Chromecast Audio Review: A Cheap Way To Teach Your Old Speakers New, Wireless Tricks

Chromecast Audio Review: A Cheap Way to Teach Your Old Speakers New, Wireless Tricks

In 2013, Chromecast was a revelation. For $50 you could transport virtually anything you could watch on a computer or phone to a television. Easy! Chromecast Audio performs a parallel magic trick for audio and speakers. It's a similar tech magic trick, that's lost its shock and awe.

AU Editor's Note: The Chromecast Audio isn't yet available in Australia. We can't wait for it, though... — Cam

What Is It?

A little $US35 dongle designed to bring music wirelessly to speakers much the same way the original Chromecast brought video to your TV. The updated line of Chromecasts feature a dual-band (2.7 GHz and 5 GHz) wifi, so hopefully your streams won't cut out as often as with the OG Chromecast.

Chromecast Audio Review: A Cheap Way to Teach Your Old Speakers New, Wireless Tricks

Wireless audio is long, long way from being considered a "new idea." Bluetooth audio has been relatively reliable for some time now, and it's built into legions of standalone speakers, much like the wonderful Boom series from Ultimate Ears. There are also a number of little adapters that bestow Bluetooth powers upon older products. And for people willing to spend more money, there's a new wonderful world of wifi audio like Sonos and others of their ilk.

Now, Chromecast Audio's nuzzling its way into your life somewhere between all those existing options. If you're already relying on a Bluetooth arrangement, you don't really need Chromecast Audio. This is for people who have some kind of speaker system — a dock, or computer speakers, or maybe even a fancy component hifi system — and want transform it into something that can play audio wirelessly.

Chromecast Audio Review: A Cheap Way to Teach Your Old Speakers New, Wireless Tricks

A little 1-inch plastic puck with a USB-connection on one end and a 1/8-inch audio jack on the other. USB goes to the required wall power and the audio winds up in the aux input on your (probably old) sound system.

This device is not good looking. In fact, it's kind of cheap. Hopefully you can hide it, where ever this ends up in your home.

What's It Like?

After connecting it to power and the speaker of your choice, an iOS or Android companion app will guide you through configuring the Chromecast to your wifi network. There's also a desktop utility for setting up your Chromecast. It's full of much hand-holding and is incredibly straightforward.

Chromecast Audio allows you to stream from basically any audio app you can think of. In the event that you can't, you can just broadcast any sound that's playing in a Chrome tab on your computer to Chromecast Audio.

Does it work? Mostly. Although, I encountered the same connectivity problems I that plagued the original, video-based Chromecast — despite the new dual-band wifi. When playing from apps on the new Moto X Pure Edition or iPhone 6s Plus I had virtually no issues.

I did have a rough experience casting audio from my Chrome tabs on two different Windows laptops. Nothing like choppy audio to make me want to return to an archaic-but-dependable wired existence.

That said, for the most part, Chromecast Audio works as advertised.

Chromecast Audio Review: A Cheap Way to Teach Your Old Speakers New, Wireless Tricks

What's It Good At?

It's a cheap way to make your existing sound system go wireless.

What's It Not Good At?

Casting from Chrome tabs on a computer yields spotty results, but if you live a predominantly smartphonesque existence, you shouldn't run into too many issues.

And yeah, it's ugly.

Chromecast Audio Review: A Cheap Way to Teach Your Old Speakers New, Wireless Tricks

Should You Buy It?

I suppose, if you don't have any way of wirelessly playing music already. Or maybe you have a big component audio system you haven't otherwise enabled with wireless powers. Why not.

Chromecast Audio only costs $US35, and it mostly works. That price is hard to argue with. Think of it as trial of wireless audio. If you end up stoked on blasting sounds through the air, you can always upgrade to a fancier wireless rig in the future.


Comments

    I still use the original Apple Airport Express just for audio - and I have turned off the wireless bit and have it wired into my network and amp. The main reason is that the Airport Express has optical digital audio out. It means I can have a stream digital end-to-end until it hits the speakers. presumably the DACs in my amp are better than those in the Chrome Audio thing. If they included a digital audio output, I would probably be sold.

      Optical out is embedded inside the 3.5mm connector, so you should still be able to use the DACs in your amp.

    I bought a couple of these CC Audio pucks, as I've loved the experience with the Chromecast Video (both version 1 and 2).

