What It Is: A few years ago, Chromecast changed how you watch Netflix — or at least allowed you to toss viral videos from your browser to the TV. Now Google has added Chromecast Audio, a hockey puck–sized device that connects to an old speaker and gives it streaming capabilities to anything that can connect through WiFi (think Spotify or Pandora by way of your phone). It can either be powered with a Micro-USB cable to the nearest outlet, or through any powered USB port in your system.
Why We Like It: The day and age of buying speakers solely for Bluetooth capabilities are over. This $35 device gives your beloved hi-fi floor speaker system a second life, no strings attached.
Right out of the box, Chromecast Audio, like the original Chromecast, is easy to use. Just plug the tiny device into any existing audio system, go through the simple app setup process, and then use any of the many music apps you already have on your mobile device. Despite its small size, Google found enough room inside to fit a WiFi connection and an AKM AK4430 DAC, good for 24-bit, 96 kHz audio. The device also houses a 3.5mm/optical port, which is partnered with a 5-inch, 3.5mm audio cable, but there are red-and-white RCA and optical connections available for those older analog systems (though not included). In the future, Google promises updates that will allow for new functionality to the same hardware, including the ability to group speakers throughout the house for simultaneous play. These updates are expected to hit the app before the end of 2015.
Chromecast Audio’s ability to connect to your handheld device through your home’s wireless system (it’s compatible with 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands) instead of through Bluetooth offers two great benefits: no needless draining of your device’s precious battery life and no unexpected dropping of the connection when you try to sneak off to the bathroom. Utilizing this connection also allows for a large number of people to easily download the software and share in the DJ duties, perfect whether you’re a frequent host or sharing the device with a family unit that has varied musical tastes.
Nitpick: For $35, it seems greedy to ask for anything more from Chromecast Audio, but there is some understandable disappointment in the inability to stream songs from your iPhone when using apps like iTunes or Amazon Music (it does, of course, support Google Play, so you could move your music there to get around this). If you’re looking for total functionality from your Apple device, however, there are perhaps some better, albeit more expensive, options for you in Fon’s Gramofon or the Sonos Connect. But there’s still a growing number of options, especially for Android users. Google has been aggressively approaching third-party developers to include “cast” technology into their apps, and you can see a full, updating, list here. [$35; google.com]
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