ipod to stereo
June 2, 2009 10:10 AM   Subscribe

How does one achieve the best sound quality when connecting ipod/iphone directly to stereo?

I recently purchased a Belkin Stereo Cable for iPhone to connect my ipod and iphone directly to my stereo. It works, but the sound quality is not very good. Is there a better way to do this without having to purchase a dock? Thanks in advance.
posted by cookie googleman to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Does your stereo have digital inputs? If so a digital solution (such as a dock) would be better than analog cables.
posted by wfrgms at 10:17 AM on June 2, 2009


A cable that connects to the dock connector will use the line level outputs from the iPod, which should sound better than the headphone output. I have a cable like this and it sounds great to my ears.
posted by zsazsa at 10:29 AM on June 2, 2009


wfrgms: Does your iPod have digital outputs, then? Mine doesn't. Or is there any benefit in converting the analog output from the iPod to digital in between?
posted by themel at 10:31 AM on June 2, 2009


The iPod docks that offer digital output don't do an analog conversion en route, they just stream the digital info straight from the iPod. The iPod's docking connector passes the digital signal directly. All iPods can do this (I think).

But it's not a HUGE difference or anything. Just a little cleaner, maybe a bit more gain. A cable from the headphone jack should be fine. Maybe your stereo isn't up to par? Or the inputs on your stereo are wonky?
posted by Aquaman at 10:35 AM on June 2, 2009


The dock connectors will give you an analog line-out. This'll sound better than the headphone out.

The Pocketdock is one well-known brand, but there are certainly more high-end options (check eBay, though, if you're into this sort of thing).

Of course, it's also possible that the source material's sound quality isn't that good (low-bitrate mp3s, etc. etc.), and that, because the iPod earbuds are also not that good, you've just never noticed before. In that case, you might want to find some higher-quality audio files.
posted by box at 10:38 AM on June 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Correction: more recent iPods apparently support digital-out through a dock. The highest-end option would, depending on your amp, probably be either something like this or the analog-line-out cables already mentioned.
posted by box at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2009


Is your music stored as loss less or at least at a very high bitrate? if not, you may get better results improving the quality of the audio on your iPod then worrying about the connection of the iPod to the stereo.
posted by willnot at 10:58 AM on June 2, 2009


Is your music stored as loss less or at least at a very high bitrate? if not, you may get better results improving the quality of the audio on your iPod then worrying about the connection of the iPod to the stereo.

Yes, start here. Next up, make sure the stereo you're plugging into is actually "hi-fi" (ie: high fidelity). I'm very suspicious of all the various add-ons (docks, high end cables etc) that claim to improve sound quality, but do they really?

My personal solution is to run my Ipod (and all my other audio sources for that matter) through my beat-up ten year old Numark DJ mixer. It's got three bands of EQ control (hi-medium-lo) on each channel which allows me to a little bit of fine tuning. It's amazing the difference this makes.
posted by philip-random at 1:24 PM on June 2, 2009


A line-out cable of the type mentioned upthread is a good option.

The only other piece of advice I can offer is to make sure the volume level on your iPod is at 100% and to turn off EQ. The 100% volume level should give you the highest signal to noise ration from the iPod's headphone jack. You then control the volume from your stereo.

And this probably is not of interest to the OP, but there are solutions like the Wadia 170i that will give you a true digital out from your iPod. You could then use an external digital audio converter of you choice instead of the crappy one inside the iPod. The Wadia is $379, though.
posted by paulg at 1:37 PM on June 2, 2009


I'm very suspicious of all the various add-ons (docks, high end cables etc) that claim to improve sound quality, but do they really?

More accurate, probably, to say that they don't degrade it. The problem, though, is that the weak point in your setup is probably the speakers or the amp, not the iPod connection.
posted by box at 1:38 PM on June 2, 2009


Can you explain the sound quality issues you're having? Also, what ipod/iphone models/generations do you have? Some have better audio chips than others. Finally, like others asked, what bitrate is your music?

For example, at work I listen using high-end headphones and a vacuum tube amplifier...but use a cheap-ass Belkin 1/8" mini plug to red/yellow RCA connector in order to hook up my 2G iPod Touch. My bitrate for most things is192 kbit VBR - I can't normally hear any difference in higher bit rates. The cheap Belkin has worked out sufficiently, so I haven't taken the time yet to build my own fancy interconnect cable. But, I do get two kinds of audio interference. First, all those damn blackberries around me cause digital-chirping when they do data checks, so I can hear that every once in a while when someone is near my desk. Also, if I have my iPod plugged into the PC to charge, or if I hook the Belkin connector into the out-jack on the computer, I end up with a hum from ground-loop interference between the amplifier and any other plugged-in power source in my chain of devices. If I make sure that only the amp is plugged in, I'm fine. Other than those two interference issues my workplace audio listening is like a decadent dessert for my ears.

You could also look to the stereo - do you have any other cables or devices you could try to narrow down the issue? Are you hooking it into the "CD" input? How does input "Tape 1" or "Tape 2" work, etc?

Finally - since you're not using line out, but rather the audio out, adjust the volume on the iPod. You could be outputting too high of a signal causing clipping on your stereo's amplifier since chances are your RCA inputs are expecting line-level voltages. This will definitely make things sound like crap if it is happening.
posted by JibberJabber at 1:40 PM on June 2, 2009


As others have mentioned, if you are concerned with getting the best audio quality possible out of your ipod, you need to do two things:
1. increase the quality of your source (Apple Lossless is your friend in this scenario, or at a very minimum high-bitrate AAC/MP3)
2. Line-out, or ideally digital connection to your home stereo.
The problem* with using the heaphone out to connect to your stereo as opposed to the dock connector is that, generally speaking, the DAC in your stereo is going to be vastly superior to the ipod's DAC (which, in my experience, is pretty sub-par, at least when compared to other portable players), and thus you want to allow the stereo to do the conversion to analog, not the ipod.

As with all things audio, YMMV, caveat emptor, no warranties implied or inferred...


*inasmuch that you will very likely be able to hear a difference in quality between these solutions
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:10 AM on June 3, 2009


Low quality MP3s or lower bitrate AAC will be killing your quality more than anything. I'd start off by storing stuff as either 256kbps AAC or even better Apple Lossless, if you have not already.
posted by floam at 7:20 PM on June 5, 2009


Oh, and DON'T TRANSCODE if everything is already lossy and you don't have a lossless collection somewhere as CDs or FLACs or something.
posted by floam at 7:21 PM on June 5, 2009


More accurate, probably, to say that they don't degrade it. The problem, though, is that the weak point in your setup is probably the speakers or the amp, not the iPod connection.

A few years ago I remember reading some very negative things about the Digital to Analog Converters (DACs) in iPods of the time. My guess is, digital out to a quality DAC is more important than the power amplifier.

Basically to get good sound quality, the order of importance is source material (higher bit rate or lossless from a quality mastering), speakers (including proper speaker placement!), sound source (outboard DAC is probably better than iPod internal DAC), amplifier, everything else.
posted by Chuckles at 10:48 PM on June 5, 2009


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