Chromecast Audio review

Michael Sawh

By

Updated:

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Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Pros

  • Really easy to set up
  • Works with a large variety of speakers
  • Chromecast app is simple to use
  • Strong third-party app support

Cons

  • Sound delay when casting from website
  • Multiroom support not available (yet)
  • Has to stay plugged in

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Key Features

  • Stereo analogue output
  • Optical digital output
  • Micro USB mains adaptor
  • Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4Ghz/5Ghz)
  • Supports 24-bit/96khz HD audio
  • Works with Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS and Chrome OS
  • Manufacturer: Google
  • Review Price: £30.00

Update (4/5/16): Google's dinky Chromecast Audio was cheap to begin with, but it can currently be had for even less. Curry's is selling the device, which turns your old speakers into Wifi connected versions, for just £15. That's half price. This means you can listen to your Spotify playlists and Google Play Music tunes wirelessly. We were impressed with the Chromecast Audio in our initial review, which you can read below, thanks to its simple set-up and affordable price.

What is the Chromecast Audio?

The Chromecast Audio is a small music streaming device that you can plug into a speaker system or hi-fi so you can access music over Wi-Fi. It's Google's attempt to try and do for music what it did for video with the first-generation Chromecast. So not only can you listen to audio from the likes of Spotify and Google Play Music, but you can also play music straight from websites such as YouTube.

It costs £30, the same as the new Chromecast, and for the money you get an easy-to-set-up piece of kit that might not be an essential buy for everyone, but has the potential to be awesome with future software updates.

Chromecast Audio – Design and Features

The Chromecast Audio looks nothing like the original Chromecast and that's a good thing to me. Google's adopted the same circular design as the latest Chromecast to make it look less like a USB stick. I like it. It's small as well, athough larger than that first Chromecast, and it weighs in at a supremely light 30g. It's not going to hog much space next to or on top of your speaker or amplifier.

You can tell the two new Chromecasts apart from the vinyl-inspired finish, which makes the Audio look like a little chunky record, complete with tiny grooves. The logo on top is supposed be a Google one, but I can't help thinking it looks like a Beats headphone ear cup...

On the bottom and the sides is some grey plastic where you'll find a 3.5mm jack socket, a Micro USB charging port and a reset button. When you're all plugged in, a little notification light pops up, indicating the status of the device. For instance, a pulsing white light means you're disconnected and a solid orange light means you've got some problems.

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In the box you get an eye-catching luminous yellow 3.5mm-3.5mm stereo cable that's 146mm long, as well as a 1.75m power cable which plugs into the Micro USB port on the Chromecast Audio and has to remain plugged in during use. The 3.5mm jack socket also doubles as an S/PDIF optical output, so for high-end (or older) hi-fi systems and AV setups you have the option of an optical connection or using a 3.5mm-to-RCA cable. You can pick up the RCA ones for a couple of pounds but it'll be £5 or £6 for the digital cable. A full outline of supported cables can be found on the Chromecast Support page.

Packed into the small device is an AKM AK4430 DAC (digital-to-analogue converter) that supports Hi-Res Audio up to 24-bit/96KHz.

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Streaming music from your device to the Chromecast Audio is done over Wi-Fi, ensuring you can stream high-quality audio without the usual Bluetooth issue of losing a connection because you're too far away. There's support for 2.4GHz and 5GHz network bands – something that was notably missing from the original Chromecast – so you should have no problem getting a connection.

The built-in Wi-Fi will also open up other features such as multiroom support, so you can use multiple Chromecast Audios dotted around in different rooms for a Sonos-style setup. Unfortunately that's not available yet, but it should come via a software update through the Chromecast app.

So what speakers does the Audio work with? Well, anything that's got some form of amplification and an audio input. You can connect it to a portable speaker, soundbar, AV receiver, hi-fi system or even your TV if it has audio inputs.

Chromecast Audio – Setting up and Chromecast app

Google claims it's really easy to set up the Chromecast Audio, so I decided to time how long it took me. There's no instruction booklet included, just three very simple setup steps on the inside of the box. From plugging in the mains power and connecting the Chromecast Audio to a subwoofer on a 2:1 speaker system, to setting up the app on an Android phone, it took less than 10 minutes. It really is that easy.

