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How to control your home stereo with Alexa or Google

You say it, your speakers play it

Want to start the music without missing a beat while cooking Friday night dinner? Turn the music off when someone calls or knocks on your door? Or maybe you just want to veg out and control your music without leaving the comfort of your favorite couch — whatever your reasons, you can make it happen.

using phone to connect music services

When you set up your Amazon Echo or Google Nest device, you'll use an app — or two — to link the device to compatible music services and speakers/components in your home.

Voice control might seem like a novelty at first, but before long you'll probably find yourself adapting handily to the convenience. It's just so easy to ask Alexa or Google to play music.

But here at Crutchfield, convenience is only part of the story. What's the use of voice control if the audio doesn't sound great? In this article, I'll show you how to integrate voice control into an ever-expanding list of compatible high-fidelity audio gear, including multi-room setups. Yes, you can control what music plays in what room with your voice assistant.

How to play music with Alexa and Google

I don't want to start any wars, but first you've got to choose between Google Nest or Amazon Alexa. Then pick a device. Both have entry-level small single speaker options that will still be useful even if you decide to add model with more bells and whistles — like a screen — later.

google nest audio

amazon echo dot

Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa — it's a choice you'll have to make, although some people use both.

The assistants have built-in mics that start listening when you say "Google" or "Alexa," depending. They'll talk you through the initial setup, which includes downloading the appropriate app to your phone.

Once you're set up, there are a few ways you can connect with your system. You can find voice control compatible stereo receivers and preamps, and some integrated amps. You'll also find compatible home theater receivers and preamp/processors. And if you're using a multi-room platform like Sonos, BluOS, HEOS, or MusicCast, you can add skills to your assistant that will give you voice control.

sonos one on kitchen counter

The Sonos multi-room streaming platform is known for working well with voice assistants.

Alexa, play 91.1 WTJU

Everybody has at least heard of Alexa. She's user-friendly, and once you get used to the commands, it's almost like talking to one of the family. Almost.

First things first: download the free Amazon Alexa app. Then connect your Alexa assistant to your home WiFi network and you can play internet radio and other free music from the web, or from paid services like Spotify®, Pandora®, and TIDAL®.

Here's something she could do without any help, as soon as I had her set up: "Hey Alexa, play 91.1," I said. "Playing WTJU 91.1 on TuneIn," she answered. And the music played.

Integrate Alexa with your "dumb" stereo system

One of the easiest ways to marry voice control and higher-fidelity audio is by using a wired connection from your Alexa assistant to your stereo or home theater receiver or preamp, or integrated amp. All Echo assistants (except the Echo Show 10) have a 3.5mm stereo output that can connect to an aux input, or an RCA stereo input. It's just like adding another component to your system. Except you can tell it what to do. And it will do it.

Use Alexa to control compatible receivers

Some receivers work with Alexa but don't have their own built-in mics. That's where an Alexa assistant comes in mighty handy. You just add the receiver in the app and then control it with your voice using Alexa.

Powered speakers with Alexa built-in

A nifty solution for getting quality audio with voice control: powered speakers with Alexa built-in. These are decidedly more robust speakers than what you get in the Echo Dot (although it's amazing how good that little speaker sounds).

These speakers have built-in mics, so you don't necessarily need another Alexa device to use them.

Hey Google, play Spotify

There seems to be a general consensus that Alexa wins the user-friendliness category for controlling your music with a voice assistant. But Google Assistant is catching up, and gets points for its compatibility with Chromecast built-in, which allows high-resolution streaming. Setup is similar: unbox, download the free Google Home app, plug in the assistant and add it your Wi-Fi network, and let it talk you through the process. Then start issuing commands.

Connect Google Assistant to compatible wireless speakers and receivers

There are several wireless speakers and a few receivers that are compatible with Google Assistant, but don't have built-in mics. The component will show up in the app so you can add it for voice control and, voila. Give it a name that's easy to say and remember, then start telling it what to play.

google nest mini with kef ls50 wireless ii speakers

A great-sounding set of powered speakers like the KEF LS50 Wireless II gives you multiple options — including high-res-capable Chromecast built-in — for voice control.

Google Assistant built-in

If you choose a powered speaker with Google Assistant built-in, you can, of course, control it with the voice assistant. Since these all have built-in mics, you can also use any of them as your sole or main voice assistant.

Chromecast built-in

Audiophiles have taken notice that Chromecast supports high-res streaming up to 24-bit/96kHz. If you have an amplifier/receiver or a preamp with Chromecast Built-in, you can tell your voice assistant to cast your music to it. That's good news for TIDAL and Qobuz users.

Siri can do a lot of the same stuff

Apple's Siri was my first voice assistant. She's great at helping me make and take calls and texts hands-free while I'm driving. You can also use her to control your music. She's especially useful if you are an Apple Music subscriber (or you just keep a lot of music in your iTunes library.) Just tell her what you want her to play.

Apple AirPlay 2 has become a common feature in powered speakers and network streaming music players. It's very easy to use, and of course plays well with Siri. And if you're using multiple AirPlay 2 compatible sources, you can use the Apple Home app to control them separately, or group them together and control the whole group with the same commands.

Tips for getting started with voice control

Let's talk about the elephant in the room. Most people who try voice assistants also get frustrated with voice assistants. I think there are two main reasons for this.

First, we aren't using specific commands that the voice assistant can understand.

Second, when voice assistants don't work the way they're supposed to, it's often because we need to go into the app — sometimes multiple apps — and fix some settings.

Here are a few tips to help you make sure you're making the right connections and working within the assistant's capabilities.

