• If you ever spot Spam (either in the forums, or received via forum direct message) please use the Report button at the bottom of each post to make sure a Moderator can handle it quickly. Thanks for your help in keeping things running smoothly!

Chromecast Audio observations

Leeps

New member
Dec 10, 2012
219
1
0
I wanted to do a review of the Google Chromecast Audio, chiefly because there are things about using it I would have liked to have known beforehand, so I hope this might help prospective buyers to get the best out of it.

My music sources are Tidal, CD and the odd music Bluray, but for music I use Tidal 90% of the time. Previously I used my iPad directly into the Apple-friendly USB port of my former Pioneer AV receiver. This was good because it used the AVR's internal DAC, but was bad because it used wifi rather than a direct ethernet connection and it wasn't so good for browsing Tidal since my main means of operating it was near my AVR, not my sofa.

Having recently bought my Anthem AVR that doesn't have streaming of any kind built-in or an Apple-friendly USB port, I had to look at another means to stream Tidal, but this also presented an opportunity. By purchasing a streamer I could use my iPad as a remote control instead of a source and browse music comfortably from my sofa.

I could have gone straight for a Bluesound Node 2 or Auralic Aries mini at £500 a piece, but seeing positive reviews about the £30 Chromecast Audio, I thought it would be sensible to give this a shot first. I planned from the start to use its optical output into my AVR to use my amp's own DAC, which I anticipated would be superior over the Chromecast Audio. Read on...

Interestingly I purchased the Chromecast Audio itself at Currys. I had forlornly hoped they'd also sell the Ethernet adaptor and optical cable, but the sales guy there didn't even know they did such a thing - he actually had to look it up on Google and suggested that I order it online directly from Google! And physical stores wonder why they're losing so many sales to the internet!

So initially I would set it up using its analogue output. Conveniently I already had a 3.5mm to RCA phono pair lead.

Set up was simplicity itself, if anything a little TOO simple. I plugged it all in, downloaded the Google Home iOS app and followed the instructions. A tip here from the What Hifi review: ensure you go into settings and set the sound quality to "High Dynamic Range". Why this isn't the default is anybody's guess.

A few things worthy of note here: its only output is a hybrid 3.5mm optical / analogue. So if you planned to use the digital output, you can't use a conventional optical cable: it has to be 3.5mm one end, toslink optical the other end.

If you intend to use the digital output, the High Dynamic Range setting is no longer visible on the app's settings. Evidently the app decides that if you're using the optical out, it WILL decide that High Dynamic Range setting is employed automatically.

Also the Google Home app does have some streaming services built-in that you launch directly from the Google app; Google Play, Spotify, Tune-In Radio and Deezer, but the real joy and power of the Chromecast Audio is that its use is built in to many other apps. So in Tidal's case, you open Tidal, not Google Home, start an album, swipe up the album details from below, select the Chromecast icon, find your device listed and away you go. Now my iPad is purely operating as a remote control and the music itself is coming across the ethernet.

This versatility is excellent. Should I want to try the free trial of Qobuz for example, which I will soon, I know Qobuz's app is similarly Chromecast compatible. Crucially, unlike my experience with Airplay that tends to get buggy if you have neighbours' wifi in close proximity, or when visitors come and their devices are trying to handshake with my wifi, Chromecast has been rock-solid with no freezes or stalls within the app. You might expect this from an IT powerhouse like Google, but they clearly wanted this to work properly and in my case, it does. This is a crucial aspect of rating a streamer in my opinion. Some award-winning streamers have some pretty awful user-reviews for this reason: poorly supported shaky apps that undo completely the audio prowess of the streamer itself: not the case with the Chromecast Audio.

If you do go for the ethernet adaptor, again the app decides to use this automatically. It's a shame that this can't be manually selected within the app, as the conspiracy theorist within you will always be wondering if it's REALLY using the ethernet input, or still clinging onto your wifi. There are ways of finding this out, but it's not straightforward by any means.

So to the sound.

I don't know what I expected from a £30 unit's own DAC and analogue output, but it was pretty awful to be frank. Every part of the frequency range was thick, heavy and dull. My system is very revealing, toe-tappingly snappy and lively and all of that musical joy had been bled out of the sound. It felt like I was playing a really low bitrate internet radio stream. (And yes, this was using the High Dynamic Range setting). Had it been my old AV receiver's analogue input, I could have laid a certain amount of blame at the AVR, but I couldn't do that with the Anthem. If this was all the Chromecast Audio was capable of, it wasn't going to be a keeper.