    My initial take on these are: I've wasted my money. I had a lot of trouble finding an App which can directly cast to the CC Audio (Pandora does, but, Pandora!), Spotify likewise does if you spring for the premium account (I'm too cheap to pay). Google Play Music initially looked promising for streaming my own music, but unless you purchase your music through Google Play, it doesn't let you steam your own MP3s etc complaining about "side loaded" content! So you're left with either casting your whole phone, or as the review above states, spotty results when casting via a chrome browser tab (for Youtube or similar)... from your laptop - and it really is spotty with blips and pauses periodically throughout play.

    The end effect is, I've got a device with very limited options to actually play music, unless I want all of the notifications/phonecalls etc streamed from my phone through to my stereo.

    As you can tell, I'm a bit disappointed. Hopefully the support will grow though and some silly limitation like not being able to stream your own MP3s will change.

      Google Play does let you directly stream your own music if you upload it first to the Google cloud.

      You could use BubbleUPnP...

    I still use a 10 metre RCA to 3.5mm jack cable, and then a 3.5mm plug to 3.5mm plug to my phone or tablet.

    It can play when the wifi isn't working, it's secure, it's very reliable and works whenever I want it to. I don't mind being tethered to a cable in my living room, it's fine.

    Also for "component" hifi systems or home theatre receivers that lack bluetooth, this would still require another RCA to 3.5mm socket (or jack) cable to work. Plus it requires power, and the power board at the back of my gear is already full. Add to that you need to be connected to the same wifi network all of the time, which doesn't suit those of us with multiple wifi networks in our homes. (connected to VPNs is a reason you might want to have multiple networks)

    No thanks. Elsewhere in my home I use bluetooth speakers, and they are convenient.

    PS - the UE Boom has got nothing on the JBL Extreme in terms of sound quality.

    Last edited 11/01/16 2:30 pm

      Maybe in terms of sound quality, but with no NFC it is an absolute no go for me!!!

      I've been surprised by how many bluetooth speakers/soundbars dont have NFC! Ive had it for a couple of years on one of my Sony soundbars and it is a dream!!!

      Wouldnt go to any other bluetooth setup for streaming audio ever again, based on being able to let anyone just start streaming their music and share the playlist that way!!!

        I find it much faster and easier to just turn bluetooth on myself, and deliberately have NFC disabled on my phone. I have no practical use for NFC and I can't see a benefit for me.

        Each to their own though.

          Fair call - Not sure how you find using your phones BT menu to connect to a device quicker or easier than just putting said device against it but... yeah...

          With my Note 5 to connect to a BT device manually I need to unlock my phone, use the drop down, go to BT menu, select device from available devices and give it a second to connect. When that can ALL be done by simply holding my device up to the NFC chip in between the speakers I'm not sure how manual is quicker or easier!

            Once a device is paired, simply turning on bluetooth should be enough.

            Plus NFC leaves you open to potential security issues, especially if you store your credit card on that same device (and leaving it on is also a drain on battery life)

              Yes you can bring up any negs about NFC you like - im across them

              So if you turn BT on to pair with your devices then no difference if i just turn NFC on when i want to pair another device.

              I use Gear S2 paired with my phone all day and my Shadow wireless headphones most of the day as well. So when i go home and my kids are watching curious George on the tele with the soundbar on it I dont exactly want it to auto pair or anything!

              So i use NFC when i want to pair the device. Seamless and perfect for my use case!

              If its the only BT you use then no problems but with multiple BT devices around the house it can definitely make it easier to do what you intend to when you are just pairing by shoving your phone next to it

              Being that my phone is paired with my watch and headphones most of the day, I'm not going to win on battery life just by turning NFC off non stop. Besides if i used Samsung pay it will still need my fingerprint to unlock the credit crd deets so i dont see as many potential security threats now as there was when all of this stuff was just concept.

    Did I miss any mention of sound quality?

      Yep, a pretty average and unenlightening review all round

    You've probably forgotten the best feature of these units, if you get more than one, with the latest firmware update you can link multiple units and cast as multi-room audio.

    Is that a power cable in the picture?
    Does this need to be charged?

    If so its a no go of putting behind your stereo set up.

      It needs to be powered, not charged. You need the AUX cable and power plugged in, just like the normal Chromecast.

    Great article Mario. For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix, Hulu and similar media stations on your Chromecast by using UnoTelly or similar tools.

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