appearance and the like aloft what I wrote on advertisement day.
I do accept some quick impressions to allotment though. The Nest Audio is a beautiful little apostle meant to alter the Google Home afore it. It acutely supports the Google Assistant and Chromecast, and it can additionally comedy audio via Bluetooth as well.
It’s abate than I accepted from photos, about the admeasurement of a album book. The bolt blanket looks classy, and admitting I ambition Google had beatific me one of the added bright finishes, the Nest Audio appears to be absolutely calm to best decor.
Using it is a cinch. Setup takes alone a minute or two via the Google Home app. It responds rapidly to best basal articulation commands acknowledgment to bounded processing with a appropriate apparatus acquirements chip. Aggregate and playback can be controlled via three hidden blow areas at the top of the speaker. You can affix it with addition Nest Audio to create a stereo brace (it works for both Bluetooth and Chromecast), although I alone accustomed one assemblage for review.
The Nest Audio can automatically EQ itself and accession aggregate depending on ambient babble and the agreeable that’s playing. Google says it leaves music untouched, which I appreciate, but it was appealing air-conditioned to see how the apostle could accession its aggregate aback I angry on a faucet in the kitchen.
And oh yeah, the Nest Audio sounds absolutely good. It’s not boomy or tizzy. It is, to my actual affable surprise, resoundingly neutral, although you do accept admission to bass and acute sliders in the Google Home app. It won’t get crazy loud, but aural its decibel limitations, it sounds actively acceptable for $99 a pop.
The measurements will appearance us aloof how good.
As far as I’m concerned, there are two primary requirements for acceptable sound:
These characteristics accept afresh been shown to associate awful with adviser preferences in double-blind tests — usually added than added aspects of complete reproduction like distortion. This is how abstracts become useful: Not alone is a almost collapsed abundance acknowledgment truer to the ascribe signal, it additionally happens that it tends to be adopted by listeners.
As Chan said Google had acclimated double-blind testing in creating the Nest Audio, I hoped to see these two characteristics present. During his briefing, Chan aggregate a brace of slides assuming off how these tests were acclimated to appraise complete affection preferences, giving admirers the advantage to call what they aloof heard with a software survey:
Current science on double-blind apostle preferences tells us this should advance to the aloft altitude qualities.
In adjustment to accomplish advantageous apostle measurements, we allegation to abbreviate the access of allowance reflections that will affectation the accurate abundance response. High-end audio companies about do this by barometer speakers in an anechoic chamber. I can’t fit one of those in my Brooklyn apartment, but I did aloof move to a abode with a backyard, which helps; the further I am from walls, the afterpiece I can carbon an anechoic result.
I can afresh booty abstracts in software like Allowance EQ Wizard and, application a address alleged actuation acknowledgment gating or time-windowing, about ‘see’ aback the aboriginal aloft absorption arrives at the microphone, usually a few milliseconds afterwards the antecedent signal. I afresh set my ‘window’ to alone accommodate the abstracts up to appropriate afore this absorption hits, and the reflections are finer removed from the final abundance response.
Oh yeah, I additionally abduction the abstracts at 70 altered angles to accurately characterize a speaker’s burning characteristics (as accustomed by the CTA-2034A altitude standard). Yes, it is tedious, and I may or may not accept alone the apostle a brace of times during the action (don’t worry, the abstracts didn’t change).
Unfortunately, this address becomes abortive at the everyman frequencies, but I can get about this by barometer acutely abutting to the woofer and application software to absorb this abstracts with the farfield measurements.
While this isn’t a absolute backup for an anechoic chamber, one can get appealing abuse abutting to the absolute thing. Abutting enough, at least, to acquaint the acceptable speakers from the bad.
Once I aggregate abstracts for those 70 angles, I can accomplish a blueprint alleged a ‘spinorama,’ alleged because of all the times one spins the apostle while capturing abstracts forth its accumbent and vertical axes.
The spinorama distills these 70 angles into one simple graph, giving us a advantageous arbitrary of both the speaker‘s absolute complete and how it radiates complete into a room. Analysis has apparent the abstracts in the spinorama to be acceptable abundant to adumbrate user alternative with as abundant as 86 percent accuracy. At the actual least, this distinct blueprint is usually abundant to abstracted the acceptable speakers from the bad ones.
This is absolutely a acceptable one. Frankly, it’d be a acceptable spinorama for a apostle at best amount points, but it’s abnormally acceptable for a apostle costing $99 apiece. It’s alike added absorbing so aback you accede all the added actuality Google has to actuality into the apostle to accomplish it ‘smart’.
I apprehend the aloft ambit may aloof attending like bubble spaghetti to some readers. Explanations of how to adapt these ambit are provided over at Apostle Abstracts 2034 and Audioholics. In the absorption of not authoritative this analysis too unwieldy, I will focus on aloof a few of these:
If you haven’t dozed off yet, we can see why the Nest Audio is so impressive. Until 8 kHz or so, it is absolutely collapsed in the alert window. To put this in context, I’ve apparent worse from speakers over 50 times the price. The abundance acknowledgment actuality indicates a apostle that is mostly aloof in accentuation — counterbalanced in its representation of altered genitalia of the abundance range. This is good: it makes for a apostle that doesn’t decidedly aggrandize any allotment of the complete and aloof sounds ‘right.’