By comparison, plugging the iPad directly into the analogue input of the AVR using the iPad's 3.5mm headphone jack using the very same lead improved detail, timing and sense of space into the recording, although it still was some way short of CD playing an identical album.

I couldn't help thinking at this point, what on earth Cyrus Audio are thinking selling their analogue-input only Cyrus One and a Chromecast Audio as a package with Tidal free for a few months trial. From my experience, this would be selling the amp and Tidal as a source very short indeed. Surely you'd want to recommend a streaming source that would show off your amplifier not strangle it!

It was so bad that until the optical cable and ethernet adaptor arrived from Google, I didn't use the Chromecast again. I took some joy in spinning my dusty cd's again and hearing my system unhindered and full-fat. Ah bliss.

Then the optical cable and ethernet adaptor arrived.

My expectations at this point were muddled. In theory, keeping it all digital from ethernet to amplifier would just mean that all the ones and zeros would find their way to the music. However, I was conscious that some streamers, notably the Sonos Connect were allegedly so jittery that the best of DACs couldn't possibly put the timing right. Would that be the case with the Chromecast Audio?

Further muddying my expectations, I was also using an optical output from my CD player to my Anthem AVR, so for comparison purposes it was as like-for-like as it could be: in both cases I'd be using the Anthem's own DAC.

So it was time for some back-to-back comparisons: Tidal on Chromecast Audio vs identical CD's.

First things first: intial reaction was: 'wow, that's a huge step up from the analogue output of the Chromecast'. Huge. The timing, detail and space were all back. Smiley face was back too. All the characteristics that I like about my system were present again: tight fullsome bass, open spacious soundstage and sweet top-end. The £60 total I paid for this source (Chromecast Audio £30, hybrid 3.5mm to optical cable £15 and ethernet adaptor £15) seemed far far better value than the £30 Chromecast Audio on its own.

But was it the SAME as CD? Curiously no, it wasn't and I have no idea why, even though I was using my Anthem's internal DAC in both cases. One of my principal test discs was Rosalia de Souza's D'Improvviso, mainly because it's well recorded and tests the system's spaciousness, naturalness of tone and timing...and I've played it to death so I know it very well.

Through my CD player, the treble was ever so slightly more forward: through the Chromecast Audio the treble seemed VERY slightly rolled off, but I had to listen back and forth a few times to be certain of the differences: it certainly wasn't night and day. Perhaps the sort of difference between a DAC's own filter options for example.

It's at this point that I'm wondering precisely what the likes of a £500 Bluesound Node 2 or Auralic Aries Mini could offer beyond the £60 Chromecast Audio with the optical cable and ethernet adaptor and it's led me to a conclusion.

If you have a half-decent budget amplifier or better with analogue-only inputs and a sound you really enjoy already, then I couldn't honestly recommend the Google Chromecast Audio as a source. Yes it works flawlessly, but the sound quality from its analogue output will strangle your system. I wouldn't use it in my system 2 for the same reason. If you only have analogue inputs on your amp, then the Bluesound Node 2 or Auralic Aries mini make more sense.

But if you have an amp that has a decent optical input, or you intend to add a decent DAC to your analogue only amplifier, then I couldn't recommend the Chromecast Audio highly enough.

So if you do have a Cyrus One and Chromecast Audio and are taking advantage of the 3 months' worth of free Tidal subscription, do your system a favour and get a decent DAC.
 

nopiano

Well-known member
Feb 15, 2009
641
395
19,270
You’ve clearly explored this little device more thoroughly than me. I’ve been using mine primarily for Qobuz streaming, though as you note, various other apps can use the casting functionality.

My ears may be aging, and I’ve not directly compared to the CDs I own, but I’d venture that the analogue replay is more akin to a budget CD player, just a little bit opaque compared with ‘the original‘. (I’m using a Philips 3.5mm to phono cable originally purchased to play an iPod into the HiFi.)

You'll have seen online a number of reviews, though most talk about it being very good for the money, which isn’t very helpful here. That’s something everyone can agree upon! Archimago has run detailed measurements which are worth perusing.

I’d be interested in other views of the SQ used via the inbuilt DAC.
 

