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Do you remember when you had to use an auxiliary audio cable to connect your iPod or laptop to a Hi-Fi? Well, those days are long gone. Today, it’s all about wireless streaming; cables are rapidly going the same way as VHS tapes and MySpace Is Facebook Going The Same Way As MySpace? Is Facebook Going The Same Way As MySpace? It happened with the massive community of AOL Online during the dialup days, it happened with Yahoo Search during the late 1990's. And history is more likely than not to repeat itself with Facebook. Why? Read More .

There are lots of options on the market, but in this article we take a look at two of the most popular – Sonos and Chromecast Audio. A lot of people seem to think they are the same thing, but that belief couldn’t be further from the truth. While their core purpose might be the same, the differences between them are vast.

Here’s a brief summary of their advantages, disadvantages, and key differences, all designed to help you decide which is best for you:

The Background

Sonos is one of, if not the, leading brands in the wireless speaker category. It was founded back in 2002 in the pre-Spotify era and was originally conceived as a way to wirelessly send music from your music collection directly to your speakers.

With the proliferation of smartphones and music streaming services Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music: Which Is Best? Spotify vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music: Which Is Best? While there are lots of music streaming services around, there are three major ones that stand out above the others: Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. But which is best? Read More , the company’s remit expanded. You can now use the official Sonos app to stream music saved on almost any device, and it supports more than 40 music streaming services, including all of the big players.

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Chromecast Audio is a much newer offering but has exploded in popularity. Piggy-backing off of the success of the Chromecast streaming stick Chromecast 2.0: What's New? Chromecast 2.0: What's New? The aptly named Chromecast 2.0 is Google's first major revision to the device since it was first released all the way back in July 2013. What's new? Read More , Chromecast Audio was launched in the fall of 2015. Its main selling point is that its audio dongle lets you turn any “dumb” speakers into wireless ones.

If you think Sonos and Chromecast Audio sound remarkably similar, allow me to enlighten you…

The Advantages of Sonos

Sonos has lots of great features that Chromecast Audio lacks:

Wi-Fi Coverage

The Chromecast Audio dongle connects directly to your home network and can thus be impacted by other Wi-Fi usage. It’s also problematic if you want to use your speakers a long way from your router.

See what I mean in the image below:

traditional-wireless

Sonos has created SonosNet. It means each component of your Sonos system (the speaker, Sonos Connect, Sonos Amp, etc.) acts as a bridge – thus becoming both a client and an access point. The result is that each component actively expands your network. To use it, you just need to have one component wired into your router.

SonosNet-wireless

Single App Streaming

Sonos comes with its own official app which acts as the gateway to the system. Services such as Spotify and Apple Music are controlled from within the Sonos app; you cannot stream from within those services’ own apps.

It might sound odd, but there is a clear reason for this: Sonos is designed to be “always on”. You never turn off the speakers themselves, instead you merely pause them. That means you can hit play on any speaker in your house and flood every room with music in a matter of seconds.

sonos-app

The Sonos app also allows you to make playlists across multiple sources How to Make Mega-Playlists Between Music Streaming Services How to Make Mega-Playlists Between Music Streaming Services Ever wanted to let friends contribute to the playlist but felt restricted by different streamlining services? This new app is the answer to that problem and keeps the party going. Read More . For example, you could play a Spotify song, followed by a song from your hard drive, followed by a track from SoundCloud.

Chromecast Audio works by streaming audio from within services’ individual apps – there is no unifying single official app. Some services/apps (such as Apple Music) don’t work with the system and, of course, you’ll need to turn on a separate speaker each time you want to listen.

Trueplay Software

A recent addition to the Sonos’ feature list is Trueplay.

This is a custom speaker tuner. Activate it on your iPod, iPhone, or iPad, and you can walk around the room while the Sonos speakers emit a series of tones. It will then analyze the acoustics of the space and make the necessary adjustments to the speakers’ settings.

trueplay

At the moment, it’s only available on Apple products due to the diverse number of microphones in Android devices.

Your Existing Music Collection

If you’ve got a vast collection of your own music Here Is How Mp3tag Easily Cleans up Your MP3 Collection Here Is How Mp3tag Easily Cleans up Your MP3 Collection Mp3tag is one of the most powerful tools for editing your MP3 collection. In addition to batch editing file names and ID3 tags, custom Actions allow you to perform elaborate changes on your MP3 files. Read More saved on your hard drive, don’t expect Google’s product to be able to access it. Yes, you can upload your music to Google Play Use Your Browser To Upload To Google Play Music Use Your Browser To Upload To Google Play Music Google just decided to make Google Play Music a lot more useable. The following Chrome extension will change the way you can make use of Google Play Music for good. Read More , and yes, there are third-party tools that’ll let you hack your computer and send its audio to the dongle, but it’s not a streamlined, integrated feature.

Sonos will let your sync your library with its app and then enable you to access that library from any device/app on your network. No uploading is required.

The Advantages of Chromecast Audio

Despite all of Sonos’ awesome features, Chromecast Audio isn’t without its own benefits:

Cost

The biggest advantage Chromecast Audio has over Sonos is the cost of entry. Sonos’ basic speaker – the Play:1 – will set you back $199 (£169). The Playbar and Sub are $699 (£547/£599) each and the most powerful speaker, the Play:5, is $499 (£429). However, the quality on these speakers is out of this world.

