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How to setup multiroom music with Chromecast

Whether you have a Google Home, a Chromecast Audio or a Chomecast built-in audio device, here's how to use it as part of a multiroom music system.

Sarah Tew/CNET
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Ever dreamed of having a future home? One where your music plays in multiple rooms simultaneously, and from multiple devices, party-style? Google's Chomecast technology, formerly known as Google Cast, can realize that dream for an affordable price.

The $35 Chromecast Audio, the Google Home speaker, and numerous other Chromecast built-in devices such as the Sony STR-DN1080 receiver and the JBL Playlist speaker, can now work in concert together throughout your home. You can create groups of multiple devices and send music, news or whatever to any or all of them at the same time, using the Google Home app on your phone.

If you're serious about multiroom music then Sonos and other systems, such as Samsung's multiroom system or Play-Fi, might be better investments. But they cost a lot more and require you to buy Sonos speakers exclusively or other expensive components. An inexpensive Chromecast Audio dongle works with virtually any powered speaker or audio system.

Here's how to set it up.

Getting started

First you'll need to connect your device to the network. If you're using a third-party Chromecast product, such as the Sony receiver mentioned above, follow the usual connection method as directed by the device. This could mean using the device's smartphone app or navigating to the setup routine under the device's Settings.

If you've bought a Google Home or Chromecast Audio, or a device like the JBL Playlist that's tightly integrated with Google's ecosystem, connecting it to the network is a little more straightforward. You'll use the Google Home app for iOS or Android. From the main page of the Google Home app (below left) look for the little "setup" icon in the top right-hand corner, next to the search icon. Pressing that will take you to the Devices tab (below right).

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The main page of the Google Home app (left). Touching the devices icon in the upper right, next to search, takes you to the Devices page (right).

Screenshots by David Katzmaier

All of the compatible devices that the app has detected will appear here, and it will inform you whether they need to be set up or not. If for some reason Google Home doesn't find them, you can press the Add Device button at the bottom of the screen. The setup process walks you through step by step; see "How to set up Google Home" for more info.

How to create groups

A group consists of two or more Chromecast components (such as a Chromecast Audio, Google Home and a Sony receiver) which will operate as if a single speaker. To create one, choose one of the devices on the Devices page and click the "..." button.

Choose "Create group", and a setup page appears. Here you can name the group -- for example "House Party" if they're in three living areas -- and then choose from the available devices that you'd like to add. The new "House Party" group will now appear on your list as if it was a single device.

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Screenshot by David Katzmaier

Use your group in Chromecast apps

There are dozens of apps that support casting, but here we're going to concentrate on ones that are audio focused. First open up a Chromecast-compatible app, like Spotify or Pandora, and click the Cast button. On the list that appears you'll see all the available devices as well as any groups you've created, such as "House Party", for example. Choose a group, play a song using the app and the music will play to all the included speakers and devices simultaneously.

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The $150 JBL Playlist is one of our favorite Chromecast-compatible devices.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Is Chromecast a Sonos killer?

While the technology shows great promise, it's not quite able to rival Sonos just yet. The biggest hurdle so far are the apps themselves. It's one source or app at once. As of writing there are still no Chromecast apps that can integrate multiple streaming services in the way that Sonos' app does.

So while we wait for the "killer" Chromecast app, the ecosystem is nonetheless an excellent look into the future of low-cost multiroom music. If you're looking to dip your toes in the house party waters for a very modest outlay, Chromecast built-in is definitely the best place to start.