Strictly Stereo

Well-known member
Jan 29, 2018
2
0
520
My own impressions of the Chromecast Audio are similar to yours, except that when I bought mine perhaps 18 months ago, the setup process and app support (at least on iOS and macOS) were pretty dreadful. It sounds like that has improved quite a bit now. In terms of sound quality, the analogue output sounded lousy then, but the digital output sounded much better. I will dig mine out again and give it another go. It is hard to argue with the value at £30. More interesting than the Chromecast itself is that more and more manufacturers are building Chromecast and AirPlay support directly into their products. I really like the flexibility this provides.
 

Leeps

New member
Dec 10, 2012
219
1
0
Strictly Stereo said:
My own impressions of the Chromecast Audio are similar to yours, except that when I bought mine perhaps 18 months ago, the setup process and app support (at least on iOS and macOS) were pretty dreadful. It sounds like that has improved quite a bit now. In terms of sound quality, the analogue output sounded lousy then, but the digital output sounded much better. I will dig mine out again and give it another go. It is hard to argue with the value at £30. More interesting than the Chromecast itself is that more and more manufacturers are building Chromecast and AirPlay support directly into their products. I really like the flexibility this provides.
Indeed. I think this is a really good selling point for the Chromecast. In comparison, with the Auralic Aries, it only supports Tidal and Qobuz I think, so what if they go belly-up? The universality of Chromecast is excellent and with the potential of using ethernet and therefore your device as a remote, is far superior to Airplay, which is so wifi dependent and is still streaming FROM your device so suffers the same battery use issues as Bluetooth. Certainly for £60 all in (with the optical cable and ethernet adaptor), it's exceptional value.

One problem that seems to plague many streamers are their apps. What are users or Denon, Marantz or Pioneer streamers doing now that were purchased 4 or 5 years ago? I don't know. Are their apps still supported? Are they as slick as new streamers? Many don't support streaming services and are only DLNA/ UPNP compatible. But with the Chromecast's volume and reach, I would imagine their app will continue to be well-supported for some time to come.
 

radiorog

Well-known member
Jan 1, 2013
119
12
18,595
Very insightful. Thanks for the review. As I have only analogue inputs on my amp, maybe I will discount this idea now of gcca. In all honesty, I've been really enjoying the sound through my Bluetooth as of late and really don't have any need to upgrade this way right now. Good review though.
 

Samd

Well-known member
Mar 6, 2013
160
51
18,670
I have been looking for a while for a way to use something like Plex to cast to CXN given the CXN app is very basic and can be a touch flaky at times. Chromecast Audio might well be a way to discard CXN and use the DAC in my Anthem instead.

1. How do you think the two DACs might compare?

2. Any links to the additional two items you needed please?
 

millennia_one

Well-known member
Sep 1, 2014
742
336
11,270
I use the chromecast audio, optically straight into my DAC v1 (over wifi) , along with a macbook pro with USB cable. With the chromcast being my primary soruce as everyone in the house can use it easily. And there generally isn't a differance at all bewteen hi res tracks on the computer and hi res tracks through the chromecast, bit perfect is bit perfect. Optically connected that is.

The Dac v1 and the nap200 sounds everybit as good as/ if not better than the superuniti uniti before it and with no real obsolition able to happen.

I do think the computer has the edge with the desktop app for tidal (and tidal touts as much in there blurb) Tidal through the chromecast can sound a little restrained. Spotiy!? no differeance what so ever, If anything it actually may be better on the chromecast. I do find tracks on tidal though depending on where they got track can sound very wholly, thats on both the CC and mac book, So maybe just maybe that could be the differeance your hearing.

But isnt night and day. As you say, anyone with an all digital system ow's it to themselve to look into this little black puck. I think they will be amazed and you will start wounder why your spend so much on other streamers.
 

newlash09

Well-known member
Aug 28, 2015
219
45
10,820
I would fully agree with your observations. I use the optical out to the chord dac. And iam very happy with the result. I cannot make out any difference in streaming tidal from wxc-50 via optical or tidal from chrome cast audio into the same dac again via optical.

So iam convinced that I would need a streamer that outputs via usb , into the USB port of the dac, to better tidal on chrome cast.
 

skippy

New member
Mar 11, 2012
68
0
0
I’m starting to migrate from Sonos to Chromecast.

Same again from Spotify to Tidal.

Originally had the CCA thru a cheapo Amazon Dac (optical) into my Genelecs, OK but knew this setup was still lacking.

