How to connect your iPhone or iPod to your home stereo.

To connect your iPhone, iPad or iPod to your home stereo you just need a 3.5mm to RCA cable like this cable above.  The two RCA connectors plug into the back of your stereo and the 3.5mm plugs into the headphone jack of your iPhone. Pretty much every stereo available has RCA inputs as the standard inputs on the back.  If you want the best possible audio quality, then an Apple iPod dock will make it sound even better, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Buying a cable

The first thing that you will need is a cable.  One end of the cable has a 3.5 mm headphone jack. This looks exactly like the socket on the end of your Apple headphones.  It’s also nicknamed an ‘aux’ cable. The other end of the cable has 2 RCA connectors.  These will plug straight into your stereo.  The cable looks like this:

You will need a cable like this, one end has a headphone jack to plug into your iPhone, the other end has two RCA connectors to plug straight into your stereo
You will need a cable like this, one end has a headphone jack to plug into your iPhone, the other end has two RCA connectors to plug straight into your stereo.

These cables start as cheaply as 1c (e.g. here) but I’d steer away from one like that which uses cheap cable. Pretty much anyone can tell the difference in the sound on one of these cheap cables even if you don’t know much about music at all.  The difference between a mid-range cable and a high end cable is less noticeable unless you have a good ear and a good stereo. I use one like this which costs about $25, but you can buy one somewhere in the middle range for around $10 like this or this and it should be fine. I find Belkin to be pretty reliable. Steer away from anything on ebay that looks like this:

rca-cheap
Stay away from cheap cables that look like this.

I’ve written an article about finding the best cable here.

How to plug the cable in

You can plug the 3.5mm straight into your iPod headphone jack, and the other end will plug into your stereo.  This is not the best solution (read  on further down in this article)  but it works.

For best results set your iPhone volume to about half. If it’s too quiet you may get some noise and hiss.  If it’s too loud you may get some distortion.

When plugging into the back of the Stereo Amplifier, the normal input to use would be the AUX-IN, but  you can use almost whatever input you want: CD-INPUT, TAPE-IN, TV-IN, DVD-IN or the AUX-IN.

Do not use the PHONO-IN as it is designed specifically for a record player and won’t sound as good.

On this Pioneer receiver the AUX IN is called ‘ANALOG AUX’. This is where you’d plug in your iPod dock.

Next Page: iPod Dock and wireless Airplay…

Buying an iPod Dock

When you plug your iPhone directly into your stereo as I’ve described above there will be a very slight loss of audio quality.   This is because the headphone jack is designed to power headphones, not be plugged into a stereo.  (You can read about the technical differences  here.)  For most people this will probably not be noticeable,  so unless you have a really good stereo with a nice set of speakers the straight cable will work fine.

If however you are after the best possible audio quality into your stereo,  equivalent to or better than a CD player, then can buy a “dock”  for your iPhone.

Apple sell iPod and iPhone docks for the new lightning connecto  here, but for older iPods that don’t have a lightning connector, Apple don’t sell this product any more.   Even their own support article here (dated Feb ’15) now tells you to plug the iPod straight into your home  stereo from the headphone jack.  (This will work, but it is definitely an inferior sound quality to the dock.)

So, for the best sound quality, you need to track down a 2nd hand iPod or iPhone dock that will suit your iPhone or iPod.

In ebay you will need to search for something like this:

“Apple Universal Dock genuine”

“Apple Dock MA045”

“Apple Dock MC746LL”

“Apple Dock A1371”

Or they are still available on Amazon here, here and here.

Plugging in the iPod dock

This is an Apple iPod dock. It has a ‘line out’ output on the back. (The jack on the left in the above picture).  Using a line level out will give you the best possible sound quality,  better than just using the headphone socket.  This is because the line out has been designed to put out a signal that is perfectly matched to a home stereo that has a ‘line in’.

The headphone output on the iPod is not a true ‘line out’, it is a headphone level. This is different.  A headphone output is expecting a pair of headphones and while it will still work fine, you may lose some high-end or low end or clarity using it as a line out instead of a headphone out. The dock gives you a proper ‘line out’ which will be the exact voltage and impedance to match the ‘line in’ on your stereo. This is important for the best sound quality.

Use exactly the same cable that I talked about above.  The headphone jack and plugs into the ‘line out’  from the dock, and the RCA connectors plug into the back of your stereo.

There are other advantages to the dock. The first one is obviously the better audio quality. But you can also leave the audio lead and charger cable plugged into the dock permanently,  so that whenever your phone or iPod is plugged into the dock it will be charging  at the same time that it is playing.  The Apple iPod dock also has an infrared receiver on the front which will allow you to control your iPod via any Apple remote control!  so you can play and pause your iPod using the Apple remote control.

Note that the newest iPhone docks (iPhone 6 and newer) do not have a ‘line out.’ The  first generation of lightning dock did have a ‘line out’.

The first generation of lightning dock with a true ‘line out’.

The newer iPhone dock with output is marked as a headphones not ‘line out’.

There is a lot of confusion on the Apple support sites as to whether this  socket marked headphones is actually a true high-quality ‘line out’ or whether it is just the same as what a headphone socket would output.

Here is one of the comments on the apple support site:

“Apple Documentation says that it has both Headphone & Line Level output BUT I am unable to achieve this. Apple support could not help find out how to accomplish this and simply stated that the documentation “must be incorrect.”

So if you wish to have true Line Level Output like the previous 5s dock, DO NOT BUY THIS PRODUCT until Apple confirms otherwise, or at least explains how to use this product.”

It sounds like if you have a new lighting iPhone you may be just as well off buying the Apple lightning to headphone connector rather than the dock.  I have not been able to confirm whether the new iPhone dock is a true line out or not.

Wireless Airplay – no connector!

If you are buying a new stereo, Pioneer and others are now including AIRPLAY into some of their amplifiers. The amplifiers have a Wi-Fi receiver built in which means you can play from your iOS device over your Wi-Fi (Airport) network directly to your Stereo with no loss of quality. You don’t need to connect any cables. This article has more information about how to connect your iPod or phone wirelessly.

Comments

73 responses to “How to connect your iPhone or iPod to your home stereo.”

  1. Kris Weigel

    I’m having the same problem with connecting my Ipod to my stereo as I did when I tried connecting my satellite receiver (to get the music channels available) to my receiver – the audio/line level signal is so low that I really need to crank the volume on my Denon receiver to hear it. Do I need a pre-amp or other device ?? Thanks

    1. Don’t need a pre-amp, just turn the iPod up to about half volume, or a bit more. It should have plenty of level.

      1. andy H

        audio output of the iPhone 5 and 5s are lower than previous iPhones and i too find that you need to set the volume on the iPhone to about 90% (to avoid distortion) and set the AV amp connected higher than would normally be necessary.

  2. Marcia Kneebone

    I have an ipod shuffle. Can i connect it to my home stereo receiver thru the aux?

    1. Correct. With a stereo 3.5mm to RCA lead. And set the volume to about 2/3.

  3. Bane

    What to do after plugging in cable?

    1. Play song on iPod, select the input you connected it to, turn up Stereo.

  4. sebastian Cyriac

    what about the impedance, the headphone output of an I phone is meant for driving headphone of impedance just 16- 32 ohms and the input of your amplifier is in the 470K – 1M that is 470000 ohms – 1000000 ohms, the sound may come through the amplifier but the quality of the sound suffers, you need to match their impedance by an impedance matching circuit in between the headphone jack and you RCA connector

    1. Very true – thankyou – I just updated the article to include mention of the dock. You can connect it directly without a dock but yes – it will be a better impedance match with the dock.

  5. diego

    hi. great post! i was wondering if this cable is going to suffer the problem of impedance you described. i tried to contacted to them but i didnt get an answer

    http://www.monsterproducts.com/productdisplay.asp?pin=5149

    thanks
    diego

    1. It doesn’t look like it does – I sent them a question too, let’s see what they say!

  6. cathy

    I have my Ipad connected to the receiver with the above cable, however it is not playing through all the speakers. When I play a CD thru CD player, all speakers play, when I play on Ipad 2 out of 4 speakers play and the volume is not as loud.

