Streaming music is here to stay, but for a lot of us it's stuck on our phones or laptops. Google's Chromecast built-in enables you to liberate your tunes and play them on devices anywhere in your home (or beyond), and even stream audio that follows you from room to room. You can use apps on your phone or simply speak the name of your desired tune out loud. Just try doing that with Bluetooth.
Devices with Chromecast built-in, such as the Google Nest Audio, the Onkyo TX-NR6100 receiver and the JBL Playlist speaker, can work singly or in concert 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 or giving voice commands to Google Assistant.
The best thing about Chromecast built-in is that it works with virtually every Google audio and video device, as well as a bunch of third-party devices. It's also free for both Android and iOS.
Similar systems exist, including Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, but there are downsides to both of those technologies. For example, the first doesn't play as nicely with Android, and the second requires you to be a paid Spotify subscriber. Meanwhile, Sonos makes one of the best multiroom systems, but the downside is that it's proprietary and components cost a lot more. For compatibility across multiple brands of phone and audio system, Chromecast is a great option, especially if you own Google speakers.
Here's how to set it up.
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Getting started with multiroom audio
Chromecast built-in is the audio-only version of Google's Chromecast protocol, and it's easy to set up with a host of compatible devices. First you'll need to connect your device to the network. Whether you've bought a Google Nest or a third-party device like the JBL Playlist, most Chromecast built-in devices can be set up using the Google Home app for iOS or Android.
Note that for some third-party Chromecast products you may need to follow the setup instructions as directed by the device first. This could mean using the device's smartphone app or navigating to the setup routine under the device's Settings.
New devices should appear on the main page of the Google Home app. Once discovered, just click on them and follow the prompts. However if the app doesn't see them, perhaps because they've been set up before, you may need to add them manually.
To do this, look for the little plus icon in the top left-hand corner of the Google Home app. Pressing that will take you to a menu enabling you to set up a new device or create groups (we'll get to that shortly). Go to Add and Manage > Set up Device > New Device and all of the compatible devices that need to be set up should appear here. The setup process walks you through step by step; see our piece on how to set up a Google Home speaker for more details.
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How to create Chromecast speaker groups
A group consists of two or more Chromecast built-in components (for example a Google Nest speaker, a Vizio soundbar and a Sony receiver) which when combined will operate like a single speaker. To create a group, choose Create Speaker Group from the plus menu.
When the setup page appears you can choose from any of the Chromecast devices on your network. After selecting the speakers you want, you can name the group -- for example, if they're in three living areas you could call it "House Party." As a result the new House Party group will now appear on your list as if it were a single device.
Use your group in Chromecast apps
There are dozens of apps that support Chromecast, but here we're going to concentrate on ones that are audio-focused. Apps include Spotify, Pandora, YouTube Music, TuneIn and more -- go here for a full list. To stream from a supported app, open it up and find the Cast button (a screen with three arcs in one corner). On the list that appears you'll see all the available devices as well as any groups you've created, such as House Party. Choose a group, choose to play a song using the app and the music will play on all the included speakers and devices simultaneously.
Read more: 9 Google Home tips for music lovers
Using Google Assistant to play music
If you have one or more Google speakers, or even the app on your phone, you can ask Assistant to play music on a specific speaker or group. You can even set up a default speaker to play music from -- say if you have a compatible receiver in the same room as a Google speaker.
To do this, click on the speaker on the main page of the Google Home app -- let's say you want to use a Google Nest Mini, for example -- then tap the Settings icon and then Audio. The third item down is "Default music speaker" and there you can choose the speaker you'd prefer to hear music/podcasts/etc. from. Then when you're in that zone and you ask Google Assistant to play something, it will play back on the speaker you chose as default. You can also make a group the default if you like.
You can also choose your default music service for the devices to use. At the moment it's a choice of YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and Deezer. To change the music service from the main page choose Settings > Music.
Now, you can either play music on the default speaker when you issue a command like, "Hey, Google, play pirate metal," or you can ask Google to play on a specific room or group: "Hey, Google, play Radio Paradise on House Party."
Is Chromecast a Sonos killer?
While built-in Chromecast is quite powerful, it doesn't have the same level of third-party manufacturer support as Apple AirPlay or Spotify Connect. As far as premium multiroom is concerned Sonos is in its own realm, but it's proprietary and a lot more expensive.
With the right components and the right app you can build a killer Chromecast built-in system. There's plenty of software -- like Spotify, YouTube and Tidal -- and devices from brands such as Vizio, Sony, Onkyo and even Cambridge Audio. While most people will use Chromecast built-in in conjunction with a voice assistant ("Hey, Google, play dance music in Whole House") there is only one app I know of that does for Chromecast what Sonos does for multiple services. That service is Roon, and it's amazing -- the best controller for multiple Chromecast devices hands-down. But that said, it is primarily aimed at enthusiasts and not really designed for the casual user.
If you just want to stream from your phone to a (smart or otherwise) speaker, then built-in Chromecast is an excellent, cost-effective system. If you're looking to dip your toes in the house party waters for a very modest outlay, Chromecast gives you plenty of scope to grow in the future.