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Chromecast Audio

Kumar Kane

New member
Google has just released a very interesting product in the market, that can bring legacy hifi kit a high quality digital streaming front end, that will stream music from various music service apps such as Spotify, Rdio etc, using your existing 2 channel stereo amp and speakers.

Many similar offerings exist, and Sonos in particular is known for this, but what is exciting about the Google thing is the price - USD 35.

All it needs is for there to be a wifi router in the home, and a handheld device like a smart phone that can host the apps. Apply mains power to the little Chromecast Audio ( CC for short), wire its output by a one into two RCA cable to the aux in on the stereo amp, and set up the device.

Once set up, what it allows you to do is select the music you want to play via the handheld device, and select the CC to play it in the handheld. The CC will then pull music from that source of music wirelessly via the wifi router and play the music via the stereo amp. Even if the handheld device is shut down.

Volume control can be changed via the stereo amp and/or the app controls on the handheld.

Very neat. And yes, USD 35 is all it takes.
 

kerouack

Member
Sonos and Airplay alternatives

Sonos and Airplay alternatives

Sonos sells complete wireless amplified speakers, with chromecast you can connect to every normal speaker. You can not two chomrcast audio to two different speakers systems and send same music to both of them, one in the kitchen and one in another room.

You can do the same with Apple Airplay for a long time, but in that case you need an airport express router, or an apple tv and send the music from a computer with Itunes or any other compatible program (or iOS device). The apple tv price is 70 euros, and you can send the music, like chromecast audio, and send video to the tv, and some other things, and you have a remote control, so not very expensive for what it is, if you only want to send music to one system.

IF you want to send music to 3 different systems, using 3 chromecast audio is a lot less expensive. You just need to make sure that the apps you are going to use are google Cast compatible. In android a lot of apps are Cast compatible, in iOS you would need to check.

{Moderator's comment: You also have to think long and hard about Google's intrusive data collection and demographic profiling. Your music choice is a marketing opportunity.}
 

learning

New member
Chromecast

Chromecast

Yes, it looks to be very interesting and an easy way to build a multi-room system for around the house. I note that they have also include an SPDIF optical out, too. I am interested to know whether it will only support audio casting from the services that have apps ready (Spotify etc initially) or whether it will also support DLNA or UPNP to cast one's own files from a NAS or other networked device.

Whatever, I've got one on order. Chromecast was my intro to streaming before I bought a Smart TV and a Roku box, and Google did a good job on that dongle (just that some developers messed up implementing Chromecast standards on their apps.)
 

ssfas

Well-known member
Cheaper than Airplay

Cheaper than Airplay

$45 in the UK.

It sort of does the same thing as Airplay. However, the Airport Express is also a router and has a lot of configuration options, helpful if for example you have one or more music libraries on a wired network and want to use wireless for online streaming and wired for physical storage streaming.

It is one third the price of an Airport Express, which is a good thing.
 

ssfas

Well-known member
In Google I Trust

In Google I Trust

{Moderator's comment: You also have to think long and hard about Google's intrusive data collection and demographic profiling. Your music choice is a marketing opportunity.}
Personally I have all the Google data collection options switched off.

I also use Adblocker, which cuts a lot of c**p, but some sites do sometimes ask you to turn it off so they can send you "important" advertisements (i.e. important for them as Adblocker blocks their advertising revenue).

Here is the Chrome privacy policy
https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser/privacy/
 

willem

Well-known member
How good is the DAC?

How good is the DAC?

This obviously merits further investigation. One advantage of the Airplay solution is that you can use it with any kind of computer or tablet (and, remarkably, not just Apple hardware). You are not, therefore, limited to what apps are available for particular streaming sources, like, for example Qobuz.

There is a Sonos app for Qobuz, but not for many other platforms. With Airplay on your computer or tablet, you just use the browser to get to any streaming service. I would be interested to know if this is also possible with Chrome Cast.

