When the 2nd generation of Chromecast was announced, two Chromecast products were announced: Chromecast (Chromecast 2015) and Chromecast Audio.
Although it sounds simple, it is actually not so easy for many potential buyers, especially for those who are new to Chromecast, to decide which Chromecast is for them.
This page will show you the major differences between Chromecast and Chromecast Audio so that you can make the correct decision.
Google discontinued Chromecast Audio in early 2019. If you still want to get a Chromecast Audio, you may follow this guide to use a Chromecast to replace Chromecast Audio.
Chromecast vs Chromecast Audio: HDMI output (audio and video) vs audio cable output only
The major difference between Chromecast and Chromecast Audio is the output interface and output signal.
Chromecast has an HDMI output interface. You can connect Chromecast to the HDMI port in the TV or AV receiver.
Chromecast will output both audio and video to the connected devices.
As a comparison, Chromecast Audio can only output audio through one of the 3 audio cables (depending on your speaker input options):
- 3.5mm stereo cable (which is included in your Chromecast Audio box) for analogue output.
- 3.5mm to RCA cable for analogue output. It should be very cheap, and you probably can find it in your old DVD box.
- Mini TOSLINK to TOSLINK optical cable for digital output. It should cost you around $10 to get one.
Please note, Chromecast Audio only has one 3.5mm output port, into which you can insert the 3.5mm end of any of the 3 cables mentioned above.
You should choose the cable based on your speaker or AV receiver. Generally speaking, the digital optical output gives the best audio quality.
So, if your speaker has the TOSLINK input, it is wise to spend $10 to get a Mini TOSLINK to TOSLINK optical cable.
Chromecast vs Chromecast Audio: for your TV vs for your speaker
For some users, you may have an AV receiver which accepts both HDMI and audio input (usually digital). You can connect both Chromecast and Chromecast Audio to it.
But you need to know, Chromecast Audio only output audio, and there is no video output at all.
Essentially, Chromecast Audio is for your speakers only. Chromecast is mainly for your TV.
It is possible to use Chromecast for your speakers as well if
- The speaker supports HDMI input. This is not common.
- Or the speaker is connected to an AV receiver, which connects to Chromecast.
This means if your AVR or speaker supports HDMI input, you do NOT need a Chromecast Audio at all.
Chromecast vs Chromecast Audio: does Chromecast Audio provides better audio quality?
As mentioned, Chromecast can also be used to stream music if you connect Chromecast to an AV receiver or to an HDMI port in the speaker.
Then, some users may wonder about audio quality.
Chromecast does not have a DAC (digital-to-analogue converter). This means the audio quality from Chromecast depends on the device connected to Chromecast, not the Chromecast.
For Chromecast Audio, it has its own DAC, which will be used if you use 3.5mm audio cable or RCA cable (i.e., you use the analogue output). Of course, if you use TOSLINK, audio quality is up to the DAC in your AV receiver.
The DAC in Chromecast is an AKM AK4430 192kHz 24-bit stereo DAC according to iFixit’s teardown. The sound quality should be comparable to most AV receivers with a price tag about $200-$500.
So, in most cases, Chromecast Audio is not the bottleneck of audio quality.
But it is hard to say whether Chromecast Audio offers better audio quality than Chromecast because Chromecast does not have its own DAC and the audio quality depends on the device connected.
Technically, an HDMI connection can offer more bandwidth (more audio channels) than the optical interface.
Please note, audio quality is mainly limited by the music (media) source and your speakers. Chromecast and Chromecast Audio are unlikely a bottleneck for the audio quality for most users.
Chromecast vs Chromecast Audio: differences inside
Except for the output options, the new Chromecast and Chromecast Audio share similar hardware specs. They are being sold at an identical price ($35).
In the technical side, there are two differences between Chromecast and Chromecast Audio:
- Chromecast has 4GB RAM, while Chromecast Audio has 2GB. As Chromecast Audio does not process videos, the 2GB RAM is sufficient.
- Chromecast Audio has a 192kHz 24-bit stereo DAC. Chromecast does not have a DAC. DAC is not necessary for an HDMI output.
So, the difference between Chromecast vs Chromecast Audio is linked to the different intended usage.
Because Google discontinued the Chromecast Audio in 2019, you can now replace a Chromecast Audio with Chromecast if your AVR or speaker supports HDMI input. If not, you can use HDMI audio extractor with Chromecast to stream music as explained in this guide.
Why didn’t Google combine Chromecast and Chromecast Audio into one device?
It sounds logical that if Google adds a DAC in Chromecast and drill another hole for audio output would make one combined device of Chromecast and Chromecast Audio. Users will not have a hard time to decide which one to buy.
But I guess it is wise to release two products because a lot of Chromecast owners would get confused and make mistakes if Google has combined Chromecast and Chromecast audio.
Remember Chromecast is targeted at the mass market, not just geeks. If you have a device with two mutually exclusive outputs, a lot of consumers will be confused. With two products with different output cables, ALL Chromecast device owners know where to plug Chromecast.
Cost is probably another consideration. Chromecast is targeted at $35 (you have to consider sales cost) in the market so that it is very affordable in almost all regions. Current hardware configuration probably is the limit unless Google does not want to make any money on the product.
Do you have any questions on the differences of Chromecast vs Chromecast Audio?
If you have any questions on the difference between Chromecast and Chromecast Audio, please let us know in the comment box below.
The community will try to help you find the answer or solution.
For more Chromecast Audio guides, please visit the Chromecast Audio guide page.
If your question is on Chromecast including both 1st generation Chromecast, and new Chromecast (aka Chromecast 2015), Chromecast 2018 (Chromecast 3rd gen), and Chromecast Ultra, please visit Chromecast how-to guides page.