If you're looking for a good basic streaming music player, both of these products are a great option. Popular services like Spotify and Pandora seamlessly connect and playback both free and paid music after a bit of basic setup and a strong Wi-Fi connection; both devices offer a level of bang-for-the-buck value that's not always there when buying tech products. Either is a great option, but one might be better suited to how you want to use it.
Music without wires
The days of needing to stay connected to your phone or tablet to play music wirelessly are over, and both hardware companies and cloud service providers are ready to help you listen to all your favorite songs, audiobooks, and podcasts with a small investment of money and time. That's great! Both a Chromecast Audio and a Google Home Mini are an inexpensive way to make it happen, but there are some differences that will make a difference with how each product works for you.
|Chromecast Audio||Google Home Mini|
|External Speaker Connection||3.5mm
|Compatibility||Android and iOS apps
Google Chrome for Windows
|Android and iOS apps
Google Chrome for Windows
Stand-alone with voice commands
A Google Home Mini can do everything a Chromecast Audio can do because it's also a Google Cast target, which means it has Chromecast functionality built in.
If you want to cast audio from your phone through your favorite app, you can pick what's called a cast target — that's the device that will connect to the cloud and play the audio you're requesting. A Google Home Mini device will show up in the list of available cast devices and will act just like a Chromecast Audio.
However, you don't need to use your phone (or tablet, or computer running Chrome) to play audio through your Google Home Mini because it's an actual Google Assistant device. You can simply say "Hey, Google, play The Beatles" (for example) and Google Home Mini will be able to find music by the Beatles through whatever streaming service you've set up and play it back. You can also adjust the volume, skip tracks, or tell it to stop without using another device.
A Chromecast Audio can't work this way. It needs you to use your phone to tell it what to do. You can even use a Google Home Mini or other Google Assistant-enabled device to initiate playback through a Chromecast Audio. Having Google Assistant built-in makes the Home Mini a stand-alone device.
A Google Home Mini can do everything a Chromecast Audio can, but the opposite isn't true.
Where the Chromecast Audio shines is with its audio quality. That's because you have to provide a set of powered speakers or input through an amplifier or other A/V device — there is no speaker inside the Chromecast Audio. This can be an inconvenience, but it also means you can connect a Chromecast Audio through any stereo or Home Entertainment system and hear music through much better equipment than the small speaker that is inside the Google Home Mini.
A Google Home Mini can be connected to an external speaker, but not with a wire. You can pair a Bluetooth speaker to your Home Mini and when you ask it to play streaming audio, tell it to direct the output to the external speaker instead of its own internal one. It's not very difficult to do, see the instructions here, and it will definitely sound better than the loud but tinny-sounding speaker inside your Home Mini.
The one you should buy depends on which is more convenient for you. If you want a small stand-alone cloud player for music or podcasts, the Home Mini is the better choice — and as a bonus, you'll be able to use Google Assistant for things like Smart Home features or shopping lists or just to hear the weather forecast. If you already have a Bluetooth speaker you can even redirect the audio to it for better sound.
If you want a way to add streaming abilities to equipment you already own or want to build an inexpensive cloud music player that sounds great with a set of small powered bookshelf speakers, the Chromecast Audio is one of the best ways to do it.
Or you can just get both and have the best of both worlds; tell your Google Home Mini to play The Beatles on your Chromecast Audio!
Make any speakers cloud-capable
A companion device to use with your phone
The Chromecast Audio is an inexpensive way to stream music independently from your phone or other connected source. You can get premium sound in any (or every) room in your house, provided you're willing to spend extra on the right pair of powered speakers.
Stand-alone player and more
Google Assistant makes for a great cloud music player
Google Home Mini brings the power of Google's amazing Assistant service at a sub-$50 price, making it accessible to almost everyone. It's also a great little streaming device that can playback most cloud service streams using voice commands, though the audio quality can be lacking — and you can't just plug it into your existing stereo or a cheap pair of speakers.
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