Sunday, October 25, 2015

Chromecast Audio, Device Of Awesomeness

So, Google is offering us new Chromecasts

Yes, yes, we all know. Google released some new stuff. Among that stuff, new Chromecasts. I've got a few Chromecasts laying around the house. They're used nearly every day, and they work great. I don't feel a need to replace them, so I wasn't all that excited about the new Chromecast video device. Sure, it looks cool, but that isn't enough to justify throwing away the old ones when they won't add any new functionality for me. The Audio only version, on the other hand, really got my attention. They market this as a device that can plug in to your existing speakers, and give you music anywhere. For me, it's not so much plug in to the speakers, but it's still a crazy interesting idea.


Do I really need one of these?

Since getting dragged in to the world of iPods I've been looking for an easy way to plug my mobile devices in to my stereo. The iPod was a huge step up from my old cassette and CD walkmans. They made it possible (with that 160 GB iPod) to carry around nearly my entire music collection in my pocket with quality that was good enough for every day listening. When I really want to sit down and just enjoy the music I may want CD or vinyl quality, but that's another story. Back to the point, I looked for ways to rig my iPod so that I could play it through my shelf top and home systems. The process is simple, just use a patch cable, but that becomes a little less convenient when the mobile music device is your smartphone. That really isn't the device you want stuck to your sound system. Plus, your listening is interrupted by phone calls, alerts, all sorts of annoying stuff. So, do I really need one of these? Does anyone really need anything? Well, ok, I need one. 

What does it do?

For $35 it's a very simple little device that will take any audio device (speakers, shelf top stereos, component systems, sound bars, whatever) and make your digital music collection accessible to it just like your CDs, cassettes, and vinyl. They sell this as a device that lets you stream your music to any speakers with a 3.5mm input. Me, I don't know if I care so much about that. Most of my speakers that fit that description are Bluetooth, anyway. Where I get the value is in my home stereo systems. One driven by my Pioneer amp, and the other an old Panasonic system. By plugging this little dongle in to one of the inputs my digital music collection becomes a first class citizen right along side vinyl, CD, cassette. It's no longer a hacky patch cable plugged in to my phone. And while we all can get this (and more) functionality via the video based Chromecast, the audio version isn't limited to devices with an HDMI input.
For $35 this is a huge win for me, and when they finally roll out support for casting to multiple devices (think streaming the same tunes to every stereo in your house at the same time) I'll be going out and buying at least 4 more of these things. 
So far all I've done is played a little Vobeat, Iron Maiden, and Tom Petty, but it worked exactly as advertised. Plug it in, attach to your network, and you're ready to roll. I'll play with it more over the coming week and see what else there is, but for tonight I've got to watch a little Gotham and grill a steak.