Since it’s launch two years ago the Chromecast has become a firm favourite for streaming media in our house. The £30 dongle is attached to both TVs and despite there being a wide range of alternatives is the most used device for video. In that time we’ve also tried to use it for audio but neither TV has a particularly impressive sound system and having a huge screen using power when we are only listening to the sound seemed wasteful.
Google must have come to the same conclusion and has decided to try and enter Sonos’s market. The Chromecast Audio is a tiny round dongle that makes your dumb speakers smart. Plug it into a USB port for power then into a speaker’s 3.5mm input or a stereo audio jack and you can cast content to the speakers exactly as you would cast video.
Setup is straightforward. Plug the 3.5mm jack into speakers and the USB into the wall or other power. Go to the setup page on your computer and download the Chromecast App and your phone will create a direct wifi connection to the Chromecast Audio. This will take you through a few questions – what you want to call the Chromecast, turning on guest mode or not, wifi details and auto updating.
Once set up any device on your wifi network can cast to the Chromecast. This does include your PC (with the Google Cast extension), your Android phone and tablet or iOS devices.
To use you launch the app you want to stream audio from, press the cast button and the audio will start playing from the speakers. With most apps the content is streamed directly from the net rather than via the device that initiated playing. This means a second device can come in and take control and change things or adjust settings. Like the Chromecast this can be restricted to only devices on the wifi network or any device via a guest mode.
Included in the box: Chromecast Audio, 3.5 to 3.5mm audio cable, USB wall plug, USB to microUSB power cable
About Manufacturer: Google
Google as a company needs little introduction being one of the worlds biggest tech companies and holding dominant positions in search, email, mobile operating systems and they make one of the most successful smartTV systems – Chromecast which the Chromecast Audio is designed to build on. They have a number of environmental and social policies and are among the most emulated companies in the world.
The Ergohacks Evaluation
The Chromecast Audio is versatile and lends itself to a variety of uses, users, situations and changing circumstances. It supports 3.5mm, optical and RCA connections and can stream lossless music files for those of us who can tell the difference. Most similar systems use Bluetooth synced to a particular phone but the Audio uses wifi which means both that it can be controlled from multiple phones and that it uses far less battery power.
Once installed it is entirely controlled by software. The Chromecast app is well designed with Google’s Material Design elements throughout and is fully compatible with all of Android’s accessibility features.
At the moment the system is designed for only a single set of speakers but Google have promised a software update this year that will let it run a multi group and multi room setup. In other words you could have multiple of these plugged into multiple sets of speakers and play synchronised sound through all the sets.
The Chromecast Audio has a very simple and ergonomic design. Once plugged in it never needs to be touched physically again. It is small enough that it could be unplugged and taken with you while travelling but because it needs external speakers and a reliable net connection most people would not find many situations out of the home where it is useful.
The vast majority of the interaction people have with their Chromecast Audio is going to be via another non-Google app. In my testing if an app could cast video then it could also in almost every case cast the audio whilst either pausing the visuals or displaying a thumbnail. There are likely to be more apps that can cast audio in the future but currently both music and podcasts are well served. The only really big exceptions I found were Amazons Audible Audiobooks service and music in Apple’s iTunes – although there are ways around both.
Environment & People
Google has very progressive environmental and social policies but there are no particular policies that relate to the Chromecast Audio. The only exception is the fact that the device lets you bring an older set of speakers into use rather than having to invest in a new set of smart speakers.
If you are thinking about streaming audio to your home the Chromecast Audio is probably the cheapest way to get content from the internet playing. If you have a set of speakers you can add it to the total cost is very low at £30.
Chromecast Audio’s also usually come with a special offer or two. At the time of writing this is three months of Google Music and three months of Deezer music streaming. Given that Google Music costs £10 a month for the Premium service if you were going to be buying that anyway the Chromecast Audio would actually have no extra cost.
Size 5.1 x 5.1 x 1.3 cm not including cables which when plugged in make the longest dimension 11.3cm
Audio Cable: 3.5mm 14.5cm
Power microUSB cable: 175cm
Weight: 30 grams
Wifi: 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz)
Input power: 5V, 1A power supply
Supported OS: Android 4.1 and higher, iOS 7.0 and higher, Mac OS X 10.7 and higher, Windows 7 and higher
Warranty: Two year limited warranty if purchased directly from Google.
The Chromecast Audio does need a set of speakers or a hifi to play the music through. It comes with a 3.5mm cable but is also compatible with optical inputs with the correct adaptor. Finally the Chromecast Audio needs a wifi network and (in most cases) a reasonable internet connection.
The Chromecast Audio is an odd device. For it to be any use whatsoever you need to have a good set of dumb speakers around to be used that you want to resurrect and if its not a good set you might as well just buy a cheap bluetooth speaker. Assuming you do the Chromecast Audio is a quick, easy and affordable way to get some life back into older devices. Google promises multi room streaming and control in the future and at that point the Chromecast will go from a decent piece of kit to a great one.
For now recommended to bring easy high quality wifi streaming to dumb speakers and if Google follows through with their multi-system promises then highly recommended for everyone wanting a great home sound setup.
The review is based on the 2015 Chromecast Audio. This post contains affiliate links.