What I like about Chrome Cast in this report is that it can transfer directly, once the service is initiated. So you do not have to keep your power hungry mobile device turned on. At this price we are obviously also interested in the audio quality: is it full cd red book, and how does the inbuilt DAC perform? Apple has a very good reputation for its DAC audio quality.: so how does Chrome Cast compare (or does it also have a digital output)? I will obviously need to do some homework, but not now.
 

ssfas

Well-known member
The complexities of successful streaming

The complexities of successful streaming

Computer audio is a nightmare for me. Sometimes I think my name is James Gleick, as every time I go near a computer it does its best to cause chaos.

My current issue is a mix of 16/44 and HD (i.e. annoying more than 16/44) files. I use Qobuz in 16/44, and pay a little extra for the "Sublime' subscription that discounts downloads of HD purchases to some very good prices.

Airport Express and I presume Chromecast, indeed, domestic wifi generally, cannot deal with HD streaming. So you have to use a wired network.

For a large digital collection you have to use a QNAP or Synology unit, which are handy as they operate a RAID system so your data is safe. They are essentially servers of almost universal application, from a small music or photo library to multi-site commercial applications. I have found the QNAP to be excellent because the software is brilliant and easy to use, even for a klutz like me. My unit has 4 x 4TB hard drives, one of which failed. I was sent a new one, clicked it in (there were 4 mounting screws to deal with) and like magic it installed itself and re-integrated itself into the RAID system.

I had a QNAP for other reasons and and am now setting it up as a music store as my streamer is running out of space (and behaving a bit randomly). So I have to start playing around with wires and network stuff.

QNAPs have to be kept elsewhere as they are noisy. There are companies that supply SSD units, but they offer less storage and are much more expensive.

For playback, QNAP has the MinimServer software is preloaded. It is free, subject to a voluntary donation. It's friendly, but you need to use a PC or mac to use it. Apparently jRiver is globally the most popular control software, can be used from a phone, and costs a few $.

The problem I have is that when I installed the Airport Express I naturally configured it as a router. You'd think it has to be connected to the internet. Wrong. If you try and stream HD files from a server (QNAP or otherwise) to a DAC with an Airport connected to it and the Airport is configured as a router, it will try and do it wirelessly, which will not work. Apparently you have to disable the router and force the HD data to go over the wired connection. I'm hoping this will work when I get around to trying it.

These things are designed to test our resolve. It is a shame because digital music in its many varieties is the cheapest music solution we've ever had since the Greeks tightened a piece of gut and discovered harmonics.

Perhaps the new HUG could have a genus of threads on how to get computer audio to work, and work cheaply, as it fits nicely in the VFM audio philosophy.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
Thoghts about Sonos

Thoghts about Sonos

Yes, it looks to be very interesting and an easy way to build a multi-room system for around the house.
Multi room isn't there today, but it exists on the promised roadmap. If and when that works as Sonos does, it will set a cat among the latter pigeons.
It sort of does the same thing as Airplay.
Not quite. Airplay receives its music from the handheld device/computer all the time, which means rapid device battery drain or leaving the computer on while music is being played. With CC the handheld is only a controller, that stops using its battery for the application once CC starts playing music. The handheld can even be shut off and music will keep playing. Hence the superiority to Bluetooth as well.

Computer audio is a nightmare for me.
Many people that aren't comfortable with computers use Sonos very easily. The only con is that Sonos won't play hi res music, that needs to be down sampled to 16/44 first. But since sound quality is a mastering driven thing, the down sampled files play via Sonos with the same sound quality delivery as hi res. And Sonos isn't cheap, although it isn't as expensive as it once was, after the release of the active wireless speaker line.
CC can play your stored digital music as well, there is a workaround. It can also play your music if you upload it first to Google.
The Google intrusive behaviour is an issue, but I think one can deal with it thus far. And I see that staying clear of this from Google and from the rest is going to need one to live like a hermit, in the coming decades, isolated from a networked world. The decision to live that way is going to get more and more difficult with time.