    1. Are the 2 out of 4 both left? both right? or front or back?

  7. Joel

    Cathy I think you may need to swith the cables ( RCA cable) to the cd input and try plugging the 3.5mm end to your ipad. See if that makes a difference

  8. Tina

    Hi! This worked beautifully until last night…. I switched from my iPad to iPhone while the stereo was on- oops- it made a loud crackly connecting sound through speakers and now it does not play. I can’t even get a sound from speakers. Did I blow something?? :(. I am so sad in the silence.

  9. Amelia

    I can only get sound from one speaker. Not even using this device. I’ve always been able to use sound lead from iPhone to stereo but this is first time I can only get sound from one speaker,,,,,,!,,,,,,

  10. t

    hi,
    I need some “basic” help. Not an audio person. I have a mac and I managed to break off the headphone cable in the audio jack years ago. I do a lot of video editing and the only solution I’ve managed to come up with is using a receiver and speakers to get audio. I plug the speakers into the receiver and the receiver into the back of the computer. I’m looking to downsize my set up b/c I move a lot and this is a pain. My question is, can I some how forgo the receiver and plug directly into the computer. I have about three sets of speakers all of which have regular wiring so they can’t go right into an audio jack. Is there a way to convert those with an adapter? Or is there a cheap and small receiver i can buy ? thanks a lot. My apologies for my audio naivety.

    1. The level out of the computer is a line level and way to low to drive speakers directly. But your receiver is amplifying the signal and the speakers would not work without it. To simplify you could get a set of powered bookshelf style speakers that have a built-in amplifier. Or yes, you could buy a very small simple amplifier and use your current speakers.

  11. Tom

    Thank you for the article—it has helped me start to understand this. I have a quality home stereo set-up and find myself using iPods as music transports more often these days as it’s much more convenient than digging through the cd stash. Instead of purchasing a dock, could I achieve similar results by using a 30 pin to rca cable to access the iPods line-level output (instead of the headphone jack)?
    Thanks again.

    1. Yes Tom, that will do almost exactly the same thing.

      1. Michael

        This cable in the link will give a line-level output just like the iPod Dock?

        https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/750581-REG/Apple_MC748ZM_A_Composite_AV_Cable.html

        I do like how the iPod Dock holds the iPod and charges it.

  12. Joe

    Do I have to have a ipod dock station to play my ipod nano 3rd gen on my old home stereo.

    1. No, but it will sound better if you do. By better I mean if you are the kind of person who is after the absolute best possible sound. You can just plug the headphone output into any RCA (e.g. AUX, CD) input and it will work fine and not damage anything. If it’s a cheap home stereo or you’re not too fussy then you probably won’t notice the difference.

  13. Edward

    I would like to connect an new iPad in to mixer and picture go to tv how can I do that also which cable I have to use. Please help me out

    1. You can plug the headphone out into a mixer input, but that won’t be the best possible sound. For best audio you need a line-out. Lightning connector doesn’t have line-out it only has digital audio out. So you need one of these: http://store.apple.com/us/product/MF030ZM/A/iphone-5s-dock
      It converts the digital audio to a line-out.

  14. Karli

    I have my iPad hooked up to my home stereo with a three prong wire. There are two speakers and sound is only coming from one side. Do you know why this might be? Sound comes out of both speakers when I play a CD.

    Any help on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you,

    Karli

  15. I hooked my iPhone into my stereo receiver using 3.5mm RCA cable. In order to get acceptable volume level, I have to turn volume on iPhone and stereo way up (too high). Any idea why? Suggestions? Thank you!

    1. If you turn the iPhone volume up you shouldn’t have to turn the Stereo volume up too high. What kind of cable is it? What brand? What input is it going in to?

  16. Lorenzo

    Is there an iPad lightining dock wiyh line out port I can buy?

    I’ve an iPad Air 2 with lightning port I would like to connect to my old JVC stereo amplifier.

    1. Yes there is Apple make one – it’s on the Apple store.

      1. Lorenzo

        Hi Wayne thank you but Apple does not have a lightning dock for iPad…. only for iPhone.

        Belkin makes one but no line out port…

        What are your thoughts about using a Bluetooth adapter such as

        http://www.amazon.com/AmazonBasics-Bluetooth-4-0-Audio-Receiver/dp/B00I59VBH4/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1422629615&sr=1-1&keywords=amazon+bluetooth+adapter

        Do you think the sound quality would be lower than using a dock with line out (if one should exist?).