There's app support for all the major platforms, including Windows, but you'll need to be running the most recent software versions. You can check compatibility on the Chromecast Audio page. I used the Galaxy Note 5 and it was all pretty straightforward. You need to download the Chromecast app from the Google Play Store and once launched it'll automatically search for nearby Chromecasts.

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Setting up the Chromecast Audio is as painless as with the Chromecast. You're asked to listen out for a sound to indicate that the Audio is correctly connected, then you can rename the device and enable Guest mode. This enables other users to stream music from their mobile devices without having to be connected to your Wi-Fi network. You can set up a PIN in the Devices section to control who has access.

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After checking for the latest updates, I was ready to go. The Chromecast app keeps things simple, pulling Cast-compatible apps through – in my case Spotify and Google Play Music. In the Devices section, you can make some pretty simple adjustments like enabling sounds for when you adjust the volume.

If you want to browse for compatible apps, there's a section in the app dedicated to it. Scroll down and you'll be able to view the full complement of Chromecast Audio-friendly apps. The key players are there, like Spotify, Qello Concerts, Rdio, 8tracks, Deezer, 7digital Music and TuneIn Radio. Sadly, there's no love for Amazon's new streaming service and as we exclusively reported, Google did try to add Apple Music support but was unsuccessful in doing so.

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Chromecast Audio – Performance

I've tried the Chromecast Audio with a series of speaker setups: surround sound speakers, traditional hi-fi systems and desktop computer speakers. In all instances the Audio was up to the task. There were no problems establishing a connection or setting it up and I was streaming music in minutes, every time.

Cast-enabled services such as Spotify and Deezer work effortlessly, letting you pick and control music selections. One of the best features is the ability to carry on with what you're doing on your phone, tablet or computer without interrupting the music. I was playing Real Racing 3 on my iPhone 6S Plus without any issue.

As for sound quality, I tried it first with a pair of Bose active speakers and it handled music with no problem. From there I moved on to my old Soundscience 2:1 speaker system where I had to plug it into the separate subwoofer, and on up towards some more serious hi-fi kit. I didn't feel it was a match for my Sonos setup streaming the same services. But in most cases where the Chromecast Audio will be used, the sonics will be influenced far more by the quality of the music stream, the speaker(s) and the amplification than by the Chromecast Audio.

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Where I did encounter some slightly niggling issues with performance and audio quality was when I had to cast a screen with accompanying audio from a website. Doing this is very similar to the way you do it on the Chromecast. You need to go into the dropdown menu on the app and select to Cast screen/audio. I tried it with YouTube playing a few music videos while the video played back on the phone.

There's generally a 1- to 2-second delay with the video and the audio streaming. It might not sound like a lot but you'll notice it. The standard Chromecast is likely to do a better job than that with video, and clearly the Audio's hardware isn't built to juggle sight and sound at the same time.

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Should I buy the Chromecast Audio?

If you have a load of speakers you're not ready to ditch, the Audio is a great way to give them a new lease of life. It's so easy to use and set up. Streaming over Wi-Fi means there are no issues with range like there is with Bluetooth, and there are plenty of great audio services that support it, with many more likely to follow in the near future.

But I think its appeal is smaller than the regular Chromecast's. It's a tougher sell unless you really love your music. The key will be the addition of multiroom support. Just think you could spend £150 on five of these and if you already had the speakers in place, throw a house part without forking out on a more expensive speaker setup.

Even with most modern speaker setups offering Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, the Chromecast Audio could save you a serious amount of money and make your home audio even smarter.

Verdict

The Chromecast Audio does what it promises in a really simple way, but it's the future software updates that could make this a truly affordable way to create a multiroom speaker system.

Overall Score

8

Scores In Detail

  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Value 9

Best Deals for Google Chromecast Audio

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MattMe

October 1, 2015, 2:26 pm

The box art isn't misleading - it shows the device plugged into a powered monitor speaker, not a 'normal speaker'.

I'd like to be able to use this multi-room from my Synology NAS. I'd buy 5 of them if I could do that.

alsosavagemike

October 1, 2015, 4:48 pm

I'm assuming the NAS has a DLNA server or the like? There are apps, I believe, which support DLNA and Chromecast as well. So it should work fine though I've never actually tried it myself.
Example: Orpheus Music Player on Android claims to support both.
https://play.google.com/store/...

