It’s almost Black Friday, which means that it’s time to start putting together a list of all those little things that you’ve been eyeing up all year, but that have always been just that little bit too expensive to pull the trigger on so far.
For me, audio gear sits firmly in this category.
I have a portable setup that I’m more or less happy with, which essentially means that I have a decent pair of headphones (check out our guide to the best headphones for some recommendations in this regard), and a subscription to Tidal, which offers me a level of audio quality that’s more than enough for my on-the-go listening.
But when it comes to my home setup I’m less than happy. Although I often have connected speakers in for review, my personal stereo, with its simple Aux connection, has started to feel a bit dated in this internet connected world.
Making my speakers smart
I could go down the route of getting a Bluetooth adaptor to plug into the back of my stereo. The aptX-enabled rBlink by Arcam would be a good shout here. It’s a little pricey usually, but hopefully some Black Friday deals love will make it a little more palatable.
But while Bluetooth is an excellent way of connecting your phone up to a pair of headphones, I’ve never found it to work quite as well for connecting other devices such as laptops up to speakers in a home setting.
Here I much prefer something that’s Spotify Connect or Google Cast enabled.
That’s brought me to the Chromecast Audio, which is a little gadget that I’ve been eying up for some time now. For the uninitiated this is essentially an audio-focussed version of Google’s Chromecast.
You simply plug it into the back of your stereo, and so long as your phone or laptop is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your Chromecast, you’ll see an option in your Spotify app to output to your stereo rather than your phone or laptop’s speaker.
It’s a much more convenient way of listening to music. It doesn’t force you to go through any pairing process, and although you have to be a Spotify Premium subscriber to unlock the functionality, we think this is a price worth paying.
Taking it to the next (audiophile) level
If you want to take your listening up a notch, then it might be a good idea to look into using the Chromecast’s digital audio output functionality.
This essentially means that you can outsource the complicated task of converting the digital signal to an analogue signal to an external digital-to-analogue converter (or DAC), which, if chosen correctly, will offer a big boost in sound over the Chromecast’s internal circuitry.
If you want to go down this route, you’ll have to buy a couple of extra accessories. You’ll need an optical audio cable and an optical to mini 3.5mm adaptor, and thankfully their prices mean that you won’t have to wait until Black Friday for them not to break the bank.
Where things get slightly more expensive (and hence more in need of some Black Friday deals) is with the DAC itself, which can get extremely expensive. As a case in point, the crème de la crème of DACs, the Chord Dave, retails for £7950 (around $10,000 or AU$13,000), but you don’t need to spend nearly that much to get a decent boost in sound.
A DAC that’s consistently recommended as being one of the best around is the Chord Mojo. It might not be cheap, but come Black Friday even a 10% price reduction would put it firmly into ‘buy this bloody thing right now’ territory.
You can also plug it into your smartphone to use it on the go if you don’t mind the extra bulk it adds to your portable listening.
If you want to give your audio a boost this Black Friday you don’t have to worry about throwing out all your existing equipment. Just a couple of clever little upgrades can vastly improve both the functionality and sound of your stereo, and (unless you want to go crazy with it) it doesn’t have to cost you the earth.
Check out our full guide to Black Friday for all the best deals.