When Google introduced the first Chromecast, the tiny dongle swept up the community of cord cutters with its ability to make an ordinary TV into a smart TV. This time, Google rolled out an audio-focused device: the Chromecast Audio.
First off, the Chromecast Audio looks like the lovechild of a vinyl record and a tiny hockey puck. On one side, it has grooves molded into it, and on the other, it's smooth. It's fitted with a microUSB port for power and a 3.5mm input to connect to audio systems, supporting both RCA and optical inputs as well. In the box, Google included a 5-inch auxiliary cord and a power adapter.
"The small black puck is essentially a headless version of the excellent Google Chromecast which has lost the HDMI cable and gained direct analogue or digital audio output," Samuel Gibbs of The Guardian noted.
Performance-wise, the audio quality it dishes out is pretty good in terms of analog output, but for the digital output, it tops out at 24-bit/48 kHz instead of the promised 24-bit/96 kHz in print.
"The unit currently sets the digital output to 48 kHz, as verified when we connected the Chromecast to our Oppo BDP-105's audio DAC (digital analog converter)," Ty Pendlebury of CNET said.
The Chromecast Audio houses an 802.11ac Wi-Fi, supporting both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. But in streaming from YouTube, Chris Davies of SlashGear came across another minor issue.
"At times I did observe a little audio/video syncing delay between the YouTube video playing on the screen and the sound coming out of the speakers," Davies wrote.
Now in using the Chromecast Audio, the Chromecast app needs to be up to date. Keep in mind that a smartphone or tablet isn't necessary, as the Chrome has an extension that works nicely with it. To set it up, power it up and then connect the dongle to a speaker first. It supports almost any speaker, even old hi-fi equipment. On the app, enter Wi-Fi credentials and name the dongle. Once everything's set up, tap the Cast icon, which looks like a TV with a skewed Wi-Fi in the corner, to stream music into the device on any app that supports it. It's that easy.
"There's no instruction booklet included, just three very simple setup steps on the inside of the box. From plugging in the mains power and connecting the Chromecast Audio to a subwoofer on a 2:1 speaker system, to setting up the app on an Android phone, it took less than 10 minutes," Michael Sawh of Trusted Reviews said.
Google listed several compatible apps, including Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music and NPR One, to name a few. The list might be missing a few apps right now, but Google intends to add even more soon. However, it looks like Amazon Prime Music, iTunes and Apple Music are not supported.
"You won't find Apple Music, Tidal or Amazon Prime Music in the list of supported music streaming services. I reckon that Tidal will come eventually, but the others? I doubt it," Cameron Faulkner of TechRadar wrote.
Now let's talk about features. The connection between the app and the Chromecast Audio is direct, which means other sounds or notifications won't interrupt the streaming audio. Next up is the Guest mode, where other users can access the stream even without connecting to the owner's Wi-Fi. A PIN can be set up to keep unwanted guests away. Lastly, Google promises to bring multiroom playback soon, a feature that will let several speakers play the same audio file simultaneously.
"If the company can deliver on that promise, the uber-affordable Chromecast Audio could increasingly become a versatile and useful tool to add to your wireless arsenal," Ryan Waniata of Digital Trends said regarding the upcoming multiroom feature.
Priced at $35, the Chromecast Audio seems to be a real game changer, delivering good-quality audio, streaming functionalities and a lot of useful features.
"It's cheap, easy to set up and does exactly what it's supposed to," Nathan Ingraham of Engadget said, summing things up nicely.