        Thank you.
        Lorenzo

      2. Sorry I didn’t notice you said iPad!

  17. Mike

    what do you recommend i buy to connect my iPhone6 to my a/v receiver? I went to the send station website, but i am a bit confused as to what i need. Thanks, Mike

    1. It seems Apple have really dropped the ball with this one. There is no iPhone 6 dock, and so there is no way to get a line-out from an iPhone 6.

      So you will need to get one of these to convert to the old 30 pin:
      http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD823ZM/A/lightning-to-30-pin-adapter?fnode=3c

      Then connect that to an iPhone 4 dock:
      http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC596ZM/B/apple-iphone-4-dock?fnode=45

      or to one of these:
      http://www.amazon.com/FiiO-L11-Connector-Charge-iPhone/dp/B008EKON56/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1425708426&sr=1-1&keywords=FiiO+lightning

      Clumsy I know, but it should sound good.

      The Apple lightning to 30pin converter is a good device. It has an inbuilt wolfson Digital to Ananlog converter of quite good quality. See a good article here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/631228/apple-lightning-dock-adapter-abandon-all-hope-all-ye-who-enter

      It’s a shame Apple hasn’t yet made an iPhone 6 dock to do this.

      1. UPDATE: Apple have now released an iphone lightning dock.

  18. Jeff

    Which home stero is iPod friendly. Most home stereo’s have hook ups but won,t operate properly, called Denon, they said iPods won’t work I n more then 2 gig. Is their any hone stereo that will work properly.

  19. Oliver

    Wayne – I bought the iphone 6 dock the link above goes to and one of the recommended cables. I hooked these up to my system (CD input). I can’t get any sound out of the speakers unless I turn the volume of my iphone 6 and my stereo all the way up. At that point, the sound is very faint. I tested the functionality of each component and everything works as advertised. Can you tell me if the iphone 6 dock still matches impedance? I wondering if this article is no longer valid for the iphone 6. Really it should be updated to say this.

    1. Sounds strange. I haven’t tried the new lightning dock.

      The iphone 5 lightning dock definitely has line out but the new lightning dock has ‘headphone’ and ‘line out.’ I can’t see how that works – they are different – does it detect what is plugged in? I don’t know.

      Read about it here:
      https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202783

  20. If you go through the ‘line out’ option it will work on any stereo with any iPod. The stereo can’t even tell what iPod you are using.

    When they say ” iPods won’t work I n more then 2 gig” they mean interfacing digitally with the ipod through wifi or usb.

  21. George Curtis

    I have an ipod nano 7th gen. When I connect the usb plug to the usb socket of my car stereo the car display shows what is playing but there’s no sound. Same as when I connect to home stereo unit. I can’t seem to find any help from the downloaded instruction manual.

  22. Kevin Price-Ward

    Like others here I’ve just purchased the lightening dock – http://www.apple.com/shop/product/MGRM2AM/A/iphone-lightning-dock which has a headphone out socket. I’ve connected this to my Arcam amp via an audioquest RCA to phone connector. Even setting my 5s to full volume, I really need to crank up the amp (a lot higher than normal when playing CD’s) for it to be acceptable volume, and the sound quality isn’t all that good! Is the headphone out jack on the lightening dock different to line out on the old 30 pin docks line out socket then?? Strange that they would have renamed it headphones out if it’s basically the same thing? But why’s it so quiet? Would I be better off getting an old dock and just converting lightening to 30 pin do you think?

  23. Rinus

    Following this discussion for a while now, because i got the same problems connecting my iphone 5s with a “master and slave” PA system. First tried the easy 3.5 mm jack, but got the crackling (exploding) sound very quickly. Then tried the 3.5 mm jack to RCA, but the same problem. I’ve been reading a lot and understand that “line out” on docks is the key. Yet unavailable for lightning connectors. Now in january they come up with a lightning dock, but no line out, but the headphone output. This almost sounds like a joke. Still no solution… Even the 30-pin with line out is no longer available? Otherwise there would be a by-pass the lightning-to-30 pin connector. Could bluetooth help? Putting into the jack connection of the PA system? of still not a match with impedance/ohm/voltage.. ?

