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Chromecast Audio Makes for an Even Better Internet Radio

I’ve written before how a Chromecast is a great and inexpensive way to bring internet radio into your living room, or anywhere you have a television. Now, Google is taking streaming audio one step further with the release today of Chromecast Audio.

Like the original video Chromecast, the Chromecast Audio receives content you send from your mobile device or computer, but the new one is specifically designed to connect and play over a stereo system or powered speakers. It also does it for a very low price: $35.

On the surface this may seem a lot like Bluetooth, except there are a couple of differences that may be significant.

Significantly for those who care about sound quality, the Chromecast Audio works over wi-fi, which means that audio isn’t recompressed like it is over Bluetooth. Also, according to its specs, it supports high resolution uncompressed audio up to 24 bits at 96 KHz, much higher than the CD standard of 16 bits at 44.1 KHz. This is higher than Apple’s AirPlay, which permits streaming to an Apple TV, AirPort Express or other compatible device, but only at CD quality.

Chromecast Audio also has an optical digital output, which lets you connect it to a compatible receiver, powered speaker or headphone amp, potentially delivering even better sound than the device’s analog outputs.

Additionally, when using compatible apps with a regular Chromecast you actually don’t stream the audio from your device, so much as hand off the stream to the Chromecast. That means you can do other things on your device, including listen to a different audio app. It’s not entirely clear if the the Chromecast Audio will operate this way, but it sure would be cool if it did. Then you wouldn’t be quite so tethered to your device, letting the music play on even if your phone runs out of juice or crashes.

Up to now one of the biggest limitations for many people for using the Chromecast for music was the lack of support for Spotify. That ends today, with the announcement that Spotify will support both the video Chromecast and the Chromecast Audio. Of course, Chromecast is already supported by Google’s own Play Music, as well as other services like Rdio, Pandora and Songza.

Now, the Chromecast Audio sure starts to sound a lot like the Sonos system (which I’ll be writing more about tomorrow), especially the Connect audio component which adds the Sonos system to any stereo system. Only the Chromecast costs about $300 less. So if all you want to do is send high quality audio from your phone to an existing stereo, the Chromecast Audio looks like a pretty good buy.

However, one of the things that I like about Sonos is that it’s actually independent of all your devices. While the desktop and mobile app control a Sonos speaker or Connect, the Sonos system isn’t dependent on the app. You can use any computer or smartphone running the Sonos app to control any Sonos device at any time, no matter which one you used to start up a stream. You can even start and stop, and control volume right on the Sonos device, and the app itself is pretty powerful and intuitive (again, more tomorrow about that). Plus when you factor in the cost of good powered speakers to use with the Chromecast, the price disparity narrows quite a bit.

That isn’t to say that I’m not a little bit excited about the Chromecast Audio and anxious to try one out myself, especially since the cost is so low. It seems like a no-brainer for anyone who has a decent stereo or nice powered speakers and wants to easily connect her smartphone wirelessly, and with higher fidelity than Bluetooth.

Right now the Chromecast Audio is only available directly from Google, and it comes with a free 90 day subscription to Google Play All Access, for commercial-free on-demand streaming.


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6 Responses to Chromecast Audio Makes for an Even Better Internet Radio

  1. Scott Atkinson October 9, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

    Paul –

    Got one this week, and it’s brilliant at $35.

    One point: if you’re using a supported service – Pandora, Spotify and quite a few others – you’re *not* dependent on the tablet or phone or whatever you use to get things started. It hands off the stream to the Chromecast Audio and you’re then free to go on your way. It’s pretty much like using your Android device as a remote.

    The only time that changes is if you’re using an unsupported service – I subscribe to SiriusXM, for instance – in which case you have to use the ability of the Chromecast to “mirror” whatever you’re playing out from your laptop or tablet. This is much less awkward than it sounds; last night I just opened Chrome – not my favorite browser – logged into S/XM and told the Chrome browser app to mirror what was being played. It worked more or less flawlessly for a couple of hours, which is better than I ever did with my Squeezeboxen.

