T3 Opinion: Did Chromecast Audio just render network music players pretty much redundant?

Google's new musical hockey puck makes us question the need for pricey streamers.

It may seem a funny thing to get excited about when Google is announcing all kinds of funky Marshmallow-y goodness, new phones and convertible tablets, but that Chromecast Audio hockey puck really has put a smile on my face.

Being able to offer a way of turning your dumb stereo into a proper networked audio-streaming device - the same way the Chromecast has historically done with unconnected televisions - is going to be great for the non-techie audiophile.

And for the non-audiophile techie who doesn’t want to spend a fortune getting their Spotify account playing from something that isn’t some ropey Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen.

Then there's the fact it’s doing all that for £30 when most network music players, especially those capable of flinging around hi-res audio, run into the hundreds of pounds.

What are those guys going to do now? Give up and start bundling Chromecast Audio pucks with their products?

Stupid stereo...

If you spent a fortune on your perfect stereo setup a few years back, before the world shifted away from actual things and vapourised into the cloud, then you may have been cursing the rise of Spotify or the higher definition streams of Tidal or 7digital.

Such a wealth of gorgeous audio that your beautiful-sounding stereo wasn’t capable of accessing because it was simply too stupid…

Unless you spent a further fortune on a networked audio-player to plug into your existing system.

With the new Chromecast Audio though just £30 will net you a device that can plug directly into any stereo setup with a spare input and instantly turn it into a smart, networked player. Of course you’ll need a device to cast from, but pretty much every connected audio player I’ve played with has needed you to download an app on your phone or tablet to get the streams flowing.

Being able to just touch a button on your Spotify or 7digital app and route the stream from your router directly to your stereo is delightfully simple.

I’ve got an old NAD amp that’s almost as old as I am (it’s pushing 40 too...) and while it’s not the greatest I’m more than happy with its analogue sound and the speakers attached to it. Being able to bring it into the 21st Century without needing to keep a phone or tablet directly plugged into it is a tantalising prospect.

Hi-res audio

Because it’s coming from the router - not your phone or tablet - and because the new Chromecast Audio hardware is rocking the ability to tap into the 5GHz wireless band, you can get seriously high-resolution audio out onto your stereo.

We’re not just talking about Tidal’s CD quality audio here either. 7digital recently announced that, with it’s newly updated Android app, it’s going to be the first service to offer high-resolution FLAC playback over Google Cast.

In its extensive music catalogue 7digital has millions of 16-bit FLACs in CD quality as well as hundreds of thousands of full 24-bit FLACs up to 129kHz, studio quality.


Ah, but what about the rise of multiroom audio? With all the new Sonos gear and Naim now offering Tidal support for its multiroom tech that’s where the industry’s going. Isn’t it?

I’m not hundred per cent sure how many of the multiroom-capable products sold are actually used as intended; creating sweeping soundscapes around the home or different party zones for the family. But Chromecast Audio has this covered too.

Or it will have when it actually launches its touted multiroom update later this year. With a bunch of the wee devices you’ll be able to group them together to all play the same tunes.

So, what are you really missing from your networked audio if you opt for the Chromecast Audio over an expensive network streamer? I’d argue not much, unless you’ve got a huge NAS with a vast array of studio masters.

But even then I bet there’s a way...