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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, there's no reason you can't use it to play your music from the cloud. In the past few years, one of the most interesting audio developments has been in the form of something called Spotify Connect. It's a system that 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

Spotify Connect was announced in September 2013 as 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 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. This means: 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.

Google Cast, 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, it's important to note that Spotify Connect only works with the Spotify app. However recent updates to Google Cast and Sonos mean that Spotify is now, or very soon will be, interoperable with these systems.

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 also need a pair of compatible networked devices. One is your phone, tablet or PC running the Spotify app. The second can be a dongle (such as the $35 Chromecast Audio plugged into an existing audio system), or a set of speakers or other hardware with Spotify Connect onboard.

While plugging a dongle into your stereo will bring you quickly and cheaply into the Spotify Connect eco-system, 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

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 which means that it needs a specific chipset -- such as this one by MediaTek -- installed in your AV device for it to work. This means that it won't be backward-compatible with most older gear, but the good news is that some products already have it onboard; it just isn't switched on yet.

The Rocki Play can form the brains of an inexpensive stereo system. Sarah Tew/CNET

There are a growing number of compatible devices, from dongles for existing stereos ( Gramafon, Rocki, Chromecast Audio) to tabletop speakers ( Wren, Samsung, Amazon ) to receivers ( Sony, Onkyo ) and home theater systems. The company has an official list of Spotify Connect devices here, though we suspect it's only irregularly updated.

While there are some cases where a device will 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 the Spotify app on your phone gets regular update love while the app inside your TV or AV receiver might never get looked at again. And compared with the touchscreen interface on your phone or tablet, the apps built into TVs and other gear can be tedious to use.

How to use it

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Screenshot by Ty Pendlebury/CNET

The easiest way to use Spotify Connect is with the Android or iOS app. Spotify's certification process means that you don't have to set up a new speaker to work with your Spotify service (as with most multiroom services); if the Spotify Connect device is on the network, your phone should be able to see it.

If the app detects a compatible device on the network, a "Devices Available" message appears at the bottom of the screen. Pressing this will bring up a list of compatible speakers, and choosing one will begin playing your music on that player.

If the icon doesn't appear, you can try going to Settings>Show Available Devices. But if for some reason that still doesn't work, you'll need to check that device is connected to your network. Unfortunately there's no syncing process to manually add your device, as there is with a Sonos speaker, for example. It either connects or it doesn't.

If you use the PC app there is no Settings option, just the volume icon on the right hand side. Click it to find other devices on your network.

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

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.

At present the Spotify Connect app cannot be used to stream to previously grouped Google Cast speakers. While you can create a group in the Google Cast app (say, the kitchen and bathroom and name it "Morning") Spotify won't recognize this. However users can still stream to Google Cast/Google Home components as normal.

Conclusion

Spotify Connect is one of the most useful features of the Swedish streaming service. While Spotify Connect amplifiers and stereos work best there is no reason not to invest in an inexpensive dongle and bring your 20th century boom box into the silver jumpsuit-wearing future.

Editors' note, October 26, 2016: This article was originally published on April 27, 2015, and it has been updated with new information.