I’ve been using the recently announced Chromecast Audio for the past few days. I never tried the original Chromecast with the HDMI connection as I already had a multitude of video streaming options. But the new Chromecast Audio is focused on AUDIO! This merits a closer look…
The specs for Chromecast Audio (CA from now on) are online and don’t bear a full repeat here. The important thing for those of us who care about audio quality is that it works over Wi-Fi for long range, has plenty of bandwidth for uncompressed audio, promises to stream High Resolution music at up to 24bits/96kHz, includes a DAC that isn’t embarrassing, and has an optical digital output. Oh, and it costs $35. That is an extraordinary amount of goodness for very little dough.
I am a newbie to Chromecast. I really didn’t know what to expect, and I’m guessing most of you wouldn’t either. So here’s my quick take after just a few days. Let’s start with what it is not: CA is not “AirPlay for Android”. In Apple’s AirPlay world, you can send pretty much any audio that is playing on your handheld to an AirPlay enabled device. AirPlay works at the operating system level and therefore tends not to be application specific. Chromecast no doubt has deep claws into the Android OS, but effectively works at the application level. This means that an application has to have the “casting” ability cooked into it or you are not going to be able to send the audio it is playing to the CA device. I like the Apple solution better as it far more universal (doesn’t require application support), but it turns-out that this isn’t a deal killer. At least not for me.
CA is already supported by most of the music apps I use (Rhapsody, TuneIn, Pandora), and it’s only been available for 2 weeks! I think it is a given that it either already does or soon will support your favorite music apps too. My Samsung Note 3’s built-in music player does not have a casting option, and I could not get any of the Google music apps I tried to cast music that is stored on my phone (Chromecast is aimed at streamig from “the cloud”). I struck gold when I tried BubbleUPnP. BubbleUPnP allows you to pick any server available on your network (ie: music stored on the phone or elsewhere on your network) and “render” it to the CA device. I was able to stream lossless FLAC files out of the CA optical output and into the Transparent One optical input. The results sounded the same as when I have played these same files out of a laptop or server over a wired USB connection, which is to say essentially perfect! So I can play all of my favorite web-based music as well as music that I have saved on my phone. It’s pretty convenient and it sounds great.
I think there is a good chance that CA will be enormously disruptive to the audio market. This device is exactly why we did not build a wireless connection into the Transparent One. In a world without full standards, it is a given that things will change and evolve rapidly. We saw this coming, and designed the Transparent One to be ready for whatever improved devices came along, helping to avoid obsolescence. So while I think CA is going to send a cold chill through a lot of businesses in the audio world, it is a welcome development for Vanatoo and our users.
I plan to spend a lot more time with CA, testing it on multiple devices, multiple OS’s, and with multiple apps. But it has already passed the tests of being both (fairly) easy to use and truly useful. Go ahead and give Google $35 and take CA for a spin. It pairs really well with the Transparent One (and obviously other things). It might be a little short of perfect, but it’s affordable, already very good at what it does, and can be expected to improve significantly over time. It’s a good time to be a music lover!