When Chromecast Audio was announced, a lot of people wanted to know the advantages and disadvantages of Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth.
This is a natural question because Bluetooth speaker is readily available in all countries and regions. Most families have a few Bluetooth speakers, which may be given free when purchasing some expensive home appliances.
Chromecast Audio is new, although Chromecast is about 2 years old. Even some Chromecast owners may have some misunderstandings about Chromecast Audio.
If you are not sure about the difference between Chromecast and Chromecast Audio, or you are not sure about how Chromecast Audio streams music, you may check our Chromecast Audio guides page.
This post focuses on comparing Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth to help you understand the advantages and limitations of Chromecast Audio. And therefore, you can make a better decision on whether you should get a Chromecast Audio, or whether you can live with Bluetooth, or whether and how you can use both of them within your budget.
Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth: audio quality
Bluetooth usually has terrible audio quality because Bluetooth is designed as a low-power, short-range personal area network (PAN). The speed is far lower than that of WiFi. Even for the latest Bluetooth 4.2, the maximum speed is capped at 24Mbps, which is half of that of the old 2.4Ghz 802.11g WiFi connection.
Most Bluetooth speakers are still using Bluetooth 2.0/2.1+EDR, whose maximum data rate is only 3Mbps. The actual streaming rate is even far lower.
So, when streaming music, audio must be compressed (to reduce data) on your mobile device, transmitted in the air, and then decompressed on the speaker. This usually degrades the audio quality significantly.
The most common compressing and decompressing algorithm (codec), and the default for most Bluetooth devices, is SBC (Low Complexity Subband Coding). SBC is sufficient for phone calls and online meetings. But for music, it is usually not good enough.
To address this issue, some vendors implemented aptX, a new proprietary codec for wireless audio (now owned by Qualcomm). Although aptX probably uses a better algorithm and noticeably improves the audio quality, it is far from what they claimed: “lossless.”
Due to the limitations of the design and implementation of Bluetooth, it is hard to get “lossless” audio through Bluetooth. Very often, aptX actually is just a hit-or-miss: sometimes you get far better quality than using SBC; sometimes, you get as poor audio quality as through SBC. Obviously, the gain from aptX highly depends on the individual music file.
To make it worse, aptX is not widely available.
To benefit from aptX, you need a device (for example, a mobile phone) that supports aptX AND a Bluetooth speaker that also supports aptX. Currently, only a few flagship smartphones released this year and last year may support aptX. For Bluetooth speakers due to licensing costs, most Bluetooth speakers cheaper than $100 do not support aptX at all.
Just for your reference, Apple does not support aptX in iOS at all. So you cannot get aptX on iPhone or iPad. Licensing cost is probably one consideration.
For Chromecast Audio (or Chromecast), there is no compression in transmitting. Audio quality is only limited by the music source and the quality of your speaker. The 802.11ac WiFi connection is far more than sufficient for lossless audio.
If you use the analog output in Chromecast Audio, the DAC (Digital-to-analog converter) in Chromecast Audio is also a decent one, although not a high-end one.
So, if you compare Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth, Chromecast Audio is definitely a winner in audio quality.
Of course, the audio quality also depends on the music source and your speaker. Chromecast Audio is usually not the bottleneck. But Bluetooth is usually the bottleneck for audio quality.
Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth: battery usage on mobile devices
When you compare the mobile device dependency of Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth, it is very clear that both Chromecast Audio and Bluetooth require a second device in addition to the speaker.
But the role of the other device is totally different for Chromecast Audio and Bluetooth.
For Bluetooth, the device must pair with a Bluetooth-enabled speaker. The music and audio are simply transferred from the device’s speaker to the Bluetooth speaker. For example, after you pair your phone with a Bluetooth speaker, by default, all audio output will be transferred to the Bluetooth speaker. All operations, for example, playing music connecting to the internet if streaming, are all handled by the phone.
This can drain the battery of your mobile device significantly, especially for internet streaming.
As a comparison, Chromecast Audio works differently. For internet streaming, Chromecast Audio will fetch the content and play it by itself. Your mobile phone is just a remote control. Once streaming starts, you can even switch off your phone. You only need the phone when you want to stop streaming or change the playlist.
