We have been enjoying whole house audio for years now. Braden has a nice Sonos system in place while Ara has gone with an Airplay solution. We each have multiple zones including the garage and bathrooms where we can listen to our music in a casual setting. The Sonos solution uses Sonos designed speakers or it can use a bridge to add powered speakers or receivers to the system. Apple uses their technology called Airplay which allows you to connect powered speakers connected to an Airport Express or one to the many receivers and third party powered speakers that support Airplay.
Both systems are flexible and reliable. You can mix and match speakers, receivers, and even set top boxes. You can choose to have different music playing in the various zones. And everything can be controlled from the palm of your hand. The systems can cost a few hundred dollars all the way up to thousands.
The playing field just got a little more crowded with the introduction of the Chromecast Audio. It’s a small device about the size of three silver dollars stacked on top of each other and it only costs $35! And no you can’t get it at Amazon! Seriously…what are those guys thinking?
The Chromecast Audio plugs into your powered speaker via the 3.5mm audio input jack for streaming music through WiFi. If your speakers or receiver only accept RCA inputs you can use a cable that is 3.5mm on one end and RCA on the other. Once set up, simply use your iPhone, iPad, Android phone and tablet, Mac and Windows laptop, or Chromebook to send your music to any zone in the house.
Setup is quite easy. First connect the Chromecast Audio to power and use the supplied 3.5mm cable to your speakers. Then download and launch the Chromacast app for your mobile device. Follow the onscreen steps and in less than a minute you will have your fist audio zone up and running. Repeat the steps for each zone you are setting up and just like that you have multiroom audio! Depending on the speakers you choose you can spend anywhere from $50 up to $500 or more per zone. But if the listening is strictly causal and for ambiance you can easily setup up a five zone system for less than $500!
To start playing audio (on an iOS device anyway) you simply launch an app that is Chromecast capable select the speaker and enjoy. Google Play, Pandora, iHeart Radio all support Chomecast Audio. In fact the list of supporting apps is quite large. Check out the Chromcast Audio website for a full list. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly for iOS users Apple’s own apps do not support the Chromecast Audio.
Once you have started streaming control is handed off to the Chromecast which streams directly from the cloud. So if you get a call or notification you don’t stop or interrupt the music. This is a nice feature if you are having a party and you don’t want the music to stop. If you are at home and you prefer it to be quiet you can always pause the track.
You can also cast from a desktop Mac or Windows PC but you’ll need to use the Chrome Browser and install the Chromecast Extension. Once you do this any audio that is coming into your browser can be sent to the speakers.
So far the experience has been real nice, but what about the audio quality? Well how much quality can you expect from a device that costs $35? We found the audio was a little thinner than when listening through the same speakers connected directly to the phone or tablet. The lows didn’t have that punch and the highs just seemed washed out. We couldn’t find detailed specs on the converter used but that’s probably because it’s not very good. In general we found the Sonos did a much better job. But this isn’t a real knock on the product. It’s just a reminder not to expect miracles from the device. For what it is, the Chromecast Audio is a nifty little product that does a decent job.
The current firmware does not support sending audio to multiple zones at once. Google says there is an update coming later this year that will enable that feature.
Let’s be honest, the Chromecast Audio is not going to win over any audiophiles, but what it will do is make it possible for just about anyone, with a limited budget, to deploy a multi zone audio system for casual listening that won’t break the bank!
Posted by The HT Guys, October 8, 2015 11:18 PM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.