Then I got my Chromecast, fitted a TV between my speakers and ran an optical out from the TV to the Dac. This didn’t change anything sound wise, but it gave us the ability to cast Netflix, YouTube and for my missus to have video playlists via Tidal...

Started researching Dacs and either the pricing was wrong or they didn’t have enough inputs, then I stumbled across a Nad M51, brand new (probably been in the warehouse for 3 or 4 years), but for the equivalent of 450 quid I thought I’d give it a go.

Big thing with the Dac is that it has 2 HDMI inputs, thought this may be a bit of a gimmick. Set it up, sat back and had a listen. To be honest I wasn’t impressed and I promised myself I’d take it back if there was only a slight difference. 2 days later I went back (it’d been on standby) and flicked Tidal on. This was a totally different experience, it was like I’d made a major upgrade, I’d heard you should give equipment time to warm up, I now believe this. Everything is more dynamic and real, mightily impressed, I haven’t yet tried the CCA thru the optical to see if this would be better than the CC thru the HDMI, but I’ll do this in time.

Going back to Tidal and Chromecast, I’ve found it rather glitchy. It locks up, drops out and randomly drops it’s volume for no reason. Interesting comments about nearby routers interfering. I don’t have it hooked up to Ethernet yet as I’m doing a whole house Reno, but this will happen in time. Shame the google home app is a bit lacking, but I usually go thru the music/media app anyway.
 

drummerman

New member
Jan 18, 2008
540
1
0
I am far more forgiving. I think the CCA is quite ok whether on its own, through a DAC or into an amplifiers DAC.

Brilliant value for money. Probably the best HiFi 'source' pound for pound.
 

Leeps

New member
Dec 10, 2012
219
1
0
Samd said:
I have been looking for a while for a way to use something like Plex to cast to CXN given the CXN app is very basic and can be a touch flaky at times. Chromecast Audio might well be a way to discard CXN and use the DAC in my Anthem instead.

1. How do you think the two DACs might compare?

2. Any links to the additional two items you needed please?
1. The CXN has an upsampling DAC. That's helpful or a hindrance depending on who you speak to, so it might have its own characteristics compared to the Anthem's DAC. For the cost of the Chromecast though, it's not much of a risk to take a punt on it: you could plug the Chromecast into your CXN's input, then compare it with the Anthem.

I certainly don't feel that the digital input on the Anthem is hamstringing the amplifier section at all. I'm perfectly happy with it.

2. Here are the links

https://store.google.com/product/ethernet_adapter_for_chromecast

https://store.google.com/product/optical_cable_chromecast_audio

It's worth mentioning that the optical cable is very short, so the Chromecast will dangle just behind your DAC or amp. So if you needed a longer cable you'd need to look for 3rd party cables elsewhere. But the ethernet adaptor cable is a good metre long.
 

Leeps

New member
Dec 10, 2012
219
1
0
insider9 said:
Out of interest although don't see myself getting one. Is Tidal gapless via CCA?
That was a very good question Insider and I should have thought to look out for that before now. No, it doesn't do gapless with Tidal, so that is a major negative for me. That certainly marrs live albums, movie soundtracks or classical.

Having said that I do have an older iPad so I'm only running iOS 10.3.3. But my Tidal app, from the iPad doesn't support gapless. Was just testing it out playing one of my favourite test albums, Hans Zimmer Live in Prague. The gaps are a noticeable pain here. Thankfully I have the Bluray which sounds awesome in 5.1 and IS gapless. But I have to say, the actual sound quality of this album as I listen to it now through the CCA is fantastic!

I think the difficulty is that alternatives that sound top notch and support gapless can be very expensive and difficult to justify over a source that I'm happy with (sound quality wise via digital out) that only cost me £60.

Streaming and DAC technology is developing pretty rapidly, so I think I'll hang onto the Chromecast for now but watch out for other streamers as they come along. As I don't have any downloaded files, local streaming from a NAS or HDD doesn't interest me, it's purely a source for Tidal, or other CD quality or higher streaming services in the future.
 

nopiano

Well-known member
Feb 15, 2009
641
395
19,270
drummerman said:
I am far more forgiving. I think the CCA is quite ok whether on its own, through a DAC or into an amplifiers DAC.

Brilliant value for money. Probably the best HiFi 'source' pound for pound.
Seems like you and me are in a similar camp, whereas others feel that the analogue out is significantly lacking. Perhaps I need to experiment further, as I have a decent DAC with dedicated input, on the Marantz player.
 