The DAC is a 192kHz 24bit one. Sound quality should be a non issue.
I haven't installed CC yet, but I agree. USD 35 leaves more than enough room for a perfectly capable DAC.
You can not two chomrcast audio to two different speakers systems and send same music to both of them, one in the kitchen and one in another room.
As I replied, multi room CC of the kind you refer to is promised in the near future, maybe by the end of 2015. So the above should be possible. What Sonos also does is send different music at the same time from same or different sources to each room - I do not know if the CC definition of multi room includes this capability.

Sonos also does same music to different rooms such that it is perfect sync - there are no audible lags or echoes. Apparently this isn't easy to do, so it will be interesting to see if CC can achieve that.

Right now, for what is about 10% of the price of Sonos, CC does quite a bit more than 10% of what Sonos does, although it isn't anywhere close to 100%. But for someone that just wants a streaming solution for legacy 2 channel kit, even one that is audiophile high end, it seems perfect. Or for someone that has cheaper active or passive powered speakers.

The CC I have ordered is still to come, so I have to say that the above is just based on reading, not actual use. I don't expect any change after use, but I will report if I find any. It would be useful if anyone else that does, also writes about their experiences.
 

Kumar Kane

New member
Hybrid output

Hybrid output

As to the DAC: while it is good enough, CC allows an optical digital data feed into as high end or expensive a DAC as anyone has or wants to deploy, that can take optical digital input.

The output jack on CC is a hybrid one, it will put out analog to a RCA cable, and digital to a Toslink optical fiber cable.
 

kerouack

Member
Apple TV

Apple TV

You can use an apple tv too to use for airplay, price is 70 euros, dont need to buy an airport express if you dont need the router.
 

Jeff_C

Member
Computer audio learning curve

Computer audio learning curve

Computer audio is a nightmare for me. Sometimes I think my name is James Gleick, as every time I go near a computer it does its best to cause chaos.

My current issue is a mix of 16/44 and HD (i.e. annoying more than 16/44) files. I use Qobuz in 16/44, and pay a little extra for the "Sublime' subscription that discounts downloads of HD purchases to some very good prices.

Airport Express and I presume Chromecast, indeed, domestic wifi generally, cannot deal with HD streaming. So you have to use a wired network.
Nessuno's post #8 informs that the Chromecast Audio's DAC is 192/24 so should do HD streaming and will do it wirelessly.

For playback, QNAP has the MinimServer software is preloaded. It is free, subject to a voluntary donation. It's friendly, but you need to use a PC or mac to use it. Apparently jRiver is globally the most popular control software, can be used from a phone, and costs a few $.
jRiver does not need a server IIRC. Just tell jRiver where your music collection is and it should play (like many other computer audio players).

The problem I have is that when I installed the Airport Express I naturally configured it as a router. You'd think it has to be connected to the internet. Wrong. If you try and stream HD files from a server (QNAP or otherwise) to a DAC with an Airport connected to it and the Airport is configured as a router, it will try and do it wirelessly, which will not work. Apparently you have to disable the router and force the HD data to go over the wired connection. I'm hoping this will work when I get around to trying it.
Are you sure the airport express (AE) DAC is not the problem. It will not output 192kHz sample rate files and will not handle FLAC files (apple does not do FLAC). If you are merely trying to transmit data to a separate DAC, how do you connect the AE to the DAC? If this is via optical output from the AE then the data will be processed by the AE (resampled) as it is attempted to be output via S/PDIF. In the case of FLAC files I think the audio will not work at all but I am not sure.

EDIT - I think I am confusing the functionality of the AE with the Apple TV, so the paragraph above may be incorrect.

These things are designed to test our resolve. It is a shame because digital music in its many varieties is the cheapest music solution we've ever had since the Greeks tightened a piece of gut and discovered harmonics.

