I jumped at the chance to put together this Google Chromecast Audio Review. When the device was announced, I could immediately see how it was going to solve a problem in my home.
The Google Chromecast Audio is a simple little device, widely described as the size of a poker chip, which is an accurate description. It can connect to the “audio in” of any speakers, docks and audio systems, and you can then “cast” music to it from a wide range of apps, wirelessly over your home network. Essentially, it can turn any music system into a wireless music system, provided it has that auxiliary input.
Some months ago, I’d been shopping in a large outlet mall, and impulsively wandered into the Bose shop. Suffering from “shiny thing syndrome,” I walked out with a cut-price Bose SoundDock.
I was delighted with it when I got it home; It had a proper Lightening connector for my iPhone, instead of the wobbly adapter setup I’d had to adopt on my older docks, and sound quality was great.
However, the novelty soon wore off due to a fundamental flaw with traditional dock setups: you have to leave your phone in them!
Time after time, I’d go downstairs, put some music on, and within minutes I’d reach for my phone – to take a picture of my toddler, look up a cooking question, or respond to the “ping” of an incoming message. Of course, then I’d remember the phone was essentially “stuck” on the dock.
Just as one often tries to make a cup of tea or switch the lights on in response to a powercut, I’d do this over and over again. It became clear I needed a wireless solution – and the Chromecast Audio sounded like just the thing. It also meant I could keep my beloved dock.
Chromecast Audio – Setup
Setting up the Chromecast Audio is simplicity itself, but first you have to extract it from its packaging, which is tidy, simple, and (dare I say?) rather Apple-like.
In the box is the tiny Chromecast device, a very short jack-to-jack cable for connection to an Audio-in, and a power adaptor that connects with Mini-USB. In theory, this should mean you can power the Chromecast Audio from a convenient USB port instead of a mains plug, but the instructions do not specify this so we wouldn’t recommend it.
Setup is very simple; You connect the power, and then the audio to your desired speaker system and install the Chromecast app on your chosen device (in my case my iPhone 6).
You’re then taken through a quick setup procedure, which involves connecting the device to your WiFi network and (in my case) the rapid installation of a firmware update.
Chromecast Audio – Usage and Quality
With my new Chromecast Audio ready to go, I fired up Spotify on my phone. Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly), Apple Music won’t fire music at a Chromecast, and is never likely to, but wireless Spotify is good enough for me, and there are a host of other supported apps, including the inevitable Google Play Music.
If you’d like to know why Spotify is my streaming service of choice, take a look at my detailed streaming music showdown article.
After a baffling few minutes where the Chromecast wasn’t offered as an output device, I restarted Spotify, and it immediately appeared. Sending music to the Chromecast Audio is simplicity itself – you simply tap the “Devices Available” button and choose it from the list. Within a second the music was coming from the dock.
So, the big question is: “how does it sound?”
Starting with the positive, I would say that it sounded more than acceptable. However, the bass was rather aggressive and insistent. Unfortunately, Spotify grays out its equalisation options when playing via Chromecast, so I couldn’t do anything about this either.
To eliminate the Chromecast from the equation, I connected the iPhone directly to the dock and compared the sound from a few tracks. It was undeniable that the bass, when music was playing via the Chromecast, was rather overpowering – something of a shame on a quality dock where the mid-range and treble is usually so well defined. I did experiment with the “High Dynamic Range” setting in the Chromecast app, but this only seemed to affect the overall output volume, rather like a “loudness” setting on an old-fashioned HiFi.
Ironically, the Chromecast’s “style” of musical output serves it well when listening to older tracks that often come across as quiet and lacking in heavy bass. Vintage disco sounded freshly dynamic – but modern house and hip-hop left me wishing I could boost the treble and reduce the bass.
As you’ll see from the image above, I also experimented with the “Google Cast” browser extension, which allows you to send any audio playing in a Google Chrome browser tab to the Chromecast. This worked flawlessly, and essentially turns your speakers or dock into a wireless YouTube jukebox.
Chromecast Audio – Suggestions
The great thing about the Chromecast audio is that it can easily be updated by means of future firmware updates.
As you can probably guess, what I’d like to see more than anything is some EQ settings within the Chromecast app. The bass-heavy sound coming from my dock is acceptable for casual listening, but if I really wanted to sit and enjoy my music, I’d still feel inclined to plug in directly – and if I feel like this as a fairly non-fussy music fan we can be sure that the audiophiles will already be turning their noses up at this device.
Another highly anticipated update is the potential for a multi-room setup, effectively turning a series of Chromecast Audio devices into a super-budget Sonos replacement. If Google can get the sound synchronisation spot-on, this could be a very compelling proposition, but right now you can only send one stream to one device.
Chromecast Audio – Verdict
I’m not going to allow the excessively bassy sound reproduction to put me off the Chromecast Audio, because it’s cheap (c.$30), it’s slick and effective, and can also breathe new life into docks and speaker systems that would otherwise be ready for the scrap heap.
Furthermore, the fact that future firmware updates could improve it is a big plus. For a “version one” device, this is a great product.
Comparisons to Bluetooth devices are inevitable, but “casting” sound over WiFi is far more effective, with no drop-outs if you walk just a little too far away, and total elimination of the pairing issues that always seem to occur every other time I try to use my Bluetooth soundbar.
There’s room for improvement in the Chromecast Audio, but it’s a great little device for the money, and I already know it will mean I’ll listen to more music on impulse due to its flexibility. If you want to revive an old music system by adding wireless capabilities, I highly recommend it.
- Pleasing packaging and simple setup.
- Potential for future firmware improvements.
- Low cost.
We weren’t so sure about:
- Lack of Apple Music support is a shame, but unsurprising for a Google device.
- Very bass-heavy sound reproduction.
This Chromecast Audio review is completely impartial, with the device personally purchased by the reviewer.