Make ipod talk to speakers.
August 28, 2008 12:32 PM   Subscribe

I have speakers. I have an ipod. What goes in between?

I have some speakers with cables with RCA plugs at the end. I have an ipod. I want the music from the ipod to come out of the speakers.

What do I need to go in between? Both general explanation and specific product advice is welcome.

I don't know much about stereo equipment. Please use small words.
posted by betterton to Technology (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You just need an RCA (female)/3.5mm (male) adapter.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:37 PM on August 28, 2008

Here you go!
posted by nitsuj at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2008

There are two options. This cord (amazon link) will plug into the bottom of your iPod, and then you plug the red plug into the red RCA plug on your speakers, the white into the white.

That cord will probably give you best sound quality as it uses your dock connector, but that also prevents you from charging your iPod while it plays. If you want to keep the dock connector free you can use this cord which plugs into your iPod's headphone jack and then again red RCA to red RCA, white to white.
posted by arniec at 12:40 PM on August 28, 2008

If the speakers are large, the ipod isn't going to be able to adequately power them. You'd need a receiver or amplifier inbetween. Some here but you could probably find a used one on CL.
posted by sanko at 12:41 PM on August 28, 2008

Actually, you need female RCA, so something like this. They have them at Radio Shack for a few bucks.
posted by nitsuj at 12:42 PM on August 28, 2008

You want this or this. Something like this or this will give you somewhat better sound, because it will come directly from the line out, instead of the headphone port.
posted by designbot at 12:47 PM on August 28, 2008

I'm guessing that any speakers with RCA plugs will not give good sound with just an adapter cable, because there is no amplification. You really need a stereo receiver of some kind, with an auxiliary input for the ipod. The ipod-to-RCA adapters linked above will be useful to plug the ipod into the auxiliary input on the stereo receiver.

I won't go into more detail, though, because the obvious issue becomes cost. Even an inexpensive receiver will be about $100. If your speakers are high quality, it would be worth it. But if they are not, you are probably better off to spend the $100 on one of the many available iPod speaker/amplifier units around. Or, spend it on a set of "computer speakers" with a subwoofer. You can plug it right into the earphone jack of the iPod.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:53 PM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, super fast answers!

The speakers are fairly large, so I think powering them straight from the ipod would be tricky. They are also reasonably good quality. Sounds like I should look into receivers.
posted by betterton at 12:56 PM on August 28, 2008

Seems like a lot of assumptions are being made here...

These could be pre-amped speakers. I've had computer speakers that had RCA jacks.

Also when he said he has RCA jacks I assumed that to be female going straight into the speakers, but if it's male cables coming FROM the speakers then yes, a female jack MAY be what's needed. However, we're all ALSO assuming it's stereo RCA jacks (red & white usually).

This could be a situation like surround sound speakers where the male RCA cable becomes standard speaker cable on the other end, in which case the OP is trying to hook an iPod directly into speakers with no amp, which of course won't work.

OP, can you give us more info about the speakers, or if you don't know perhaps some photos?
posted by arniec at 12:58 PM on August 28, 2008

You need to figure out if you have powered speakers or not. If they are powered--that is, if they have batteries or plug into a wall socket, then they have a built-in amp, and can take the weak signal from your iPod and make it loud enough to be enjoyable. You just need the cable adapters, which others have already covered.

Otherwise you'll need a separate amp. Unfortunately, a cheap, standalone amp is surprisingly hard to find. There was one called the "t-amp" that got excellent reviews, but it appears to be out of production.
posted by adamrice at 1:01 PM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: sanko and Fuzzy Skinner: now that I know I need a receiver, is there a good way to choose between the million types (for example on the crutchfield site)?

arniec: good questions. Unfortunately the speakers are at home and I am now at work. What I know without looking is that they are a set of two oldish but good quality speakers, about 3 feet tall and with fake wood paneling on the sides. They are definitely not computer speakers. I'll check more this evening.
posted by betterton at 1:01 PM on August 28, 2008

Response by poster: adamrice: They are definitely not powered speakers. This is good to know.