Perhaps the new HUG could have a genus of threads on how to get computer audio to work, and work cheaply, as it fits nicely in the VFM audio philosophy.
When assembling computer audio players it is helpful to understand the capabilities of the hardware and how each piece of hardware interacts with other hardware in the music playing chain. You also need an understanding of the software.

The most versatile VFM music player I have (although not the best) is an Amazon Fire TV (version 1 with optical audio output because I use optical connection to my older AV amps). It streams TV/Film, music, plays games, photos and home videos. With XBMC/KODI sideloaded it will play my own music collection stored on a NAS. I can load a remote control app on a tablet to control the music (without needing a TV monitor at all). It will play any music files I throw at it but it does resample everything through the optical output I believe to 48kHz, so it is definitely not an audiophile player. I bought 2 for different rooms and the cost just 64 GBP each.

If a media computer (mine was 230 GBP) is substituted for the Fire TV then I have a more audiophile bit-perfect player up to 192/24.

Another cheap option I have chosen is a 25 GBP raspberry pi with a 5 GBP USB DAC (the DAC is only capable of 32kHz 44.1kHz and 48 kHz sample rates), but it will play anything I throw at it. The music player software (I use either MPD or XBMC on the RPi) just resamples files it cannot handle natively.

Some of the players have taken some amount of effort to get working, but all have been stable and trouble free. The RPi has required absolutely no maintenance and has not even been updated at all since it was set up in August 2014.

So there are VFM options out there but they may not be for everyone. There is no pride of ownership maybe, but a lot of pride about what these cheap boxes can do. It looks like the Chromecast Audio may be a candidate for synchronised music around the home on the cheap (if you want that) after it has had a few firmware updates.
 
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Nessuno

Member
Apple Airplay

Apple Airplay

domestic wifi generally, cannot deal with HD streaming. So you have to use a wired network.
Highest definition standard (24/192) is 9.216 Mbps (uncompressed), so any correctly working modern wi-fi connection will cope with it. And this is by far the worst case. Of course this could not be true any more if the full wi-fi bandwidth is shared between other applications, maybe using huge data flows.

The problem I have is that when I installed the Airport Express I naturally configured it as a router. You'd think it has to be connected to the internet. Wrong. If you try and stream HD files from a server (QNAP or otherwise) to a DAC with an Airport connected to it and the Airport is configured as a router, it will try and do it wirelessly, which will not work. Apparently you have to disable the router and force the HD data to go over the wired connection. I'm hoping this will work when I get around to trying it.
Can't verify right now, but if memory serves me well, there is a switch somewhere in the configuration utility that must be enabled to use wired network for music, when AE is acting as a router.

Anyway if you already have a wireless router in your network the easiest way to use the AE is to let it join the existing network and act as a simple musical "receiver".
Consider also that Airplay protocol internally uses ALAC lossles compression for musical data, so even the highest HD format is supported over wifi. AE internal DAC is limited to 16/44 (but as you write, you seem to use an external DAC).
 

Jeff_C

Member
Hi-Res multi-room audio may be a future feature of Chromecast Audio

Hi-Res multi-room audio may be a future feature of Chromecast Audio

Sonos sells complete wireless amplified speakers, with chromecast you can connect to every normal speaker. You can not two chomrcast audio to two different speakers systems and send same music to both of them, one in the kitchen and one in another room.
You are correct that Chromecast Audio does not do synchronised multi-room at present. But I have seen a review where it is rumoured that such a feature will be implemented at some stage in the future.
 

learning

New member
Bought one

Bought one

Just picked one up this morning. Set-up was a breeze. Using the optical out into my DAC.

Seen it flash up 16 and 24 bit and 44.1 and 48 khz streaming on my DAC if that really matters. A reasonably priced device that has a quality feel (good USB power cable and plug) and works well for both the normal user and the tweaker like me. Clever bods putting in the optical out.