    I’m sure Sonos is better in important ways, and I’m eager to try a Play1. But as a cheap Squeezebox replacement – and a way to put off buying a $300 Connect – this is far better than I expected.

    As for how it sounds: I haven’t tried the optical yet, but will this weekend. Early on, I’m just running a mini-plug out to my “ok but nothing special stereo” (an NAD receiver, PSB B1 speakers) and it sounds fine.

    s.

  2. Scott Atkinson October 10, 2015 at 4:48 am #

    Apologies for responding to my own note but I just wanted to clarify – I didn’t read your original post carefully enough, but yes, the Audio operates exactly like a regular Chromecast does.

    s.

    • Paul Riismandel October 12, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

      Hey Scott, thanks for sharing your experience with the Chromecast Audio! Please let us know how it goes if you try out the optical connection.

  3. John October 22, 2015 at 11:28 pm #

    Dear Paul,

    I’d like to ask one question which I didn’t see covered in your article.

    If I open a radio station stream in my browser, without using one of the services such as Pandora, etc., can the Chromecast Audio pick that up and play it through my regular stereo system ? (using RCA adapters in my case)

    Or do I need to be running it from an “app” which has a cast function ?

    This isn’t quite clear to me.

    As you know, there are thousands of radio stations which can be streamed through a browser window. Today I was listening to “Radio Classique” from Paris, France. When I click the player, a separate chrome player window opens up. However, I don’t see a “cast” button anywhere. Here is a page from that particular station that shows the different ways it may be accessed. http://www.radioclassique.fr/radio/ecouter-radio-classique.html

    I hope I made my question somewhat clear. I’m just not sure that with the apps I will have as wide a selection, and I may have to listen to ads (?) and so forth that are not on the native radio station.

    Thanks, this is the first time I have seen your website, it came up when I used the relevant search terms. Nice job on this !

  4. Paul Riismandel October 26, 2015 at 10:48 am #

    Hi John,

    If you are using the Chrome browser on your computer or Android device then you can cast any browser tab to your Chromecast.

    On an iOS device you must be using a Chromecast-enabled app.

    Links that spawn a browser window without any navigation bars–like Radio Classique–do make finding the Google Cast button difficult. One solution is to copy the URL into a new browser tab in your main browser window.

    For radio stations, I suggest using TuneIn which is enabled for Chromecast on all devices. Try this link for Radio Classique: http://tun.in/sepM6

    I hope that helps.

    –Paul

  5. John October 27, 2015 at 2:13 am #

    Thank you Paul. Yes that is indeed very helpful. It’s funny, several months ago I asked the young fellow who helps me with my computers about running internet stations through my stereo. We ordered the necessary items needed for a bluetooth connection, but I commented that it seemed like wifi would be a much better way to do it. And now I’ve stumbled across the Chromecast Audio.

    There’s another topic I’ve been wondering about for a year or more, which is “hardware” for listening to internet radio. I’ve read online about the Sangean device; a search I’ve just done shows a few other makes — Grace, CCrane and Mutant.

    What is your take on these ? I can’t find anywhere on this site that you have reviewed them. The reason I’m interested is that I’d like to be able to come home and just turn on the radio, without using my computer or my phone to cast.

    On the other hand, I’ve ordered the Chromecast Audio, which will allow me to cast to a “real” stereo system, and I don’t know if these devices will allow me to tap into a stereo system, eg. via a line out function.

    Another area of interest is how exactly one tunes into the various stations when using these “radios”. It appears to be not as easy as turning a dial. The CCrane canned be programmed to ten to twenty preset stations, but the setup seems slightly complicated. Are there devices that do this more easily?

    Have I overlooked any reviews you have done on these devices ? If you haven’t done, it might be an interesting area for further coverage. Maybe you can even get some units sent out to you for trial and review.

    Thanks again for your reply and great website, I’m wishing you continued success.

    John
    San Diego

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