Chromecast Audio + DAC: Affordable HiFi Streaming Audio

Pairing Google’s Chromecast with a DAC

During development of the JDS Labs OL & EL DACs, we went a little optical crazy around the office. You can see the results of some of these experiments in this post from last year.

We received an email late last year from Erik, who mentioned that he uses his OL DAC with Google’s Chromecast Audio, an optical source that we had overlooked. That began our Chromecast Audio + DAC journey and we’ve never looked back. We highly recommend this combination if you’re looking into building a hi-res streaming system.

Chromecast Audio connects to any optical DAC to stream high quality audio over WiFi to any audio system, usually a set of powered speakers or larger stereo, and can be used with apps from smartphones, tablets, and PCs.

 

 

Why Chromecast?

We like the Chromecast Audio for many reasons, namely: value, audio quality, and app selection. It works seamlessly with the JDS Labs OL DAC and EL DAC to form a strong base for any listening setup.

The device itself is only $35, leaving tons of room in even the most modest streaming budget. Pair it with a google home mini ($49) and additional Chromecasts for a voice-operated budget multi-room streaming setup. Utilizing digital optical out at 24-bit/96kHz, pairing the Chromecast Audio with the OL DAC and any headphone/speaker system will give you a fantastic high-res listening station. The Chromecast Audio is also compatible with a vast number of apps and operating systems. Stream Tidal, Google Play Music, Deezer, Spotify, NPR One, Pocket Casts, 8Tracks, and more through Mac, Windows, Android, or iOS.

18 thoughts to “Chromecast Audio + DAC: Affordable HiFi Streaming Audio”

  1. There are only two problems with the Chromecast Audio as a network audio source:

    1) The TOSLINK output is jittery (look up Archimago’s measurements)
    2) No support for gapless audio

    Still, it’s great, and even if you just use it as a DAC, it’s surprisingly capable. I do recommend using it with BubbleUPnP on Android for best results if you have a music server in you network.

    1. Hm, is this the set of measurements you’re referring to? To quote the author,

      As you can see, jitter is a non-issue even with a <$50 streaming device receiving the audio data off a WiFi network. For the sake of completeness, there are a pair of obvious sidebands evident in the 24-bit J-Test of very low level corresponding to +/-250Hz. In terms of amplitude, these are 115dB below the primary 12kHz signal! Absolutely irrelevant in ability to impact sound quality.

      Looking at the 24-bit J-test, this is a solid conclusion.

      1. That’s for the analog portion, this is for the digital output specifically where the measurement is more apparent, but yeah…probably not a serious issue. http://archimago.blogspot.com/2016/02/measurements-google-chromecast-audio_27.html (though the lack of gapless playback is still annoying!)

        I will also note that if you have an Android device, make sure you get BubbleUPnP, it expands what your Chromecast can do, especially if you want to play music back from your local network on one.

        1. The folks at Roon now support the Chromecast Audio (which is still available in huge quantities for regular retail prices in Australia for some reason) and have managed to get it to support gapless playback ftw!

  2. I use a Chromecast Audio as an optical input for my current setup. It’s wonderful. I have this fantasy of an integrated DAC/Amp solution featuring the Atom amp with Bluetooth and/or Chromecast Audio type support.

  3. Now that Chromecast Audio (CCA) is discontinued, can a Chromecast be used with an HDMI audio extractor to stream hi res audio?

    1. I’m not 100% sure on that! From a quick search, it looks like there’s some pockets of people using this solution with mixed results; I have yet to test this myself.

  4. “Utilizing digital optical out at 24-bit/94kHz”….. wouldn’t the information be outputted at 24/192 once it goes through the OL DAC via optical ?

      1. This is sad. My CCA devices are still going strong. I suppose as long as the ChromeCast protocol is supported the devices will continue to work. It’s hard to beat as an optical source from a price performance perspective.

  5. I’m relatively new to the audio game, just wondering if this would work. I have a vintage amp and speakers hooked up to my turntable. The amp does not a built-in DAC or a digital in. I have got ahold of a Chromecast audio, so if I purchase the optical Ol DAC, I should be able to run the 3.5mm cable from the CCA into the DAC and then run an RCA cable into my amp and get streaming music into my system?

    Any help is much appreciated.

    1. Liam. What you described will work. You can also use a 3.5mm to RCA and connect the CCA that way while you wait for your OL DAC to arrive.

  6. How much better is the sound quality running the CCA optical to external DAC rather than using the 3.5mm with the CCA internal DAC? I have a CCA but only use the 3.5mm and am wondering whether to purchase a separate DAC. Cheers!

    1. Certainly optical offers better signal – I’ve used this route for two headphone amp stations (JDS dac and amp and a Schiit stack) with good results (convenience and audio fidelity), as well as through the JDS Lans Ol Dac with optical in (ads some cost over USB base version) and then rca out to a Harman Kardon (rca in only) receiver driving Focal Bookshelf Speakers and monolith powered sub (and hi-res Spotify and Tidal as streaming source off iPhones. The external dacs will generally open up sound stage and instrumental detail/separation. Additionally, Tidal a/b against audiophile CD player (marantz) into same set up produces negligible difference to my ears in a 12×20 listening room at comfortable listening levels. CCAs can still be found on eBay, but increasingly at more than original list and from Canada or AU, in which case you will have to sub a US/USB power adapter if you are elsewhere. Happy listening. Google missed the boat when they discontinued this product, as they failed to factor in the music community with legacy systems not interested in upgrading to new receivers with HDMI (for the current Chromecast) or other streaming capability.

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