Chromecast audio review: Worth tuning in for?

18 Nov 2015

Image via Connor McKenna

As an avid fan of the standard video Chromecast, I was keen to get my hands on the newer Chromecast Audio, which promises to take old hi-fis and give them a 21st century makeover, but is it worth it?

I’m not going to lie, when I first heard about the Chromecast Audio I questioned the necessity of it as a standalone product.

After all, the original Chromecast could cast audio through Google Play Music or other music streaming services like Deezer and Spotify, at least through the TV.

So what exactly does the Chromecast Audio bring to the table?

Well, mostly it’s a simplified version of the Chromecast. It won’t cast YouTube videos or Netflix, but it will relatively discreetly connect to the same supported audio streaming services but move them to the hi-fi.

Many of us probably have old stereo systems lying around that have cassette tape players, CDs and even MiniDisc players, but most likely we just use it to play the radio.

Once you have your Chromecast Audio set up with the local Wi-Fi network, the idea is that you plug in your device into an available ‘aux’ port, which will then receive and play whatever music you’re casting.

Chromecast Audio box

The Chromecast Audio box. Image via Connor McKenna

Setup – a little finicky on iOS

I’m an iPhone owner, but would have Android devices that I’d cast to, so I was curious to see if there would be any trouble connecting either of the two operating systems.

With my previous Chromecast, I hadn’t found any issues with setting up for both, but for whatever reason the Chromecast Audio for iOS appeared to have a few issues.

When the device is being setup, the stereo should emit a beep to tell you that it has successfully connected, which it did, and all appeared well on Android.

However, with iOS it seemed to take an awfully long time and a few restarts to get it to connect eventually, with it not being able to see that there was a Chromecast locally.

I can’t say I could pinpoint exactly what the reason was for this, but once it got working I was able to dive in and begin playing around with it.

Given it’s a Google operating system, it’s inevitable really that it would be easier to set up on the Android operating system, but it shouldn’t really dissuade you if you own an iOS device.

Chromecast Audio setup

The device is activated in cast-friendly apps, like Google Play Music.

How it looks – A vinyl-looking thing

Those who may have owned the first generation of Chromecast might be taken aback by the new, circular nature of the latest edition.

While both the new Chromecast and Chromecast Audio appear identical in shape, the key difference is the addition of a vinyl-like surface on the Chromecast Audio to, obviously, associate its use with music.

Like the first Chromecast, it’s small and unobtrusive and would be hardly noticeable except for the luminous yellow cable that connects it to the 3.5mm aux connection.

It’s certainly a small, fashionable device that would appeal to the nostalgic mind, although vinyl-lovers would probably baulk at the idea of using digital.

Chromecast Audio design

Image via Connor McKenna

Is it worth it?

Bar a slight second delay that’s seen on most casting devices, the audio streamed exactly as I would have expected. The sound came out as clear as you would want at a party, for example, and, most importantly, you could control the audio volume through the device.

Where I see it having most value is at a large party where a bunch of people can connect to the device if they want, rather than fiddling around with a laptop hooked up to a speaker or TV.

This is probably the best feature where people can enter guest mode and connect to the Chromecast Audio without actually being connected to the Wi-Fi network.

Chromecast Audio aux connection

Image via Connor McKenna

Or a complete hindrance depending on the type of people you have at a party who try to hog the music choice.

So, bear this in mind. For years now, we’ve had Bluetooth-enabled speakers that allow you to control your music wirelessly with relatively clear signal.

The difference being that the Chromecast probably costs less than a standalone speaker does at €39.

As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t a device that I feel I would go out and buy myself seeing as I already own a Chromecast and use that regularly and exclusively for streaming video, but small venues and regular partygoers might appreciate taking their old hi-fis and giving them a new lease of life.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic