Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Review: Chromecast Audio

My dated stereo system, now with a Chrome Cast Audio upgrade!


I've been a Chromecast user for a few years now and was super excited by Google's announcement of Chromecast Audio - a device similar to the original Chromecast that allows simple music sharing.

My family recently moved and our new home has built in home speakers on the main level that are connected to a nice, but dated, stereo system. While it had an audio input port, it was annoying to have to leave my phone on the counter anytime that I wanted to play music. Shortly after moving I researched replacing the stereo with a more modern system with WiFi / Bluetooth connectivity (i.e. Sonos), but was turned off by the high prices for replacing my otherwise sufficient system.

Chromecast audio seemed to be just what I needed; A simple, affordable device ($35) that bridges the gap between my low-tech sound system and my high-tech mobile devices.

I ordered a Chromecast Audio from the Google Store shortly after it was released. Currently you can only pick up this device from the Google Store, although it is reportedly coming to Walmart and Best Buy in the near future. Free shipping makes it easy enough to order directly from Google.

Neat Chromecast clam-shell packaging. 
First, I would like to say that Google has really upped it's packaging game. The clam-shell box that the Chromecast comes in is really cool! I guess Apple isn't the only company paying attention to packaging anymore!

Chromecast Audio is extremely small; slightly larger than a silver dollar. The size makes it super easy to tuck this little device out of the way; since it's powered by WiFi there are no line-of-site issues to consider. 

Chromecast audio next to a half-dollar
The device has two ports: a mini USB port on one end for power and a traditional 3.5mm audio jack (normal headphone size). Google generously provides an audio cable (very short 4"), power cable, and wall charger to power the device. This means that you'll have one less mini USB cable and wall charger to order from Amazon and makes the $35 price point an even better deal! If you're an audiophile, you can review the complete tech specs for the Chromecast here.

Setting up your Chromecast is easier than it was with the first generation. All you need is a mobile device (Android or iOS) and the free Chromecast App from Google. Launch the app and it will automatically discover the new Chromecast and walk you through the setup process to get it connected to your network. Once connected to your network, plug it in to your stereo system and you are ready to jam!

Chromecast supports a variety of streaming music services including Pandora, Spotify, Songza, Google Play Music and iHeart Radio. Launch a supported app and look for the "cast" icon to appear, allow you to send the audio signal to your device. Make sure you grab the free Google Cast extension for your Mac, PC, or Chromebook so that you can stream from your computer as well.

The bad news for iPhone users (like me) is that you won't be able to stream content from any of Apple's services (including iTunes or the Music app on your phone) to Chromecast. I wouldn't look for this to change...ever. The good news, is that you can automatically mirror your iTunes library to Google Play Music for free (unlimited storage). Download the Google Play music App on your iOS device, and you can play everything that is in your iTunes library - plus you have a secure backup of all of your music!

I'm guessing you have probably used some sort of streaming device (Bluetooth speaker, AppleTV, etc). Chromecast Audio is WAY better; and it's all in the technology. Once your mobile phone connects to your Chromecast and begins streaming, the Chromecast takes over, streaming content directly from the web into your speakers, cutting your phone out of the process. This significantly improves audio quality, eliminates buffering, physical line-of-site or proximity issues, preserves battery life on your phone, and allows you full use of the phones voice command and other features. It's AWESOME!

Another issue that you may experience in a home filled with mobile devices - what if a song comes on that you don't like but your wife's phone is streaming? Not much you can do except hunt down her phone and skip the song. With the newly designed Chromecast App, anyone can see what is currently playing, adjust the audio volume, and stop streaming. You can't currently change the song; hoping that feature is added soon!

I've only begun using Chromecast Audio, but I'm already sold. $35 is an absolute bargain for this device and it performs better than much more expensive and complex alternatives.

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1 comment:

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