Chromecast Audio: What It Is and How It Works

How to stream audio from the web to your speakers using Chromecast Audio

The Google Chromecast Audio device plugs into traditional speakers so you can stream content from your computer or mobile device.
The Google Chromecast Audio device makes a traditional speaker "smarter".

Chromecast Audio is a small device that attaches to your traditional speakers. It enables the speakers to stream music and audio programming wirelessly from different devices and different online-based sources.

Some speakers are "smart," and connect to the Internet directly and wirelessly in order to stream audio and music content. Older speakers, of course, aren't so smart and need some help. That's where the Chromecast Audio comes into play.

So, if you have traditional (older) speakers, but want to be able to wirelessly play audio programming and music that's streamed from your Internet-connected smartphone, tablet, or computer, simply connect a Chromecast Audio device to the speaker(s). The device is then controlled using the Google Home app that gets installed on your mobile device.

Audio speakers have evolved a lot in recent years. While the sound quality they offer has typically improved, the cost of high-quality speakers has dropped significantly. More recently, the ability to stream audio from a computer or mobile device wirelessly (via Bluetooth or Apple AirPlay) has been added to many newer speakers. Meanwhile, a new category of Internet-connected "smart speakers," such as Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod, have also become popular.

How Are Chromecast and Chromecast Audio Different?

It's important to understand that the Google Chromecast device and the Google Chromecast Audio device (sold separately) look very similar in appearance, but their purpose is different. While the Chromecast device is designed to stream video and/or audio to your HD television set (or the home theater system connected to it) from the Internet (via your mobile device), the Chromecast Audio device can only stream audio content from the Internet, via your mobile device (or computer), to traditional speaker(s).

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Connect a Chromecast Audio Device to Your Speakers

The Chromecast Audio device comes with a four-inch long stereo 3.5mm Analog audio cable with two male plugs. Insert one end of the cable into the Chromecast device. Insert the opposite end of the cable into the AUX Line In port of your existing speaker(s). However, if your speakers have an RCA or Optical Audio port, appropriate cables can be purchased separately.

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Set Up the Chromecast Audio Device to Work with a Mobile Device

The Google Home app is used to control and manage the Chromecast Audio device.
Use the Google Home mobile app to set up the Chromecast Audio device.

The Chromecast Audio device links (wirelessly) to a home's Wi-Fi network. Chromecast Audio is ultimately controlled from any smartphone, tablet, or computer that's connected the same Wi-Fi network as the Chromecast Audio device. This allows for audio to be streamed to the speakers via any compatible smartphone or tablet mobile app that has the Google Cast feature built in. From a PC or Mac computer, audio content can be streamed using the Google Chrome web browser.

For the Chromecast Audio device to work, it's necessary to first install the free Google Home mobile app onto your smartphone or tablet, and then complete the one-time Set Up procedure by following these steps:

  1. Locate the Google Home app within the App Store that's compatible with your mobile device. Click here for the iOS (iPhone/iPad) version of the app. Click here to locate the Android version of the app.
  2. Upon launching the Google Home app for the first time, tap on the Set Up option. It takes about 15 seconds for the Chromecast Audio device and your mobile device to establish an initial wireless connection. Your mobile device needs to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network that your Chromecast Audio device will momentarily be connected to.
  3. Follow the on-screen prompts to select your home Wi-Fi network from the Google Home app. Enter your network's password, if requested. 
  4. Part of the setup process involves assigning a name to each speaker. For example, if you're linking Chromecast Audio to a speaker within your living room, choose the appropriate Living Room label for that speaker. (Each speaker or speaker system requires its own Chromecast Audio device to be connected to it.)
  5. Once the set up process is completed, use the Google Home app to manage the Chromecast Audio device in the future, or learn about the latest streaming audio apps it's compatible with.
  6. Download and install one or more compatible music/audio streaming apps that have the Cast feature built in. Click here for a complete list of Chromecast Audio compatible apps.

When using any app with the Cast feature, to stream the audio from your mobile device to the speaker with the Chromecast Audio device connected to it, tap on the Cast icon that's displayed on the player screen, and then tap on the listing for the speaker appropriate speaker name, such as Living Room.

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Installing Chromecast Audio to Work with an Internet-Connected Computer

From the Chrome web browser, you can stream audio content from the Internet to the speaker the Chromecast Audio device is connected to.
Using the Chrome web browser on your computer, wirelessly stream audio to your Chromecast Audio device that's connected to a speaker.

Music you stream from the Internet to your computer can be played wirelessly through speakers with a Chromecast Audio device plugged in.

To accomplish this, install and run the Chrome web browser on your PC or Mac computer. Visit the website for the streaming music service of your choice, and then click on the Cast option within the web browser. The Cast menu option can be found by clicking on the menu icon (which looks like three vertical dots) located in the top-right corner of the browser window.

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Choose Your Favorite Streaming Audio Mobile App(s)

The Chromecast Audio device is compatible with many music streaming services, such as Pandora and Spotify. It does not, however, work with Apple Music.
Stream audio from the Pandora mobile app to a speaker that has the Chromecast Audio device connected.

In addition to the Play Music app that comes preinstalled on all Android smartphones and tablets, Chromecast Audio currently works with the Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, YouTube Music, and SoundCloud mobile apps, along with dozens of other audio apps currently available from the App Store (iPhone/iPad), or Google Play App Store (Android). These apps are free, but most require you to set up a free or paid (subscription-based) account.

You must have an account with a compatible music or audio streaming service. For a complete list of compatible services, click here.

While Chromecast Audio works with the iPhone/iPad in conjunction with many third-party audio streaming apps, the Apple Music service (and Music app that comes preinstalled on iPhones and iPads) is not supported. 

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Start Streaming Audio to Your Favorite Speakers

Depending on the audio streaming service you use (which depends on the compatible mobile app you install onto your smartphone or tablet, or the website for the streaming music service you visit from your computer running the Chrome web browser), it's typically possible to:

  • Select specific songs, on-demand, from an extensive online library. This typically requires a paid subscription to a music service, such as Google Play Music, Spotify, or Pandora.
  • Create and listen to custom playlists comprised of your favorite music. This also typically requires a paid subscription to a music service.
  • Listen to streaming radio stations, for free. In this case, you select a specific radio station or music genre, and the station determines the lineup of music you hear. Radio stations that stream over the Internet offer all types of music, news/talk, sports, and other special interest programming.
  • Listen to music acquired, downloaded, and stored on your Android-based mobile device (via the Play Music app or a compatible app).
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Stream Music to Multiple Speakers

If you have multiple (compatible) speakers throughout your home, and connect a separate Chromecast Audio device to each speaker, from within the Google Home mobile app, it's possible to stream audio content to all of the speakers simultaneously. Set this up by selecting Devices  from the Google Home mobile app's menu, and then choosing two or more connected speakers. Create a speaker group to link multiple speakers together.

Chromecast Audio is Useful, But Not for Everyone

If you already own speakers that are Bluetooth or Apple Airplay compatible, or that are considered "smart speakers," which utilize their own Internet connection, the Google Chromecast Audio device is not required. This device is used simply to make traditional (low-tech) speakers able to stream audio programming from the Internet via your mobile device or computer.

Meanwhile, if you want to stream audio programming to your televisions set, use the Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra device (sold separately), not the Chromecast Audio device.