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How to Connect to an iPod to Your Home Stereo System

Best Ways to Use Your iPod as a Music Source

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The Apple iPod has forever changed the way we enjoy music. Its large music storage capacity coupled with its intuitive user interface has made it hugely popular. By now you've probably stored your favorite tunes on your iPod, so wouldn't it be great if you could connect it to your stereo system and use it as a source? You could easily and quickly find the music you want to hear without searching your CD storage rack for a disc. Well, you can. There are several ways to do this. Read on to learn more about the best ways to use your iPod as a music source on your home stereo system.

  • Analog Connection: Connecting the analog output of your iPod is a simple and affordable way to use your iPod as a source. It requires an inexpensive 3.5mm stereo mini-jack to stereo RCA cable. Simply connect the mini-jack to the headphone output jack on the iPod and the stereo RCA cables to an available analog audio input on your home system. You can listen to all of your iPod music on your home stereo and control the volume from the iPod or the stereo system. Another way to connect an iPod is with an iPod docking station, available from many manufacturers. More on this later.

Pros: Simple and inexpensive

Cons: No remote control of iPod

The analog connection is certainly an easy solution, but you may find that your iPod music sounds more like a portable music player when played on a high-end audio system. Since the music files are stored on an iPod as compressed data, your system may reveal some weaknesses in sound quality. Compressed music relies on data reduction schemes that squeeze more music into a smaller space and often degrade the sound quality in the process. The music may sound good when played through ear phones, but often will not when played back through a high-quality sound system. Now, there's a better way to enjoy your iPod music on your home stereo - a digital connection.

  • Digital Connection: The iPod is a great personal music component, but Apple designed it to be used as a portable player, not a source component for a home stereo. I subscribe to the belief that the iPod is not a source for serious music listeners when played over a high-end system. Although an iPod is capable of storing vast amounts of bit-perfect digital music, the sound quality of its analog output leaves much to be desired, at least from an audiophile's perspective when connected to a good sound system via a typical analog iPod dock. But I take it all back. I (and other audiophiles) have been proven wrong with the Wadia 170i Transport Compare Prices. The 170i is a unique iPod dock that plucks the iPod's digital output, bypassing the player's internal digital to analog converters (DACs). Every other iPod dock taps the analog outputs, not the digital output, making them little more than a convenience item since an iPod can be connected to a stereo via an analog cable from the headphone output to a line level audio input. Read my full review of the Wadia 170i Transport and learn more about getting the best iPod sound on your stereo system.

    Pros: Excellent Sound Quality

    Cons: More expensive than most docks, but still affordable

    Another choice is the MSB Technologies iLink, an iPod upgrade that features a docking station and an optional remote transmitter. The upgrade modifies the iPod by tapping into its digital output allowing your home audio system's digital to analog converters (DACs) to convert the signal to analog. Most likely the DACs in your system sound better than the iPods digital to analog conversion circuitry. The docking station has three digital outputs:
    1. Optical digital output
    2. Coaxial digital output
    3. AES/EBU (XLR) balanced line output

The docking station keeps the iPod fully charged and the optional remote transmitter means you can sit in your favorite listening chair with your iPod and select the music you want to hear played through your stereo system with the clarity of digital audio. The iLink turns your iPod into a digital music server so you can listen to your entire music collection through your home stereo system.

The MSB i-Link has a suggested retail price of $1995, which includes one iPod modification, or $2349 including a modified iPod.

Pros: Great sound quality

Cons: A pricey solution

  • iPod Docking Station

    iPod docking stations come in a wide range of styles, prices and features and are one of the best ways to enjoy iPod music on a home stereo system. Some include built-in AM/FM tuners and other features and some are designed only for playing iPod music. Most iPod docking stations have analog output to connect the dock to a stereo system via mini-jack or RCA cable connections. Read my reviews of iPod docking stations for more information.

    Pros: Remote control of iPod (if docking station comes with remote) and most docks charge the iPod

    Cons: None

  • Apple Airport Express

    The Apple Airport Express Compare Pricesallows you to stream iTunes music wirelessly from a PC or MAC to a home stereo system or a pair of powered speakers. This affordable accessory that is easy to connect, setup and use. It streams music wirelessly from your iTunes library directly to a home stereo or tabletop music system with an analog or digital audio input. Read my full review of the Apple Airport Express.

    Pros: Easy to setup and use, plays iTunes library on a stereo system

    Cons: No remote control, song selection controlled from computer.

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