Leeps

New member
Dec 10, 2012
219
1
0
drummerman said:
I am far more forgiving. I think the CCA is quite ok whether on its own, through a DAC or into an amplifiers DAC.
Glad it works for you drummerman. I just couldn't live with the sound through the analogue out, but...

drummerman said:
Brilliant value for money. Probably the best HiFi 'source' pound for pound.
...couldn't agree more there. Even with the optical cable and ethernet adaptor, £60 all in is very reasonable indeed. Or is it? Is it that we've just been conditioned into accepting paying upwards of £500 for an audio streamer, when perfectly acceptable similar devices for AV use, like the Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire have been around the £100 or less mark for some time? Economies of scale can account for much if that I suppose, and in that respect Google's domination pays off.
 

Andrewjvt

New member
Jun 18, 2014
99
1
0
Not read such a good review for ages

Btw out of curiosity, did you try isolation feet under the CCA?
Ha
 

Leeps

New member
Dec 10, 2012
219
1
0
Andrewjvt said:
Not read such a good review for ages

Btw out of curiosity, did you try isolation feet under the CCA? Ha
Thanks Andrew, and erm, no. It kind of dangles in free space like an astronaut on a space walk.
 

nopiano

Well-known member
Feb 15, 2009
641
395
19,270
Leeps said:
Andrewjvt said:
Not read such a good review for ages

Btw out of curiosity, did you try isolation feet under the CCA? Ha
Thanks Andrew, and erm, no. It kind of dangles in free space like an astronaut on a space walk.
Ah, then that's the problem. Mine rests on a sorbothane base. Well, a spongy square piece of black foam that Next used to package some curtain poles. Free with every order! You wouldn't dangle any other streamer from a cable, so put it somewhere suitable!
 

Bradley747

New member
Mar 10, 2013
14
0
0
dont overlook the Yamaha WXAD-10, I got mine for 117EUR to replace my Chromecast (that came with my cyrusONE amp) and am very impressed with it so far...
 

Bradley747

New member
Mar 10, 2013
14
0
0
im no expert in turning what I am hearing into words, but id say:

1. more detail

2. cleaner

3.more revealing

and that is just with very low living room levels as my daughter is asleep. A clear improvement on the CCA RCA output into the amp

I toyed with going for the Arcam streamer IRDAC but that is about 500EUR here in Germany, I think 117EUR is fair as an experiment in sound quality improvements and allows me to enjoy better streaming until I decide where to go next...
 

nopiano

Well-known member
Feb 15, 2009
641
395
19,270
Bradley747 said:
im no expert in turning what I am hearing into words, but id say:

1. more detail

2. cleaner

3.more revealing

and that is just with very low living room levels as my daughter is asleep. A clear improvement on the CCA RCA output into the amp

I toyed with going for the Arcam streamer IRDAC but that is about 500EUR here in Germany, I think 117EUR is fair as an experiment in sound quality improvements and allows me to enjoy better streaming until I decide where to go next...
Many thanks!
 

Andrewjvt

New member
Jun 18, 2014
99
1
0
nopiano said:
Leeps said:
Andrewjvt said:
Not read such a good review for ages

Btw out of curiosity, did you try isolation feet under the CCA? Ha
Thanks Andrew, and erm, no. It kind of dangles in free space like an astronaut on a space walk. 
Ah, then that's the problem.  Mine rests on a sorbothane base.  Well, a spongy square piece of black foam that Next used to package some curtain poles.  Free with every order!   You wouldn't dangle any other streamer from a cable, so put it somewhere suitable!  
Hi
And sorry to op but are you still enjoying your ATC's
As you first did?
 

Samd

Well-known member
Mar 6, 2013
160
51
18,670
nopiano said:
Leeps said:
Andrewjvt said:
Not read such a good review for ages

Btw out of curiosity, did you try isolation feet under the CCA? Ha
Thanks Andrew, and erm, no. It kind of dangles in free space like an astronaut on a space walk.
Ah, then that's the problem. Mine rests on a sorbothane base. Well, a spongy square piece of black foam that Next used to package some curtain poles. Free with every order! You wouldn't dangle any other streamer from a cable, so put it somewhere suitable!
I thought that everyone knew that Hillary's Curtain Pole packaging is the working man's sorbothane! What will you be using Next?
 

ASK THE COMMUNITY

TRENDING THREADS

Latest posts