Connect to your hifi system

Making the initial connection and configuring your setup are both critical steps. Unless you're using a 3.5mm wired connection from an Alexa assistant, you need to check for compatibility. And once you've confirmed compatibility, linking your assistant to your your home stereo’s wireless platform (HEOS, MusicCast, Sonos, BluOS, etc.) usually means enabling the connection both in the assitant's and the other device's app.

the amazon echo dot has a minijack aux outport

The Amazon Echo Dot has a 3.5mm for connecting it to a wide variety of external audio equipment — even as an analog source on a high-performance integrated amp or receiver.

Teach your assistant some skills

You may need to download a special assistant "skill" before you can make the connection. Skills let you use your voice control assistant with a wide variety of services and devices. Look for the skill you need in the assistant's app, then follow the directions for setup.

Use simple commands

The simpler you keep your commands, the better your assistant can understand them and make them happen. Here's a list of commands Alexa understands, and here's one for Google Assistant.

Things can get a little more complicated when you're using skills. To control a BluOS device with Alexa, for example, the skill you need is called "Blue Voice." And your commands will need to begin with the preface, "Hey Alexa, ask Blue Voice to..."

Most of the other major multi-room streaming platforms let you command Alexa a little more directly. And I'll say it again: front-end configuration within the apps will save you a lot of headaches.

Easy names for multi-room audio

If you want to control your multi-room system with your voice, you'll want to give your different rooms and groups simple names. Like, instead of "downstairs fireplace speakers," try a one-word name, like "fireplace."

Brilliant for Sonos Users

Controlling your Sonos multi-room system with your voice has proven to be one of the user-friendliest experiences. Crutchfield editor Emily is a longtime Sonos user who uses the Alexa built into her Brilliant smart switch to control her Sonos devices.

Emily using brilliant to control her home

Emily writes a lot about smart home gear — so she knows her stuff — and she uses a Brilliant smart switch with built-in voice control to tell her Sonos system what and when to play.

"I use it when I'm cooking and I don't want to walk over to the stereo only to get food on the buttons," Emily says.

The Brilliant gives you all kinds of smart home control in addition to having an onboard mic with Alexa built-in and Google assistant compatibility.

Privacy please

You can turn your assistant off if you don't want it to be listening to everything that you say. Some assistants, like Google Nest Mini, have a physical mute button on them. Or you can turn the assistant off in the app.

Stay tuned...

The beauty of these voice-assistant devices is that they are always learning new skills. As more products incorporate voice control, we’ll keep trying them out. And we’ll keep you updated.

Let us help you get started

You have so many options for controlling your music with Alexa or Google Assistant. If you want some help choosing, or advice on how to get the most out of what you've already got, contact us.

  • zip

    Posted on 3/1/2023

    How about controlling a dumb system with a tuya wifi IR device using voice control. I've ordered a very inexpensive one to see how that is going to work.

  • Thomas from Fort Worth

    Posted on 2/18/2022

    Just know if your system has Bluetooth (I have the Klipsch rm40 active speakers) you can pair your Google speaker for media play. Only do that once during setup. I never experienced any connection drops. Quality is great.

  • Eric H from Buffalo

    Posted on 12/11/2021

    I have been using a chrome cast with my 1980 HIFI stereo for several years and have been happy with it. While I have been using remote power switches for a while to turn it on and off, I have wondered if there is a device that can auto sense the audio signal from the chrome cast and turn 120v power on or off based on that; similar to what a aftermarket car amp can do?

  • Ryan from Allentown

    Posted on 7/29/2021

    I connected my 90s sony surround receiver to my fire TV cube, and now I can't turn it in on or off without Alexa. I disconnect the receiver from the cube, and it won't power on. I had to reconnect to the cube for it to work. Any advice?

  • Zigou Nette from Fromage, Dominion, F

    Posted on 4/14/2021

    What year was this piece written? 1947?

  • Keith Stanley from Taylor

    Posted on 3/7/2021

    Connected Alexa to vizio sound bar via Audio Jack. Is there any way to run audio jack and say Hdmi 1 at same time so Alexa doesn't loose voice when switching to hdmi 1?

  • Terry Redmayne from (Old) York UK

    Posted on 2/13/2021

    Thanks for this very useful article. At the moment I have Bluesound node 2i streamer into an old Marantz and onto 15year old B&W 602s the streamed sound is great. I also love the simple Echo dot and have it wired with the jack into the amps redundant cd-r/mini disc rca port. IThe sound is ok but not the same level hi Fi that the streamer gives. I have also tried to take the hard wire through the node 2i but it seems to muck up the iPads/node 2i control software. Ok now the question (at last you say) would the echo dot be better using the node 2i Bluetooth feature and if so how? Thanks for a great thread.

  • John from Austin

    Posted on 1/24/2021

    I'd just like to comment that the HEOS software/app is very amateur and unstable. I don't have any experience with the other vendor's integrations, so they may be just as bad. But I'm very disappointed in the overall experience with HEOS. Its great when it works, which sometimes can be many months at a time. But when it goes down, good luck. Set aside hours of time, and prepare to have to call HEOS support to reset or unlock/unfck your account.

  • Kevin from Port Richey

    Posted on 10/5/2020

    Hey, I am looking to see how I can use voice commands for my Anthem MRX-720.

  • Torq from Bath

    Posted on 9/6/2020

    Putting a rights reserved (R) mark after brand names in a blog is the lamest thing I've ever seen.

    Commenter image

    Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    on 9/7/2020

    Hahaa, Torq. Gotta do what you gotta do.
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