Bet the engineering team fought with the bean counters over that one.
 

willem

Well-known member
Amp needed?

Amp needed?

But do I take it it needs an app for each streaming source? So do I need an app to pay Qlobuz, for example (assuming the usual stuff like Spotify and Netflix have been covered)?
 

Kumar Kane

New member
'Casting capability?'

'Casting capability?'

Using the optical out into my DAC.
Yes, it is clever, but Apple has been doing the multi jack for about ten years now, so I don't think it is too expensive to do. What would be interesting is a blind test supported view of sound quality via that compared to that via its analog out into a standard aux in on a stereo amp. I'd be very very surprised if the two can be picked out for sound quality differences in a well set up blind test.

I think the reason to give this feature is as an incentive for those with external DACs to not turn up their noses at it, that's all. Indeed, other than active speakers, the simplest application of this is to wire it to a power amp with volume control done via the handheld device. It ought to work just as well as with an external DAC feeding a pre/power amp twin box set up, though other pre amp features such as multiple source selectors, tone controls, and the like will be missing.

I can see a CC feeding a Quad 909 type power amp, driving Harbeth flagship speakers. As far as internet services delivered music is concerned, job done! Rip all CDs to a NAS, and use necessary software available for single digit dollars and cast/play that via the same set up to cover the base of purchased music as well. For USD 35, a very neat bridge between state of the art digital and/or internet delivered audio sources on the one hand and legacy hifi kit of any vintage on the other.
But do I take it it needs an app for each streaming source? So do I need an app to pay Qlobuz, for example (assuming the usual stuff like Spotify and Netflix have been covered)?
It needs an app with casting capability for straightforward operation. If Qobuz app has that, it will play. But I think there is a workaround to also play everything else as well, on the streamed audio side.

I think very soon all mainstream apps will have casting capability built into them.
 

ssfas

Well-known member
Frustration of computer audio

Frustration of computer audio

In my technically ignorant way, I had an issue or two setting up a networked and airplay streaming system.

Firstly, a benefit of the Airport Express is that it can also act as a wireless router. If you are using it in a CAT wired system streaming HD music, my advice is to turn it off (i.e. not set it up in the first place).

My data chain is QNAP server -> Apple Time Capsule router -> 30m of CAT cable -> home hub router -> internet over the mains -> Netgear switch -> Streamer -> DAC.

The Airport Express was connected to the Netgear switch immediately behind the streamer with the router switched off.

HD played from the QNAP to the server was intermittent - it stopped every 8 to 10 seconds.
At that time the Airport Utility showed the set-up as:

Time Capsule -> Network <- Airport Express.

Then, for reasons unknown, it changed to:

Airport Express -> Time Capsule -> Network

and the music works perfectly.

My guess is that I was trying to send the data over a complicated wired connection, but the system reconfigured to go wirelessly between the two Apple routers.

Some people may find getting computer audio to work properly a challenge, I just find it annoying ad frustrating.

Yesterday I bought a new TV for the bedroom as the old one broke a year ago and my wife is about to be laid up with a foot operation. I plugged it in and the music servers came up on the screen and she can play music direct from the TV. This difficult bit is getting her to understand which buttons to press on the remote.
 

willem

Well-known member
Chromecast v. Airplay

Chromecast v. Airplay

I am hopeless with computer networks. At home it is my wife who does these things (besides repairing washing machines and the like). From what I understand the AE is not dlna compliant.

I am indeed interested in the Chrome Cast and in Airplay, precisely because they allow one to bring legacy stereo gear into the 21st century. I gave my son my old Quad 303 (and my els 57 speakers) on long term (?) loan, and given that he only uses streamed source material, he needs something in the input side. So a Chromecast or Airport Express may indeed do the job. I do have a few questions, however.