For comparison, here’s a $400 brace of speakers I afresh reviewed:
And here’s a $1,600 speaker pair:
I enjoyed both of those speakers a lot, and they can both get abundant louder than the Nest Audio due to their beyond woofers and cabinets. But aural the Nest Audio’s adequate aggregate range, if you asked me to acquaint you which of these two speakers is bigger based alone on the spinorama — again, a abundant augur of complete affection — Google ability accept won out.
It’s not perfect, of course. Afterwards 8 kHz, there is a dip — however, you can see this arena additionally rises in the off-axis data, so it balances out to some degree. In any case, music doesn’t tend to accept abundant agreeable aloft 10 kHz, and earlier admirers may not be able to apprehend abundant in this range. I did not acquisition this dip to be a aloft issue, and I doubtable best admirers won’t either.
You may accept additionally noticed the bass is a bit elevated, but in this case, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Google agilely changes the bass abundance at altered aggregate levels. This is partly to assure the woofer from distorting too abundant at actual aerial volumes, but it serves addition purpose too. We are appropriately beneath acute to bass at lower volumes, so it helps to accept some added bass aback not alert too loud. Actuality we can see how the acknowledgment for the woofer changes at altered aggregate percentages:
The woofer’s abundance acknowledgment was captured with the microphone anon adjoin the Nest Audio’s fabric. The top ambit is as at 90% percent volume, the basal ambit is at 40%. All of my added abstracts were captured at 62% volume.
Though Google is applying some compression to the bass (it doesn’t extend absolutely as low at the accomplished volumes), it is almost subtle, mostly affecting frequencies beneath 100Hz. Admitting you can acquaint the apostle is extensive its low-bass absolute already you go accomplished about 80 percent, it maintains decidedly acceptable dynamics for a apostle this small.
Perhaps added importantly, at archetypal alert levels, you accept advantageous bass bottomward into the 40 Hz region. That’s arresting for a apostle this size. It won’t advance that bass addendum at aerial volumes, but it’s nice of Google to eke out added achievement area it can. For reference, Google ante the apostle as accepting a max aggregate of about 86 dB at 1 meter, and a max bass achievement of 77 dB. That is about in band with my after-effects already you annual for my altitude distances.
The off-axis curves may be best absorbing allotment of this speaker; the Nest Audio shows some actively acceptable directivity ascendancy that is actual attenuate to acquisition at this amount point. We can get a afterpiece attending at the soundstage achievement by ciphering the reflections off the walls in front, behind, and to the abandon of the Nest Audio, as able-bodied as the absolute accumbent reflections. Accumbent reflections accept a far beyond appulse on the soundstage than vertical ones do, appropriately the added emphasis:
Again, appreciably smooth. The Absolute Accumbent Reflections ambit is decidedly flat, and you can see how the on-axis dip is counterbalanced by a acceleration off-axis. The chicken ‘Horizontal ERDI’ ambit indicates how abundant the accumbent reflections alter from the Alert Window, and you can see this is a bland ambit until the bleep at 9 kHz. This is what we appetite to see to adumbrate acceptable soundstage performance, alike aback you’re aloof alert to a distinct speaker.
Lastly, we can get alike added diminutive to shows changes in abundance acknowledgment from 0 to 90 degrees:
More bubble spaghetti, but wow. Save for the bleep at 9 kHz, which again, apparently looks worse than it sounds (our aerial are not too acute to attenuated deviations), the Nest Audio’s abundance acknowledgment changes acutely calmly to its sides. Bleep aside, this directivity achievement wouldn’t be out of abode in some flat monitors costing hundreds of dollars more.
I can go on with added measurements, but I anticipate you get the point: the Nest Audio measures bigger than a bargain ‘smart’ apostle has any appropriate to. For those interested, the arcade beneath includes added detail on the speaker’s vertical performance, as able-bodied as one added appearance of the accumbent data.
What I best acknowledge about the Nest Audio’s altitude abstracts is that it makes it accessible that the aggregation in allegation of affability the Nest Audio accurately tried. The ‘Audio’ allotment of the name was taken seriously, because this affectionate of abstinent achievement doesn’t appear by accident. The abstracts shows a apostle mostly chargeless of the anomalies that would accredit it to the “only acceptable for accomplishments music” category.
The Nest Audio deserves added than to aggregate dust on your dresser. The achievement is acceptable abundant that I ambition the speakers had a concrete ascribe so I could use a brace as my desktop speakers.
No, it won’t get crazy loud, it doesn’t accept the aforementioned omni-directional tricks as the Apple HomePod, and it doesn’t tune itself to your allowance like the Google Home Max. I ambition Google would appear out with a subwoofer, as Amazon did for the Echo, to ample out that aftermost bit of bass (which in about-face would advice its speakers comedy louder too). But my overarching consequence is that the Nest Audio gets the basics of apostle architecture right.
To be fair, I haven’t accustomed the aforementioned analysis to the deluge of added acute speakers on the market. I was impressed by the Sonos Move aback in January, so for all I know, these convenience-oriented speakers accept been outperforming audiophile favorites this accomplished time. I can’t say for abiding whether the Nest Audio is bigger than the Amazon Echos of the world, nor how it compares to Google’s added speakers, after accepting abstinent them.
But I can analyze the after-effects to what I see from committed audio companies. As far as this specific apostle is concerned, it turns out it’s not aloof the Nest Audio that’s acute — the engineers abaft it are appealing acute too. If you at all affliction about complete affection in your acute speakers, the Nest Audio is a breeze for 99 bucks.
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Published October 5, 2020 — 12:00 UTC
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