How to make the best connected hifi
Live radio, music and personalised speech radio from across the world, for less than a hundred quid
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.)
- An LP-2020A+ Lepai Mini Audio Amplifier - really cheap, single-source amplifier, recommended by music professionals
- A Google Chromecast Audio. You can't buy these from Amazon, because of some bizarre policy, but you'll find them in most other stores: in the UK you'll find them in Currys, and in Australia, they're in JB-Hifi. It comes with a suitable cable.
- Wharfedale Diamond 9.0 speakers and speaker cable
- 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.)