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How to make the best connected hifi

Live radio, music and personalised speech radio from across the world, for less than a hundred quid

By James Cridland
Posted 12 March 2015, 11.26am edt

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I've got the most amazing connected hifi - and it cost about £90.

Through TuneIn, I can access almost any radio station on the planet. (Not quite - some aren't compatible - but most are). With Google Play Music (or others), I can listen to my own music and have access to millions of tracks on subscription. Using NPR One, I can enjoy interesting quality speech radio, as well as all my favourite podcasts with Player FM. It's really easy to control. And it sounds amazing.

I previously managed this with a Chromecast, and an HDMI dongle. But with the release of the Chromecast Audio, it's now even easier.

A Chromecast Audio is a little puck-shaped thing that almost literally connects the internet to your speakers.

This means I can control everything using my phone, a computer (PC, Mac or Chromebook), or a relatively underpowered tablet. Or all three. The Chromecast Audio does all the hard work of getting the audio and streaming it, so your tablet doesn't need to be amazing. I'd recommend the Tesco Hudl if you needed a tablet, for under a hundred quid. (That's the difference between a Chromecast and a Bluetooth dongle - Chromecast does all the streaming for you, and your phone or tablet just tells it what to play. So, no battery nightmares, and no horrid transcoded audio.)

The hardware...

The software...

  • Google Play Music All Access for music - Android iOS. You could also use Blinkbox Music, Deezer, or Rdio among others.
  • TuneIn for live radio - Android iOS.
  • NPR One for personalised talk radio - Android iOS
  • Player FM for podcasts - Android. For iOS (or Android), try Pocketcasts.

With Android, you can also cast your whole screen, including the audio, to your hifi for any unsupported apps you might use. You can also cast a whole browser tab in Chrome, too, on your laptop. (Like Bluetooth or Apple Airplay, this does use lots of battery and transcodes the audio).

Great speakers with proper stereo separation (!) makes an amazing difference to the quality of the audio; while the user interface of most phone apps will always beat lots of button pushes on an over-complex remote control.

It's now my office hifi; and I'm delighted with it.

(Comments below are for the first incarnation of this connected hifi - using a TV Chromecast.)

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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Comments

2 years, 5 months ago

This is awesome stuff, thanks; been pondering a set-up along these lines for a while.
I think your third hardware bullet is ambiguous; you mean "An HDMI audio/VGA adaptor and an HDMI female-to-female adaptor to get the audio from the Chromecast into your amplifier" - "this device" initially read to me like you were referring to the first adapter, which didn't make sense.

PRO2 years, 5 months ago

Cheers. Yes, I've had a few questions on Google+ about that, so I've made that a little clearer in an edit.

I bought the HDMI female-female adaptor to enable me to connect the Chromecast to the audio/VGA adaptor. It was cheaper and quicker than getting an HDMI audio/VGA adaptor in the right orientation.

PRO2 years, 5 months ago

I have a high end system with a Chromecast plugged into it. The only audio source I regularly use apart from the Chromecast is the turntable. All other sources, (CD, tuner etc) are redundant.

PRO2 years, 5 months ago

Thanks, Rupert. A "turntable"? No, you've lost me. (Wink)

2 years, 5 months ago

I have a sonos, love it. Hope sonos bring google cast for audio to their devices though as it would open up the uses for it.

2 years, 5 months ago

Can you post a photo/image of how you hooked everything up e.g how you connect the chromecast to the amp. Could you do the same with an existing hi-fi and a chromecase?

PRO2 years, 5 months ago

Mark - sure. Here's the Chromecast, connected to the gender changer then the VGA/audio adaptor (in blue). It then connects using a 3.5mm jack to the amplifier.

(image)

I actually keep the Chromecast dangling behind the desk, so it looks a little neater than this.

And yes, you could do the same with an existing hifi. The reason I didn't do that is that I don't have one; and I didn't think I could get an amp for just £25.

2 years, 5 months ago

So, I received all the magical items today and put it together in moments. I've used my pre-existing stereo and swapped out a fuzzy and crackly bluetooth based solution.

BONUS 1: I got my Chromecast free with a series of Suits, via this deal https://chromeshop.wuaki.tv/ (cheers Vinny Lo for pointing that one out)

BONUS 2: Finding out chromecast works on Podcast Addict, my current podcast app of choice (Android, free, and fantastic).

Hooray for better wireless sound. Who needs Sonos (inset expensive wireless audio brand of choice)

2 years, 4 months ago

I've got a 'Camac' HDMI to VGA+audio dongle, which looks identical to James' (but is black). Alas, no meaningful sound comes out - until the VGA output is plugged in to something that terminates it (a television that's not plugged in to the mains works just as well as a television that's switched on and showing the video). Perhaps I need to make a VGA dummy plug...?

2 years, 4 months ago

To answer my own question, if anyone finds themselves in a similar position: yes. Three 75 ohm resistors, one across each of R, G, B and ground - and it now works as an audio-only device. Factor in spending £1.17 at Maplin.

PRO2 years, 2 months ago

Something worth knowing for temporary radio stations or just a radio station experience from a laptop: Flair Player is a free app for Chrome, which has full Chromecast support. So if you find a .pls you want to go and have a listen to from your laptop, this works just great.

2 years, 2 months ago

Nothing as small as that.

I have a Rotel Amplifer, for which I have a Revo Axis wi-fi radio plugged in via an audio switcher box. I still have a Pioneer F520RDS tuner that's rarely used, as well as a Linn Deck for vinyl, a Marantz CD player, a Sony minidisc, a Denon twin cassette deck, plus a few old mobile phones tha I use as music players. The audio from my TV is also plugged into the hi-fi system, via the audio switcher box, as as my Sky receiver.

Meanwhile my TV has 2 DVD players, a ROKU flash drive, an Android-for-TV flashdrive, the same Sky receiver as above and built-in Freeview.

All audio leads are Chord Chrimson's.

The sound quality off many internet stations and Spotify as really very good.

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