The Google Chromecast was (and still is) the simple savior the rickety Smart TV revolution needed. Instead of buying an all-new television to access the latest entertainment apps, all you need is something that a large percentage of us have already: an HDMI port, an internet connection and 40 bucks. Now, Google is trying its hand at a device that will give the wireless home audio world a much-needed kick in the pants.
Chromecast Audio, much like the one that can hook into your TV's HDMI port, is deceptively capable despite its small build. And again, like the Chromecast, this one attempts to undercut the more expensive solutions out there by offering Wi-Fi-powered music playback at the aggressively low price of $35 (£30, about AU$48).
While it doesn't offer true multi-room streaming at the moment (fingers crossed that comes soon), this easy-to-use and affordable device modernizes any trusty set of wired speakers you already own with wireless capabilities. In doing so, it also opens them up to features that will grow and get even better over time.
The Chromecast Audio was announced alongside a refreshed Chromecast, which it's nearly identical to. Save for the charming record grooves etched onto the top of Chromecast Audio, you'd confuse the two from a distance had the new Chromecast not come with its distinguishing, looped HDMI cable attached.
This plug-and-play device is small and light, roughly the size of a camera lens cap and only about as hefty as a pad of sticky notes. And although it's meant to be hidden along with your other audio visual cables - and works perfectly without direct line of sight thanks to operating on Wi-Fi instead of the sometimes pesky Bluetooth protocol - the Chromecast Audio is definitely not an eyesore.
By design, the discus-shaped device hosts very few features, instead leaving the twiddling to your smartphone or tablet. As for what you'll find on the device, there's a microUSB port around its perimeter, which, at the time of writing, is only used for powering it up. There's a status LED (white when everything's fine, orange when it's updating or having issues connecting) and a button that resets the dongle to factory settings should things go awry. On the opposite pole, there's a 3.5mm input where you can use the included 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, or swap it out in favor of longer one, a 3.5mm to RCA adapter or digital optical cable.
The device may grant wireless freedom to your wired speakers, but to get this thing operational is, by no means, a wireless affair.
Setup and compatibility
Getting set up with Chromecast Audio is as easy as it was to get set up on the Chromecast, which is to say, incredibly easy. For both young and old listeners, it should take less than a five minutes to get listening. A little more time if you're like me, and need to get all of the wires organized just right.
Simply plug Chromecast Audio in with its included power supply and microUSB cable. Then, insert the included audio cable (or one that you have already) into the wired source. From there, you'll need to download the Chromecast app, which is available on iOS, Android and via plugin on Google Chrome. Make sure that your smartphone, tablet or browser is connected to the same Wi-Fi signal that the Chromecast Audio will be logged into.
The final piece of the puzzle is Casting the content over to Chromecast Audio. It's compatible out of the box with a ton of music streaming services, some free, others requiring a subscription. You'll find the usual suspects like Spotify, Google Play Music, Rdio and Deezer. But you'll also find many others that extend into spoken word, mixtapes and podcasts.
Unfortunately, Casting doesn't currently work from the native music apps on your smartphone or tablet, be it iOS or Android. Also, 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.