Sonos PLAY:1 Compact Wireless Smart Speaker for Streaming Music (Black) Sonos PLAY:1 Compact Wireless Smart Speaker for Streaming Music (Black) Mini but Mighty. Fits in any space, fills any room with surprisingly rich and powerful sound. Buy Now At Amazon $69.00

The Sonos Connect, which I will come onto in a moment, is considerably overpriced at $349 (£259) – especially when you consider that Chromecast Audio is a mere $35.

Converting Old Speakers

As I mentioned at the very start, Chromecast Audio is fantastic at converting old “dumb” powered speakers into wireless ones. You just plug the dongle into the headphone jack on your Hi-Fi and you’re ready to go.

Sonos can do this by using the Connect or the Amp. The Connect lets you add powered speakers – such as an old Hi-Fi – and the Amp will add power to standalone, non-powered speakers. The cost, however, is prohibitive. Cynics would argue that Sonos is intentionally keeping the price high to encourage people to buy its own speakers and maintain audio quality.

sonosamp

That strategy might be slightly more forgivable if the Connect, Amp, Playbar, and Play:5 weren’t the only Sonos products that also have a Line-In port.

Outdoors

Sonos does not currently offer an outdoor speaker; it’s a glaring omission in its product line-up.

If you have any existing outdoor speakers that you want to make wireless, the $35 Chromecast Audio is comfortably the best option.

And The Winner is…

If it isn’t already clear, Sonos is infinitely better on paper – but it’s important to understand that they are two very different offerings.

Sonos is designed to be used as a premium product covering your whole house. It’s an integrated ecosystem that is unequaled in terms of quality, design, and function.

However, it’s important not to disregard Chromecast Audio. If you want to add some wireless functionality to an old Hi-Fi, it’s great – just don’t expect its audio quality or feature list to rival that of Sonos. Or even get anywhere close.

In conclusion, this is a classic example of you getting what you pay for.

Do you own either of the two systems? What pros and cons would you add to our list for either Sonos or Chromecast Audio? How often do you use your Sonos or Chromecast Audio? Please let us know your thoughts on these two audio wonders in the comments below.

  1. Dee
    August 24, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Sonos connect doesn't make any sense when you have Chromecast Audio. I hope Sonos would drop Sonos-connect price down to $35 to match with Chromecast price, else they are going to loose out this market.

  2. Greg
    July 28, 2016 at 4:03 am

    I've seven Chromecast audio devices throughout my house attached to active speakers of various quality. Not surprisingly the Klipsch, Roberts and even UE Boom speakers sound great and the cheaper speakers predictably produce more inferior sound. The Chromecast audio system, using various speaker groups, is just fantastic and I love it. My son uses a Sonos system in his apartment which is just brilliant but, of course, was MUCH more expensive. If you've lots of cash, go the Sonos route. If you've several decent quality active speakers already, the Chromecast audio route produces an entirely satisfactory result. And, of course, Google Home is on the way - will it work with Sonos I wonder?

  3. Bob
    July 27, 2016 at 10:49 am

    There is an error in this article.
    Yes, the Sonos "Connect" is expensive but it is not required unless you wish to play audio from a device such as a cell phone.

    I listen to audio books and was looking for a system that allowed me to play them around the house without having to be tied to my phone and headphones Sonos allowed me to do exactly that.

    The connect was not required to do this because (as is stated) Sonos will play from multiple networked sources.

    Later, Sonos ran into issues playing material from audible and their solution was to play them from my phone which the required me to use a "connect.)

    Sonos realised that I had spent many hundreds of dollars building my system for one purpose which would become obsolete and sent me a "Connect" without charge to protect my investment. Now I play my Audible books via the "connect" but all non Audible material still comes from my computers and bypass's the "Connect."

    So, the "Connect" is not required unless the user wishes to connect a hardware device (Tv, Cd player etc.) to the Sonos system.

    What is required to run the Sonos system (for more than one speaker) is a "bridge" and these cost around $50

    For Ben.... I have never seen "Sonosnet" interfere with my wifi system. It sets itself separate wifi channel and operates there.

    Yes, it is on the wifi system and using bandwidth but so would Chrome cast if I was using that.

  4. Ben
    July 27, 2016 at 1:32 am

    If you don't have wifi throughout your house the sonos app won't work anyway so that advantage is not necessarily true. The sonosnet is actually a negative because it interferes with your standard wifi network (using the exact same frequency and channels). Yes it generally works well but it's certainly not an advantage.

    • Karen
      July 27, 2016 at 11:56 am

      I agree. I have Sonos in a 1000 square foot apartment and although it's great when it works, dropouts and inability to connect are common and frustrating. Customer service blames it on interference from other wireless devices. Apparently there is no buffer built into the system. I would not recommend the system to anyone who lives in an apartment (even one like mine with just a few units). Also, my boyfriend says the sound quality is not great.

  5. Mauro
    July 26, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    I use the optical output of chromecast audio, the quality is impressive

    • Guusc
      July 26, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      I fully agree. I use the Chrome cast optical in combination with a teac system which has an burr-brown DAC. Streaming from qobuz in 24bit 96khz is fabulous. I used to own a sonos-5 and amp. But CCA has a better user experience.

    • deejayoh
      November 1, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      The reviewer makes the claim that sonos sounds better than Chromecast with no evidence to back it up. I have a sonos connect and a Chromecast running through the same amp, and can A/B them on the same source material. There is really no difference. And really, we are talking about streaming music here. This ain't audiophile stuff. Once my google home arrives, I am ditching my Sonos (two connects, play1, play3) and moving over to all chromecast. The voice control and cost savings are pretty compelling. I figure I will make a few $hundred in the switch by selling on craigslist.

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