By Dan Moren
October 6, 2015 1:05 PM PT
The Chromecast Audio: Compact, but not compelling
Of the Google announcements from a week or so ago, the one I was most interested in was the Chromecast Audio, a small dongle that attaches to most any speaker and lets you stream audio over the network. At $35 it seemed like a pretty good way to liven up some speakers, so I placed an order for one.
Which I promptly forgot about, so I spent a while trying to puzzle out exactly what the envelope was when it showed up at my door the other day.
The Chromecast Audio is an interesting product, but after I spent about an hour or so playing around with it, I realized that I don’t really have much of a need for it. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad product, necessarily, just that my setup doesn’t really lend itself to this device.
First, what I like about it.
The Chromecast Audio is pretty darn small: it’s a black plastic circle about the size of the palm of your hand, with two ports: one a standard 3.5mm audio minijack, the other a micro-USB port for power. Both a USB power supply and a small audio cable are included.1 There’s one button on it—I think for reset purposes, though I haven’t really had to use it—and a little indicator light. That’s it.
Setting it up is pretty easy, using the Chromecast app on iOS it took me about two minutes. (And it turns out, as I look at the instructions online, that I could have possibly made that even easier using Bluetooth. Whoops!) Once you set it up, you don’t even really need the Chromecast app until you need to change Wi-Fi networks or something. Otherwise, you’re set to stream away.
And there’s the rub, for me. There are a decent number of apps that support the Google Cast standard, as it’s now called, but the primary app I use to play music is Apple’s built-in Music app, which of course doesn’t support it. So while I could probably make great use of the Chromecast Audio if I switched to Spotify or some other service, those who spend a lot of time in Apple’s ecosystem may find the Chromecast Audio underwhelming.
(Video is, for me, a different story, but the Chromecast Audio doesn’t work great where that’s concerned. The Plex iOS app doesn’t seem to currently support sending audio only over Google Cast, so you can hear the sound, but not see the picture, and Google’s YouTube app doesn’t even show the Chromecast Audio as an option. In all of those cases, you’d probably be better off with the straight-up Chromecast.)
My other complaint about the Chromecast Audio is that I wish it didn’t require the power cable—it kind of takes a bite out of the portability when the power plug is about the same weight as the device itself.2 Incorporating a battery would certainly require more weight and more expense, but it would make the product a more compelling proposition, on the whole. Maybe in the next version.
I also don’t have the best speaker setup for the Chromecast Audio: my only testbeds were a small, portable Bluetooth speaker (which, you know, already has wireless capabilities) and a big AirPlay unit that I bought on sale for $50 last year.3 Neither proved ideal.
All things being equal, perhaps I’ll find a home for the Chromecast Audio somewhere—add it to my travel kit, maybe. A similar device for AirPlay might be more attractive to me, given my setup—and I think some solutions exist—but even then, it may just be that my current situation isn’t in need of a streaming audio adapter. C’est la vie!
RCA and optical out are also supported, but you’ll need an appropriate adapter. ↩
It does at least seem like a powered USB port at least provides enough juice, though, which is a nice alternative. ↩
Which, let me add, was about $50 too much. It’s probably the least reliable piece of technology I own, and I pretty much gave up on it a month after buying it. ↩
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