Chromecast Audio review

This cheap and simple audio solution can make any home multiroom ready

Google's Chromecast Audio is the cheapest, easiest way to stream wireless sound to every room in the house.
Google's Chromecast Audio is the cheapest, easiest way to stream wireless sound to every room in the house.
Google's Chromecast Audio is the cheapest, easiest way to stream wireless sound to every room in the house.

Highs

  • Highly stable streaming
  • Sounds better than Bluetooth
  • Brilliantly simple setup
  • Extremely affordable
  • Multiroom audio support

Lows

  • Won’t stream iTunes or Apple Music from iOS devices
  • Third-party app required to stream audio from a computer
  • Included audio cable is relatively useless

Update: Added new information about Google’s Home app, new competitors, and more details about multiroom streaming.

At a special event in September 2015, Google unveiled its second-generation Chromecast streaming device, and along with it, the all-new Chromecast Audio. It’s not often you see an upstart device stand side by side with something as revolutionary as Google’s seminal video streamer, but the Chromecast Audio has been positioned as the keystone for the company’s plans to delve into the world of multiroom audio. Offering whole-home functionality, Chromecast’s signature simplicity, and an affordable $35 price tag, the device is one of the most affordable and intuitive wireless adapters on the market. Follow below for our in-depth Chromecast Audio review.

Out of the box

Crafted into a sleek black disc with vinyl-style grooves along the top, the Chromecast Audio comes packaged with a power cord and a 5-inch, 3.5-mm audio cable – that’s it. It’s a cute setup, but an audio cable that short and with that particular connection relegates it for use with powered speakers or Bluetooth speakers (maybe one of our favorites?) with an auxiliary input and not much else. If you want to add the Chromecast Audio to your hi-fi rig, you’ll want to pick up a different cable, such as a 3.5mm to RCA cable, or a 3.5mm to Toslink Optical cable — which is the preferred method for optimal sound. That raises the sticker price from $35 to more like $40-45.

Setup

Once you’ve got everything wired up and plugged into your speaker or sound system, it’s extremely easy to get going — just like the original Chromecast. After downloading Google’s Home app, you simply add the device as instructed, connect to your local network, fill in your Wi-Fi info, and you’re up and running. One caveat, here: Unless you’re wiring up the Chromecast to the wimpiest of speakers, you’ll want to go into the device settings right away and engage HDR music to lower the compression on your tunes.

Once you’re plugged in and online, you have your pick of the same wide selection of audio apps you’d get with the Chromecast for your TV, including Spotify, TuneIn, Rdio, Google Play, and throngs of others. The fact that the app is ready-built for Google’s new addition (thanks to years of app development) gives the Chromecast Audio a nice head start on its predecessor, though it makes purchasing the audio device for a home theater system a bit redundant if you’ve already got a video Chromecast, as it can simply run apps like Spotify through your TV.

The biggest draws of the Chromecast Audio include the ability to “cast” without the need for an HDMI port — or even a TV for that matter — as well as the ability to add multiple devices that can all work together over the same app. For those who have an extra hi-fi system here, or a powered speaker there, this allows you to essentially connect all of them over a single app, group them, and/or split them up for Sonos-like control, at a very nice price. Remember, however, that you’ll likely need to budget for cables, even when connecting with a 3.5mm input, since the compatible cable that’s provided is so small.

The limitations of the ‘cast’

As simplified as the Chromecast Audio is, iOS fans will run into some walls. Unlike similar devices that connect speakers over Wi-Fi (or Bluetooth for that matter), the Chromecast Audio can’t stream files directly from your iPhone or iPad when sourced from iTunes or Apple Music. Apple may be at least partially to blame, as the company has long-championed its own wireless streaming system, AirPlay. But regardless of which party is at fault, it’s a bit of a bummer for iPhone users. As you might guess, things are much easier for Androidians, who can use Chromecast mirroring to play any files on a phone or tablet.

The Chromecast Audio shines brightest by serving up super-stable streaming.

In addition, Amazon Prime Music — which comes free with a Prime subscription — won’t stream on the device either. Again, for a Bluetooth device, this simply isn’t an issue.

The Chromecast Audio has other limitations, too. You can’t directly stream audio files from a computer, or DLNA storage drive like many wireless music adapters, such as the $60 Muzo Cobblestone, for instance. There is a workaround for Google’s new device through Chromecast-supported server apps such as Plex, which allows you to cast any music files uploaded to your Plex library, but that might be more work than many users are willing to put in — especially considering all the other wireless options out there.

Chromecast Audio
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Billed as a hi-fi device, Google has said that the Chromecast Audio is limited to 24bit/48kHz resolution, for now. That’s less than some Wi-Fi streamers (which top out at 24bit/192kHz), though it bests some pricier systems like Sonos, which streams at CD-quality (16bit/44.1kHz) resolution. In any event, a slightly lower sample rate shouldn’t be a problem for most users because: a) it’s a $35 device, and b) it’s essentially designed to stream from music services, the vast majority of which compress audio files well below even CD-quality audio. Users with a large number of hi-res tracks will likely want to find a more refined streaming solution such as a top-tier AV receiver.

Performance

When it comes to serving up brilliantly stable streaming, the Chromecast Audio really shines. Many wireless streamers with homegrown apps – from the Cobblestone mentioned above, to big players like Samsung and Denon – struggle with stuttering on occasion. Not so with the Chromecast. Whether we were casting from Spotify, or tracks from our Plex library, streaming was rock solid.

