When Google brought out the original Chromecast in 2013, it represented a cheap and easy upgrade to all those TVs that weren’t ‘smart’. In fact, if you bought a smart TV in that year, you likely paid quite a premium for it and yet support for apps may now be dwindling.
Chromecast though, continues to go from strength to strength and alongside the new 2nd generation Chromecast for your television, there is now ‘ChromeCast Audio’ for your speakers.
If you’ve bought a stereo of any sort in recent times, it’s just possible that it’s been given a few smarts. It may be able to stream internet radio, or connect to Spotify. If you’re keen, or rolling in it, you’ve splashed out on some Sonos gear and have multi-room audio speakers wirelessly filling your house with tunes from your favourite app or personal collection.
Just like the original Chromecast did in 2013, the new Audio seeks to give the rest of us a cheap upgrade so that we can enjoy these services from our existing speaker systems. With a low price and your smartphone or tablet taking on the role of wireless remote, this is a pretty compelling idea.
Out of the box, the Chromecast has the appearance of a small hockey puck. Nicely weighted so it won’t slide around, the plastic disc (available in 3 colours including black, garish and even-more-garish) has a grooved surface giving it the appearance of a vinyl record. The only connections available are a micro-usb for power, a 3.5mm line out and WIFI for connecting to your broadband.
Setup is wonderfully quick and easy. Use the 3.5mm cable to connect the Chromecast to your stereo amp (or powered speakers), connect the power lead and then download the Chromecast app to your smartphone or tablet. One word of warning, this is a line-out connection, so dial your amp’s volume down to zero and bring it back up when you’re ready. I had mine set to a level for my bluetooth adaptor, but nearly blew up my speakers when first using it with the Chromecast!
The first time you run the ChromeCast app, it will search for any available ChromeCasts and then guide you through connecting it to your WIFI connection. You can also give that Chromecast a name, eg ‘Living Room’ so that if you decided to buy a few, you can easily see which one you’re about to send your tunes to.
The Chromecast app is also useful for floating up apps from the Play Store that support casting to Chromecasts. Obviously Google Music is there, but I was pleased to note that Spotify also has support, as does PocketCasts (a lovely podcast app for Android).
Now you’re ready to enjoy wireless music from your trusty stereo. Start an app like Spotify and it will inform you that casting devices are available. Tap the link and select from the list (in my case a list of one, but it’s here that you can pick your room for example) then hit play and sweet melodies flow.
Now I’ve reviewed solutions like the Chromecast in the past, mainly those that use bluetooth to stream music wirelessly from your phone directly. The Chromecast Audio differs slightly, in that your phone is basically passing the ChromeCast a link to the internet to go source and play the music for itself. Once playing, Spotify or whichever app you’re using will continue to act like your remote control, but it’s not got the burden of streaming the music from the internet and then streaming it on to the stereo. This is great for your phone’s battery-life and it stops all the notifications and alerts pinging through your stereo at the same time!
Sound quality is very good. At least as good as the bluetooth dongles that I’ve tried in the past. You certainly won’t notice any difference on a small speaker system. I tried it on my AV amp, which is connected to surround speakers and I felt the audio was a little bit crisper with more detail than bluetooth alternatives.
Given that the Chromecast is price competitive with many bluetooth options, I’d say that I’d be inclined to recommend a Chromecast for most people’s needs. If you’ve shared your WIFI key with your friends, they can easily cast songs too, which is great for gatherings and parties. Something that is just not practical with bluetooth. Where bluetooth retains an advantage, is that many of the devices contain a battery, so they don’t need to be connected to power and can give you wireless audio when you’re travelling too.
So today, the Google Chromecast is an affordable way to upgrade your stereo for wireless audio. Great for those of us who would rather not upgrade the whole stereo just yet, but Sonos and the rest of the multi-room audio providers needn’t worry. At least not today anyway...
... you see, Chromecast Audio can receive software updates and a very exciting one is promised. In the not too distant future, you’ll be able to cast your music to more than one Chromecast at the same time and they will play in perfect sync. Moving between rooms will see the music come with you and that’s a feature that currently costs quite a bit of money. Tomorrow, Sonos et al may have a problem.
£90 to see my kitchen, living room and bedroom set up with multi-room audio is exciting and it's a relative bargain.
Today, the Chromecast Audio is recommended, but after the update, I’ll be singing it’s praises!