December 2016

Inexpensive Streaming Devices

There are many ways to stream audio content these days. With the holidays around the corner we decided to test drive two very giftable streaming devices paired with our new 14 Series models.

Here’s a bulleted list comparing Google Chromecast Audio and Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Gen).

Common Features between both devices

  • Both require a functional WiFi network to connect to

Why bother with an external streaming device if I can just use Bluetooth to stream direct?

  • Since these connections use WiFi, any supported device on the WiFi network can stream audio to the system, WiFi doesn’t require close proximity like Bluetooth
  • Streaming over WiFi doesn’t drain phone battery as fast as Bluetooth streaming
  • With WiFi streaming, your music keeps playing without disruption, even if you get a phone call or a text notification. With Bluetooth, phone calls and notifications are heard through the speakers.
  • Apple iOS devices do not support aptX streaming. If you use an iOS device to stream audio to your Rotel system and want the best possible sound quality, consider using a Chromecast Audio with the optical connection.

Google Chromecast Audio

MSRP $35

Audio Connections

  • 3.5mm Optical (Mini TOSlink to TOSlink cable required)
  • Analog (3.5mm to RCA cable required)

Notes

  • Optical output allows you to take advantage of the internal DAC in the A12/A14 for optimal sound quality. This would be the recommended connection for the best sound quality and would be better than aptX Bluetooth when using optical.
  • Can use the rear USB power port on the A12/A14 to power to the Chromecast Audio even when in standy.
  • Can utilize the signal sense feature of A12/A14 with the optical audio to “wake up” the device from standby.
  • We recommend using the “fixed volume” feature on the A12/A14 to fix the volume on the Rotel to a set level and use the volume control on your phone/laptop to control the volume level instead.
  • Compatible with iOS/Android devices via the Google Home app, plus a Chromecast app for Google Chrome to allow “casting” audio from a web browser to the Chromecast Audio.
  • Compatible streaming services – Spotify, Pandora, YouTube Music, TuneIn, Google Play Music.
  • Can also be controlled by a Google Home device (MSRP $130) to add more features like Smart home controls and voice control.

Summary

  • From a pure audio standpoint, the Chromecast Audio is the clear winner as the optical output allows you to take advantage of the high quality DACs in the Rotel A12 or A14.
  • Additionally, the optical input allows you to take advantage of the signal sense feature on the A12/A14, so you can leave the Rotel device on the Chromecast Audio input and it will “wake up” whenever you start streaming audio to the system and will shut off automatically after 10 mins of inactivity.
  • If you like the Smart home functionality and the voice control features of the Amazon Echo Dot, the Google Home device can be integrated although the price of the Google Home + Chromecast Audio is significantly higher than just the Echo Dot alone.

Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation)

MSRP $50

Audio Connections

  • Bluetooth
  • Analog (3.5mm to RCA cable required)

Notes

  • Uses Amazon’s Alexa service that supports a wide range of features, such as voice control, timers and alarms, smart home features such as lighting and thermostat control and much more.
  • Bluetooth does not support aptX.
  • Cannot use the rear USB power port on the A12/A14 to provide power.
  • Compatible with iOS/Android devices via the Amazon Alexa app, or control and stream via the Amazon Alexa website.
  • Compatible streaming services – Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Audible, Kindle Books, Amazon Music.

Summary

  • The lack of aptX support via Bluetooth means the sound quality, although still very good, will not perform at the same standard as the Chromecast’s digital output for streaming. Since the A12/A14 only support “signal sense” on the optical and coax inputs, you would need to leave the Rotel device powered on constantly to have it always available to stream from the Echo Dot.
  • Music streaming is just one of many features on this device. The added functionality such as voice control and the various other integration and smart home features at this price may outweigh any sound quality issues for some.

Posted by Mike at Rotel

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