I've never used this app myself so this isn't a recommendation mind you. Just saying you should be able to find an app for that.

artinvent

October 1, 2015, 6:31 pm

Got mine yesterday. Been waiting for something like this for ages. Probably the easiest electronic device I have ever set up. DL'd the app and connected, Spotify playing in about 2 minutes. Then streaming a radio station via TuneIn Radio. Brilliant, stone simple and so much better in every way than using bluetooth. Ordering another.

Know two people with Sonos which is awesome, but overpriced. And I already have great sounding speakers in many rooms. Would rather have this and use my own stereo gear. Ordering another today. If it truly plays on more than one speaker set in sync - well, bye by Sonos.

One last thing I would like to see - speakers with Chromecast built right in. Chrome cast has to be plugged in separately from the speaker power, and hung on or taped to the back of the speaker. I have a battery powered speaker . . . but CC still has to be plugged in.

Mike Testa

October 1, 2015, 10:08 pm

i would imagine that this combo will exist. I'm currently doing something similar with AirPlay. There is an IOS app called WHAALE that can use the synology plex pkg as a source and control multiple AirPlay targets. I would imagine that several used airport express devices could be used instead of these chromecast devices if you needed a solution right away for a similar price...

sao_paulo

October 2, 2015, 10:15 am

Probably the only real advantage Sonos still has over this is, as I understand, Sonos actually creates it's own mesh network on your wifi network that doesn't interfere so much with the rest of the network.

But otherwise I'm so glad I've held off starting an expensive Sonos setup, as I can use my assortment collection of powered speakers to achieve a similar thing with these Chromcasts at a fraction of the price. Looking forward to it.

ElectricSheep

October 2, 2015, 11:06 am

Would be good to see a small battery built into this in future models, a little 500 mAh battery won't add too much cost and should supply a few hours away from the plug.

Alain Sylvestre

October 9, 2015, 7:16 pm

You said in you cons Has to stay plugged in. Seriously ? It seem to me that if it is not plug in of course we will not heard anything! A bizarre remark.

aeonturnip

October 10, 2015, 9:01 pm

Will it really handle multi-room sound in sync as Sonos does so well, I wonder? If anyone has tried it, please let us know.

Ivan Ramirez

October 16, 2015, 3:52 pm

Hello to all, I just
bought 3 Chromecast Audio devices, one for myself (I have 2 powered speakers in
my deck) and two for my friends (gifts), but I'm really disappointed to
find out that Chromecast Audio does not support YouTube for casting. In the first
paragraph of this review I read "So not only can you listen to
audio from the likes of Spotify and Google Play Music, but you can also play
music straight from websites such as YouTube.” Maybe I misunderstood, but I decided to buy the
device based on this review. If I'm incorrect on any comment please let me know.

Robert

October 20, 2015, 4:12 pm

If you want to go portable just buy a small usb battery pack to plug into. It will keep running for hours.

Pete Fowler

October 30, 2015, 9:22 pm

I've hooked mine up to my DAC via a £2 mini Toslink cable off eBay. That's the only way to hear what it can really do. It sounds really good, better than AirPlay, and although there's a brief delay, it's less than with AirPlay. Many apps already have the option to cast directly; Spotify, Qobuz and radio iPlayer, both on iOS and Android. I've found it works just as well on both. And if you do so it's the Chrome cast which is doing the actual streaming, your phone or tablet just acts as a controller. But on Android you can cast ALL the audio output. So I can play all the high res files on my phone direct to my stereo. Frankly both Apple and Sonos should be really worried about this. It's rendered my £400 Denon network streamer redundant at a stroke...

Gary Rollagher

August 29, 2016, 2:45 pm

I bought mine to play music using Windows which I knew was likely to be hit and miss; it was mainly miss. However I bought an ordinary Chromecast and rewired it for audio using a HDMI to VGA with sound out adaptor. HOWEVER PLEX now supports WMA and would work fine with the audio version as it has a Google Cast option. It is also better at organising media libraries and displaying album art than anything else I have used.

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