When Google recently held their big event, I was surprisingly interested in the new Chromecast Audio dongle announcement. I’d lost interest in the original Chromecast over the past year, instead meeting my streaming needs via the Roku platform, with a little Amazon Fire TV and Samsung Smart TV thrown in for good measure. That first generation Chromecast had sat unused for a few months.
I jumped onto Google Play the day they announced the $35 Chromecast Audio and ordered myself one to try out. It came two days later and the family has been enjoying it for the past week.
The full potential remains to be seen because multi-room streaming—similar to what a Sonos system can do—is promised “in a few months.” However, I wanted to try it out as an alternative to Bluetooth speakers and our 2008-era Sony S-Air wireless speaker system.
Summary: I like it.
Performance, with a good WiFi connection, has been good. Audio quality is excellent using the provided 3.5mm mini-plug. RCA and optical jacks are supported too, though I haven’t tested those out. Only the 3.5mm cable comes with it. It also comes with a micro-USB power supply which is required for use.
It basically works just like the regular TV/HDMI-style Chromecast as a network endpoint for casting-enabled apps on Android and iOS like Pandora and Google Play Music. Spotify has added Chromecast support as well, which is also coming to the first generation Chromecast.
The benefit of using the Chromecast Audio over Bluetooth audio is threefold. First, you can set the music to play and then walk out of the room or even the house without losing the connection. Second, your phone or tablet audio is not taken over like when you are using Bluetooth. You can take phone calls and even stream other music or make a video or otherwise use the audio system separately. This works because a Chromecast is basically its own streaming device that you merely control remotely, not (necessarily) stream from the controlling device. Lastly, without the need for the constant Bluetooth connection your mobile device will save some battery power for other things.
The benefit I am most excited and anxious to see the implementation of the multi-room feature. I hope it can stream anything in sync in all locations. This basically means you can do what Sonos does, but for a fraction of the price assuming you already have some good speaker systems lying around. Or you can outfit your own audio systems instead of relying on the specific Sonos (or Bose Soundtouch or other similar products) form factors.
A few additional items of interest:
- You can stream audio from tabs in the Chrome browser to the Chromecast Audio using the Google Cast extension, just like you can stream full audio and video to the regular Chromecast. Anything that can be played in the Chrome browser can be streamed to the Chromecast Audio.
- If the app you want to cast doesn’t have Google Cast support, you can use the Chromecast app to stream the audio from your phone over WiFi to the Chromecast Audio.
- Spotify control is nice because you can use any device with Spotify to control the stream because of the way Spotify implemented their Connect feature.
- For most streaming apps, it seems that you can only control the stream from the device that started the stream. I am hoping this is improved, as it would be nice to be able to share control especially if the person who started the stream leaves the house.
Overall, I am happy that this relatively inexpensive network-based device has come about as an alternative to short range Bluetooth speakers and high priced systems like Sonos.
Final note: Sadly, Amazon no longer allows the sale of Chromecast devices. The older generation Chromecast can still be found at Amazon, but you will have to visit the Google Play Store or Best Buy to find the Chromecast Audio or newer generation Chromecast.