Google’s yearly I/O Developer conference is close, and if the rumours are true it’s going to be one of its biggest to date.
This is because, as well as unveiling its next version of Android, the tech giant is also expected to reveal more about its Bard AI tech, which has been causing a lot of controversy after unceremoniously failing in front of a packed crowd at its launch.
But, future Terminator/Skynet concerns aside, for me, there’s one big thing I want to see from Google at I/O this year – a new Chromecast Audio.
Some younger readers are probably scratching their heads after reading that, as the original Chromecast Audio was undeniably a very shortlived product that launched all the way back in 2015 and was largely overshadowed by the Chromecast Ultra – Google’s first 4K Chromecast video streamer.
However, for me, it was one of the best products Google ever released. Picture the scene: it was 2015, a great year for music when Fallout Boy was edgy-cool, Harry Styles was breaking tweens' hearts as part of One Direction, and streaming hadn’t fully conquered the world. CD players were still a common sight in living rooms and soundbars didn’t always come with Bluetooth support by default.
As a young tech journo on a shoestring budget, I myself was using an ageing Panasonic SC-PM37MD microsystem with either CDs or my phone connected via 3.5mm – yes, kids, phones those days had a 3.5mm connection!
In this cabled world, the Chromecast Audio was the hero I’d been waiting for – a compact little disc device that could connect to any speaker using a hybrid 3.5mm/digital optical output and magically turn it into a wi-fi streamer. I cannot tell you the joy it brought me being able to stream music directly from my phone to my CD player when I first powered up the Chromecast Audio many moons ago.
It was the dream, which is why we gave this very affordable the full five stars in our Chromecast Audio review. But despite this neat concept and its commendable performance, reports suggest the Chromecast Audio didn’t sell as well as expected, leading Google to never release a new version and eventually retire the product.
While streaming features have since become a more common part of everyday music playback devices – your Sonos speakers, your smart TV – the absence of a Chromecast Audio device in recent years has been a real shame and I can't help but feel the timing’s never been better than in 2023 for Google to rectify its mistake.
2023 is rapidly shaping up to be the year of streaming, with every hi-fi brand under the sun set to launch an awesome new streamer. As I noted when I had an initial listen to the Cambridge Audio MXN10, I’m all for this trend for a couple of reasons.
First, because it’s good for the environment. As our technical editor Ketan has said time and time again, there’s plenty of old kit that still sounds excellent – check out his That Was Then... Rotel RA820BX (1984) feature and you’ll see what I mean. So saving it from the dump by adding streaming capabilities for times when streaming music suits more than spinning a CD or vinyl is a win both for music fans’ bank balances and the environment.
The second and main reason I would be excited about a Chromecast Audio resurrection is that, while devices like the MXN10 are great, they’re definitely not mass market. Not in terms of form or price.
I love that these budget music streamers are emerging, but buying separate components like this to form a hi-fi system is a realm many people don’t enter. Most people don’t have the money, space or desire to house a £449 / $499 / €499 streamer, plus the amplifier and speakers required to partner it, so the MXN10 is still expensive by normal standards. Hell, even the Bluesound Node, which is currently our top affordable choice in our best music streamers guide, costs that much.
So having an option that’s in line with the Chromecast’s traditional sub £100 / $100 price tag would be a huge deal. On a personal level, I have plenty of friends who have asked about the best way to add streaming to their old, non-smart turntable set-ups and soundbars – and they could benefit from the Chromecast Audio’s return.
On top of that, there are plenty of easy upgrades Google could make to improve it. For starters, why not move to give users a USB connection option? This would facilitate much faster data speeds and higher-quality streaming. Or, and this would be the dream, upgrade it to have its own streaming module so it could accommodate things like Spotify Connect. Even adding a mic so you could use Google Assistant to control your sound system would be an awesome upgrade.
All of these would mark a massive step forward and open up an easy path for people to save old tech from the dump while upgrading their home listening experience. And that’s the key reason I really want Google to resurrect the Chromecast Audio line at I/O 2023.
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