This means for internet streaming, Chromecast Audio will handle it by itself except for the initial stage of setting up the streaming/playlist. So, once streaming starts, your phone does nothing for internet streaming.
For streaming local music through Chromecast Audio, it depends on the methods you are using. If you are playing a local music library on a PC or NAS server with Plex or VLC player, it works similarly to internet streaming, except the traffic is routed through your local network.
If you are using the casting audio/screen option and are playing local music to Chromecast Audio, it works like Bluetooth, except it is through a WiFi network, not through Bluetooth. Only in this scenario battery consumption on the mobile device is similar to that using Bluetooth.
So, in most cases, especially for internet streaming, Bluetooth will drain far more battery on your mobile device than using Chromecast Audio.
By comparing battery usage on mobile devices using Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth, Chromecast Audio is a clear winner again.
Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth: requirements
Both Chromecast Audio and Bluetooth have some requirements. Now, let’s compare the requirements of Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth.
For Chromecast Audio, you need:
- a WiFi network and an active internet connection. Chromecast and Chromecast Audio will not work unless they can connect to the internet, even if you just want to stream local content (although the traffic is routed only through your local network). If no active internet connection is detected, Chromecast Audio assumes it is not ready. The LED colour will indicate this status.
- A paring device. The device must have one of the supported OS: Android 4.1 or higher, iOS 7.0 or higher, Windows 7 or higher, Mac OS 10.7 or later, or Chrome OS (on a Chromebook running Chrome 28 & higher). Supporting for Linux is not official.
- A speaker or receiver with one of the 3 input ports: 3.5-mm stereo, RCA or TOSLINK.
For Bluetooth, the requirements are simpler:
- A paring device. The only requirement is Bluetooth-enabled.
- A Bluetooth speaker.
So, for the requirements comparison of Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth, Bluetooth is the winner.
Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth: which one is for you?
Chromecast Audio and Bluetooth are actually NOT mutually exclusive. You can get them both within your budget.
The best and cheapest solution is to get a Bluetooth speaker with AUX input. You can use the speaker for both Bluetooth and Chromecast Audio.
Please note if audio quality is a big concern for you, it is better to get a high-quality speaker within your budget for Chromecast Audio. You can then spend an additional $20-$30 for a Bluetooth receiver for the speaker if you need Bluetooth as well. Most high-end speakers with Bluetooth connections are overpriced for the Bluetooth feature.
On the other hand, most Bluetooth speakers, especially unknown brands, are designed and tuned for “Bluetooth” quality. The AUX input may have a similar audio quality as Bluetooth. You should avoid them if you need audio quality.
If you do not care too much about music details, a decent Bluetooth speaker with AUX input (within your budget) is probably sufficient.
Anyway, as I always said, trust your ears, not the price tag.
Google discontinued the Chromecast Audio. What’s the solution?
Google discontinued Chromecast Audio in early 2019. But this does not mean you only have the Bluetooth solution.
As explained in this guide, you can use Chromecast (or Chromecast Ultra) to replace Chromecast Audio. And you will get comparable or better audio quality than using Chromecast Audio.
If your AV receiver or speaker supports HDMI input, then you can directly hook Chromecast into the receiver or the speaker. You will get the best possible audio quality from streaming in this configuration.
If your AV receiver or speaker does not support an HDMI input, you need to add an HDMI audio extractor to Chromecast. You can then use the normal analogue or digital input in your receiver or speaker. You should be able to get comparable or better audio quality compared to using a Chromecast Audio.
Please refer to this guide for detailed explanations for replacing Chromecast Audio with Chromecast.
Anyway, without Chromecast Audio, our recommendation is Chromecast (plus an HDMI audio extractor).
Do you know the advantages and disadvantages of comparing Chromecast Audio vs. Bluetooth? Do you know which one is for you: Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth?
If you have any comments or questions on comparing Chromecast Audio vs Bluetooth, please let us know in the comment box below.
The community will try to help you find the answer and benefit from your thoughts.
For more Chromecast Audio guides, please visit the Chromecast Audio guide page.
If your question is on Chromecast, including both 1st generation Chromecast, new Chromecast (aka Chromecast 2015), Chromecast 3rd gen (Chromecast 2018), and Chromecast Ultra, please visit Chromecast how-to guides page.