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Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers

Spotify Connect: What it is and how it works

If you want to unshackle your Spotify collection from your phone and play it on your home stereo system, Spotify Connect is the way to go. Here's everything you need to know.

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Streaming media is the future of music consumption, and while your stereo may be from the '90s you can still use it to play your music from the cloud. In the past few years, one of the most interesting developments has been in the form of Spotify Connect. It enables Spotify Premium subscribers to use their phones (or other devices) to easily listen to music on their home stereo systems.

You don't even need to buy a whole new hi-fi to do it, just an inexpensive adapter. Interested? Here's what you need to know.

What is Spotify Connect?

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Spotify Connect lets you stream songs from the service straight to your speakers.

Spotify

Spotify Connect was announced in September 2013 as a way to give users "effortless control of your music across your phone, tablet and now speakers with millions of songs built right in." Spotify Connect devices started filtering into the market in 2014.

Spotify Connect is one of several competing methods enabling you to listen to music on your phone through a stereo system. Others include Bluetooth, Apple's AirPlay and Google's Cast.

The biggest difference between Spotify Connect and Bluetooth is that Spotify uses higher-quality Wi-Fi connectivity, which is less susceptible to dropouts, sounds better and has a much wider range.

If you use a standalone Spotify Connect system, the app will automatically turn the device on and set the volume as soon as you press play -- very convenient!

Spotify Connect lets you set up a connection between the hi-fi and the internet so it streams music from Spotify directly, rather than via the phone. Translation: you don't run your phone down, it simply acts as your remote control.

By comparison, AirPlay -- which also uses Wi-Fi -- and Bluetooth stream music directly from the phone to the receiving device, which can wear down the battery more quickly.

Chromecast built-in, available on devices like the Chromecast, Android TV devices and some audio gear, notably from Sony, also streams from audio services directly.

While Spotify's competitors work with multiple cloud music services as well as local music files, Spotify Connect only works with the Spotify app. However recent updates to Sonos mean that Spotify is now interoperable with these systems. It's also important to note that you can also use the Spotify app to stream to both AirPlay and Chromecast built-in devices, and these will appear as available devices in much the same way as a Connect receiver does. 

What you'll need

The first thing is a Spotify Premium subscription: Spotify Connect will not work with the company's free tier of service.

In addition to a functioning Wi-Fi or cellular network connection, you'll need something to stream from -- whether it's your phone, tablet or PC running the Spotify app. The receiver can then be a dongle (such as the $35, £30 or AU$59 Chromecast Audio plugged into an existing audio system), a set of speakers or other similar hardware with Spotify Connect onboard.

While plugging a dongle into your stereo will bring you quickly and cheaply into the Spotify Connect ecosystem, it's worth considering buying a receiver or stereo system that supports it natively. Why? Because then you don't have to turn your stereo on and set it to the right input separately.

Compatible devices

There are a growing number of Spotify Connect devices, from dongles for existing stereos (Gramafon, Chromecast Audio) to tabletop speakers (Wren V5USSamsung Shape M7Amazon Echo) to receivers (such as from Sony or Onkyo) and home theater systems. The company has an official list of Spotify Connect devices here, which appears to be regularly updated.

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The Chromecast Audio costs $35 and can be used to stream Spotify to an older stereo system

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Spotify Connect software works on almost any PC, Mac, iOS or Android device, universal support isn't guaranteed with even modern AV equipment. Like Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect is hardware-based and needs a specific chipset (such as this one by MediaTek) installed in your AV device for it to work. Check your device for the Spotify logo, or check for an updated manual just to be sure.

While some devices have both a Spotify app onboard and Connect support we have found in almost all cases that using Connect is better. One big reason is that, unlike the mobile version, the onboard app in your TV or AV receiver might never receive updates or just simply stop working -- for example, Spotify deleted its app from the Roku platform recently and it's unclear when it will return. In addition, apps built into TVs and other gear can be tedious to use as instead of a touchscreen they use your remote control.

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You can control Spotify from your phone, even when it's connected to your speakers.

Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

How to use 

The easiest way to use Spotify Connect is with the Android or iOS app. You don't have to perform a set up routine to stream to a new speaker (as you would with most multi-room services); if the Spotify Connect device is on the network, your phone should be able to see it.

Once the app detects compatible speakers, a "Devices Available" message appears at the bottom of the screen. Pressing this will bring up a list of the players on your network, with a choice of Spotify Connect, Chromecast or even AirPlay/Bluetooth connections. 

Once you choose a player to stream to, your music will begin playing. If you have a speaker group created within Google Home, you can now stream to all of them together using Spotify as well.

If you use the Mac/PC app, the Devices icon is next to the volume slider located on the right-hand side of the screen. Click it to find other devices on your network.

If the "Devices Available" icon doesn't appear, you can try going to Settings->Show Available Devices. If for some reason that doesn't work, check that device is connected to your network. Unfortunately there's no syncing process to manually add your device. It either connects or it doesn't.

Keep in mind that all compatible devices on the network, plus ones you have previously logged into around the world, will appear in the list. This means if you really want to mess with your pets at home, you can.

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You can play to any device you have connected to previously, even if you aren't there.

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury/CNET

As we mentioned above, a speaker, receiver or home theater system with Spotify Connect built-in has an advantage over a Spotify Connect dongle connected to an existing system. With a dongle, you'll have to make sure your system is powered up and turned to the correct input before you'll hear any music. With Spotify Connect built in, just hitting the Play icon on the app will turn on the device (if it's not on already) and begin playing music without you having to futz with another remote control. You can even adjust the volume from within the app.

A quick note on sound quality: If you are streaming using your home Wi-Fi, it's worthwhile to set your audio quality to "Extreme." You can find this under Settings->Music Quality and it will stream at the maximum 320kbps -- which is great for your hi-fi system and still not as taxing as a Netflix stream. 

Conclusion

Spotify Connect is one of the best features of the Swedish streaming service. It's easy to use, and offers high-quality audio playback. While amplifiers and stereos with Spotify Connect onboard work best, an inexpensive dongle will bring your 20th century boom box into the silver jumpsuit-wearing future.

First published April 27, 2015 at 3:26 p.m. PT.
Update October 26, 2016 at 2:14 p.m.:
Adds updates throughout.
Update March 19, 2018 at 3:56 p.m.:
Refreshed with expanded information on Spotify Connect, including its removal from Roku streamers, and new photos.

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