As promised, audio performance is definitely better than what you’ll get from Bluetooth devices, with more detail and better dynamic range that fosters a more intimate listening experience when connected to a quality speaker set. However, when we tested the Chromecast back-to-back with our Cobblestone, we actually heard a bit more clarity and instrumental timbre through the latter device, especially in the upper register. In comparison, cymbals and other percussive instruments sound a bit smoothed over with the Chromecast Audio, though both devices do a pretty impressive job for their price points.

Our Take

While there’s no shortage of competition in the wireless streaming marketplace, the Chromecast Audio is among the simplest, cheapest, and most convenient ways to make virtually any audio device in your home wireless, while linking a few together can bring multiroom audio to your home for a pittance.

How long will it last

Made of fairly light plastic, this isn’t the kind of device you expect to stand as a seminal home theater component. On the other hand, our original video-streaming Chromecast is pushing 3 years old, and hasn’t skipped a beat. With proper care, there’s no reason the Chromecast Audio shouldn’t last for years to come.

What are the alternatives

While there are plenty of pricier wireless speaker systems like Sonos, DTS Play-Fi speakers, and multiple other speaker choices, the first thing that comes to mind is the Muso Cobblestone we mentioned above. There are also tons of Bluetooth devices that will stream all your music (iOS or otherwise), including pricier ones like the impressive Astell and Kern’s XB10 and highly affordable ones like the $20 Jumbl. However, none of those adapters allow for multiroom streaming, and even without that feature, the Chromecast Audio is still a fantastic choice among the crowd for its functionality and affordability.

Should you buy it

Yes, but assess your options first. If you’re looking to stream music to your home theater system wirelessly, the original Chromecast works great and brings all of its video streaming features along for the ride. However, if you’re looking for an easy and convenient way to connect a powered speaker or home theater system without a the need for a TV or HDMI connection — or if you want to connect a number of speakers in a multiroom setup — the Chromecast Audio is an excellent way to go.

Highs

  • Highly stable streaming
  • Sounds better than Bluetooth
  • Brilliantly simple setup
  • Extremely affordable
  • Multiroom audio support

Lows

  • Won’t stream iTunes or Apple Music from iOS devices
  • Third-party app required to stream audio from a computer
  • Included audio cable is relatively useless
Product Review

Audio-Technica's M50xBT headphones bring signature studio sound to the streets

Audio pros may balk at cutting the cord on studio headphones, but it’s hard to argue with these results. Audio-Technica’s wireless ATH-M50xBT offer massive battery life and killer sound you can take anywhere.
Smart Home

Walmart serves up a rare deal on the Google Home Max at $100 off

Some deals are predictable and others are pre-announced, but today Walmart posted a rare deal: $100 off the powerful Google Home Max. Since it rarely goes on sale, waiting may not be prudent. If you want one, grab it.
Computing

Great PC speakers don't need to break the bank. These are our favorites

Not sure which PC speakers work best with your computer? Here are the best computer speakers on the market, whether you're working with a tight budget or looking to rattle your workstation with top-of-the-line audio components.
Mobile

These voice-changing apps will have you punking friends and family like a pro

Have you ever wanted to call your friends as Darth Vader or Alvin from the Chipmunks? If you want to play a prank on your friends, we have the best voice-changer apps for iOS and Android, whether you want to record audio or make a call.
Home Theater

SoundCloud hopes to add listeners with 50 percent discount for students

SoundCloud launched a student discount for it's top-tier SoundCloud Go+ membership, dropping the price to just $5 a month. It's a good deal for students, but will it be enough to keep the music platform from going under?
Computing

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.
Home Theater

iPhone owners can finally hear the highest-quality streaming music on Tidal

If you're an iPhone owner who is after the highest possible audio quality from your streaming library, you now have the best option out there: Tidal's Masters Quality Audio (MQA) is now available on iOS.
Home Theater

Get loud with the best outdoor speakers to rock your party in any weather

From rugged, solar-powered backwoods listening companions to floating pool party jam boxes, the best outdoor speakers partner with your lifestyle to let you listen to your favorite tunes wherever you go.
Music

Apple Music offers a few subscription options. We break them down here

Competition for music streaming apps is quickly dwindling with giants like Apple Music and Spotify dominating most of the market? But how much does Apple Music cost and what does a subscription to the music-streaming platform entail?
Home Theater

If you’re a Spotify Premium subscriber, you now get Hulu for free

Spotify Premium subscribers have yet another reason to love the Swedish streaming service, with the company now offering ad-free Hulu accounts to all premium users at no additional cost.
Music

The best free music download sites that are totally legal

Finding music that is both free and legal to download can be difficult. We've handpicked a selection of the best free music download sites for you to legally download your next favorite album.
Music

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which service is the streaming king?

Apple Music is giving Spotify a run for its money, but which service is best for you? In our Apple Music vs. Spotify showdown, we compare and contrast all we know about the two streaming music services.
Home Theater

Apple Music completes its Amazon migration, is now available on Fire TV

Amazon's popular Fire TV devices are now compatible with the most popular on-demand music streaming service in the United States, thanks to a new integration with Apple Music that has finally hit Fire TV devices.
Emerging Tech

This streaming music service pays artists in Bitcoin, plants trees if you listen

Feedbands is an environmentally friendly subscription streaming music service that pays its artists in Bitcoin, and plants trees in exchange for authenticated listens from customers.