Is an amp different from a receiver?
posted by betterton at 1:02 PM on August 28, 2008

Honestly, Betterton, you might be better off buying just an iPod dock with speakers instead of buying a receiver. Unless these are some great speakers or you have some attachment to them.

If the speakers have RCA jacks you're going to have to find a special receiver as most use simple speaker cable with no "ends", just raw copper.

If all you're wanting is to have iPod audio, then one of the many docks out there may be better for you.

A quick search shows me receivers with iPod connectors built in are $200 and up. If you buy a receiver without an iPod connector then you need one of the cables I listed above, which will result in a degradation of sound quality as you will be transmitting the signal through analog RCA cables, rather than a digital transmission.
posted by arniec at 1:08 PM on August 28, 2008

A receiver typically takes audio from multiple sources, amplifies it, and sends it to your speakers. Almost all consumer-grade receivers also have a built-in radio tuner. A lot of receivers these days can also switch video signals between various video components and your TV.

An amp is just the audio-amplifier subsystem, typically with one input and output for one pair of speakers.

As to what receiver you should buy, that depends on what you want, but even a pretty cheap on from Crutchfield will probably do you fine.
posted by adamrice at 1:14 PM on August 28, 2008

Some time ago I found a very fine old Hitachi HiFi system in a dumpster. I took it home and hooked it up and it sounded great. Plus, it had an 'Aux' setting and an old phono plug in the back. So, I took a cable I already had with MP3/ipod plugs, snipped one of the plugs off and then just poked the bare wires into the phono plug. By trial and error I learned which holes were for R & L, and then taped it all in place, and now have a great sounding old stereo that also plays 30GB of tunage.
But, now that I'm leaving the country I need to get rid of it, and now it's up on eBay (with zero bids!).
posted by Flashman at 1:28 PM on August 28, 2008

Non-powered speakers with RCA inputs are pretty strange beasts. You'll probably need cables like these, which are somewhat nonstandard. As for the amplifier, these were the hot item a few years ago; everyone was claiming that they gave exceptional quality for the price. I use one w/ my computer speakers, and I'm happy with it, but I'm no audiophile. It might be a nice option because you can run it off of the AC adaptor or with batteries.

If you buy a receiver without an iPod connector then you need one of the cables I listed above, which will result in a degradation of sound quality as you will be transmitting the signal through analog RCA cables, rather than a digital transmission.

I don't think this is right. Is the iPod output signal digital? Even if it is, you're just talking about using the iPod's D/A converter vs. the receiver's D/A converter. The signal needs to become analog eventually...
posted by mr_roboto at 1:34 PM on August 28, 2008

To clarify mr_roboto's point, using a dock connector does not get a digital signal. It's a line-out, which will send an analog signal at a constant level. Basically, all of your volume control will be done by your reciever, with the volume control on your iPod having no effect. I believe EQ still affects the line-out signal, though, so you could experience difficulty(in getting the sound you want) if you've got an EQ set on the 'pod and are trying to use EQ on your reciever as well.
posted by owtytrof at 1:58 PM on August 28, 2008

The best you could do to clear the confusion would be to take a photo of your speakers & their cords and post it here.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 3:22 PM on August 28, 2008

Even an inexpensive receiver will be about $100.

When bought new.

Unfortunately, a cheap, standalone amp is surprisingly hard to find.


Seriously, just look for a receiver on craigslist. There's a very good chance that whoever is selling a receiver can hook you up with all the cables you need at the same time for a very reasonable price.
Many, many 'shelf systems' can take an auxiliary input, and would be suitable as well, but they normally come bundled with speakers, even on the used market.

The only complication is the male RCA plugs on the speakers, because receivers normally use bare wire connections. While you could make adapters, it would be easier to just cut the RCA jacks off the speaker wire. The guy selling you a receiver can help you with that too I expect..
posted by Chuckles at 4:55 PM on August 28, 2008

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