Streaming audio services like Spotify and Google Music have emerged as the future of listening and, perhaps, the salvation of the record industry. Instead of buying individual CDs or even MP3 files, we’re now encouraged to pay £10 a month for unlimited access to a vast library in the cloud.
Your subscription entitles you to download tracks you like so you can play them on your phone while you’re on the move. If you cancel your monthly payments, the music is deleted from your device.
The sound quality is better and there is less drain on your phone’s battery.
If you just want to listen at home, you don’t need a subscription at all. Spotify offers a free streaming service supported by adverts, which you can access on a PC or tablet, so long as you have an internet connection.
But there is a missing link: getting the music from your computer to the hi-fi speakers on which you’ve always enjoyed your CDs. Until now, this has involved either spending a great deal of money on a top-end home streaming system like Sonos, or installing a somewhat geeky software solution using media servers such as Plex or Kodi.
That’s all changed with the launch of Google’s second-generation Chromecast – a £25 device that turns your existing hi-fi or speaker set-up into a wi-fi receiver. Chromecast, in its new incarnation, is actually two separate devices – one for video streaming and one for audio, and it’s this second one that concerns us here.
Chromecast Audio is a circular device small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, which you plug into the mains and into a spare input of your existing surround sound system, hi-fi amplifier or desktop computer speakers. You then use an app on your phone or tablet to “cast” music to them over wi-fi – a better arrangement than Bluetooth since you can choose the best speakers in your house, while continuing to use your phone for other purposes.
What’s more, the sound quality is better and there is less drain on your phone’s battery.
The connection to your speakers, so long as they have a 3.5mm socket, is made with the supplied Day-glo yellow cable. If it doesn’t fit, you can also use commercially available RCA or optical cables.
The music itself can be streamed directly from the web (though Apple Music is not supported) or stored within the collection already on your phone. If the music player you usually use is not “Google cast enabled”, a second server app can be used to join up the connections.
You’re not restricted to music cloud services either. Songs on YouTube and most other websites can also be streamed directly from the Chrome browser though there is a slight delay, so you can’t easily watch and listen at the same time.
Chromecast has another trick up its sleeve, too: like Sonos systems, it can stream music simultaneously to multiple sets of speakers, in different rooms if need be. But unlike Sonos, these extra speakers don’t have to be bought separately; you simply plug in an extra £25 device to each set.
You can use Chromecast Audio with Apple and Android phones and tablets, and Windows and Mac laptops, but double-check with Google’s website that your own device is supported.