Since I would indeed connect the Chromecast or AE directly to the power amplifier (with an attenuating cable given de high input sensitivity of the Q303), he would need to use the volume control in the device. Does that degrade the dynamic range of the signal, as some say, or only if the bit depth of the processing is insufficient? If so, are the CC and AE good enough? I am also a bit concerned that without external volume control as in a dac with a big knob for volume control the volume could accidentally be set to full power.

I see some important differences between the AE and the CC:
The AE also serves as a router, and that may be convenient in a large house with a lot of steel and concrete (we are having issues that I have not been able to solve sufficiently).

The CC can function on its own, once the connection has been made - the smartphone or tablet do not have to be on all the time.

The CC is dependent on an app for a particular service, but AE is not. Unfortunately Qobuz is not very active with app development. AE can send from any webpage on the source device. In principle this is also possible from a Chrome browser on e.g. a laptop but apparently that does not work reliably, and not at all from an iOS device.

Both CC audio and AE are audio specific devices. In our household apart from my study all stereo systems are invariably also connected to the tv's to give much better tv/BD etc audio. CC for TV and the new Apple TV only have hdmi audio output. Apple TV mk 3 still has optical digital audio out, so maybe I should treat my 'Apple only' daughter to the Apple TV mk 3 before the last one is gone. I completely fail to understand why Google and Apple have kept these worlds separate (as many audio manufacturers do as well).

Apple DAC's have a very good reputation and are often hard to beat with outboard DAC's, if at all. There have been a few subjective reviews of the CC audio that suggest that the audio though good is not as good as some comparable devices. Are there any serious tests?
 

Jeff_C

Member
A simpler set up

A simpler set up

In my technically ignorant way, I had an issue or two setting up a networked and airplay streaming system.

Firstly, a benefit of the Airport Express is that it can also act as a wireless router. If you are using it in a CAT wired system streaming HD music, my advice is to turn it off (i.e. not set it up in the first place).
Agreed. Having more than one piece of hardware acting as a router in a home network is asking for trouble. So the inclusion of something named Apple Time Capsule ROUTER alongside a home hub router seems unwelcome, unless you know exactly how it functions. I do not know what it does. The possibility of conflicts are then compounded by the Airport Express which can, you say, also be configured as a router.

My data chain is QNAP server -> Apple Time Capsule router -> 30m of CAT cable -> home hub router -> internet over the mains -> Netgear switch -> Streamer -> DAC.

The Airport Express was connected to the Netgear switch immediately behind the streamer with the router switched off.
It is hard to see for what function the Airport Express was included in the chain in the first place. A suggested simpler chain would be :-

QNAP server ->[optional unmanaged switch (1)] -> 30m of CAT cable -> home hub router -> network over the mains -> Netgear switch -> Streamer -> DAC

[1] An unmanaged switch could be added at this location in the chain if there was a need for other LAN ports near the QNAP.

HD played from the QNAP to the server was intermittent - it stopped every 8 to 10 seconds.
At that time the Airport Utility showed the set-up as:

Time Capsule -> Network <- Airport Express.

Then, for reasons unknown, it changed to:

Airport Express -> Time Capsule -> Network

and the music works perfectly.
I find it difficult to understand what is happening from the schematics above, and I am hampered further by being unfamiliar with the Apple products in the chain.

My guess is that I was trying to send the data over a complicated wired connection, but the system reconfigured to go wirelessly between the two Apple routers.
Maybe. I am unsure about your use of the term "router". Usually the term "router" refers to a piece of hardware which gives access (via a Wide Area Network (WAN) port) to a modem and thence the internet. The router also usually facilitates connection for other equipment on the home network (also known as a local area network (LAN). The router is usually bundled with a switch (wired ethernet LAN ports), and wifi access for the network. As stated earlier more than one piece of hardware in a network with such capabilities may cause conflicts.

Some people may find getting computer audio to work properly a challenge, I just find it annoying ad frustrating.
I agree that if something critical in the network is overlooked, or things do not work as expected it is most frustrating.
 
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