  24. Maciej

    Too bad, still no good cable solution? I am now using Apple TV, which is connected to Digital/Analog converter. The converter is connected to the amplifier. The sound is very good, much better than line out or headphone out from iphone. The idea is, that apple devices stream digital signal to the converter instead of creating analog signal themselfes (apple sucks at this… the signal is very bad). But the problem is – I don’t want to use Wifi!! AppleTV is not very reliable and the connection drops quite often. Anyone got a good device to get digital audio signal from iPhone via cable?

    1. peter lloyd

      Thanks for all the comments and ideas. I’m running into the same issue with an older Yamaha NS integrated amp. I’ll look for the docks. I wonder if a preamp would be needed? The 3.5mm H/O into the aux (l/r) works ok…Then I don’t need to worry about new/old/lightning jacks….
      #Maciej: I run a time capsule and apple tv too; I have a second airport at the tv to boost the signal from main location. Also, both are running a faster ‘signal’ so I don’t have those issues you are experiencing.
      Regards all.
      Peter

  25. Val Reynolds

    I have a 2nd generation iPod Shuffle and would like to link it to an amplifier. Is that possible?

    1. Wayne

      Yes just plug it straight in. Connect a lead from the headphone jack into the AUX in as described in this article.

  26. Like others here I’ve just purchased the lightening dock – from a online store which has a headphone out socket. I’ve connected this to my Arcam amp via an audioquest RCA to phone connector. Even setting my 5s to full volume, I really need to crank up the amp (a lot higher than normal when playing CD’s) for it to be acceptable volume, and the sound quality isn’t all that good! Is the headphone out jack on the lightening dock different to line out on the old 30 pin docks line out socket then?? Strange that they would have renamed it headphones out if it’s basically the same thing? But why’s it so quiet? Would I be better off getting an old dock and just converting lightening to 30 pin do you think?

  27. Edie

    I am trying to connect my iPhone 6 to my pioneer receiver model VSX-84TSi. It has an iPod connection as it is an old model receiver that puts out amazing surround sound. Can I connect my phone somehow so I can play my playlist with good sound? FYI, I went to the Apple Store, spoke with 3 different guys and received 3 different answers.

    1. My advice, in order of best to worst:
      1. So do you have the iPod IDK-80 dock for ipods? One of these..
      https://www.pioneerelectronics.com/ephox/StaticFiles/PUSA/Files/IDK-80.pdf
      It has a older Apple 30 pin dock connector.
      You could TRY an apple lightning to ipod dock connector. One of these:
      https://www.apple.com/au/shop/product/MD824AM/A/lightning-to-30-pin-adapter-02m?afid=p238%7CsWI86MUxg-dc_mtid_18707vxu38484_pcrid_115761117166_&cid=aos-au-kwgo-pla-btb-product-MD824

      If that works it will give you the best sound and possibly?? allow to you control the iPhone from the receiver.

      2. Get a lightning to Camera adapter then plug in a USB cable and connect to the USB audio in port on the reciever. May work.

      3. Get an adapter to convert lightning to TOSLINK digital audio and go into the digital audio input. You may need to go lightning –> USB –> Toslink. Will work but may be fiddly to set up.

      4. Get a lighting to Older Apple 30 pin dock connector, then plug into an older Apple dock, and into the AUX-IN. Will work.

      5. Get a new iphone dock and plug into the AUX-IN. Will work.

      Or you could get an Apple TV, plug it into the HDMI (newer Apple TV) in digital audio in (older Apple TV), and stream to the Apple TV.

  28. Big Rig

    ok, no problem hooking ipad to bose receiver – now i’d like to connect another ipad so i can control the ipad connected to the receiver – any ideas?

  29. J

    Hi, this post appears to be a bit older – but hope you can help. I have a iPod nano 6G – and want to connect to my receiver through a dock. There doesn’t seem to be a doc for a 6G. Are there adaptors? I know I can connect directly to the receiver but thought the sound quality would be better, plus the iPod would be charged. Any help would be appreciated.

    1. The iPod nano 6G still has a dock connector on the bottom. I’m looking at my old Apple universal iPhone dock here and to me looks like there would be plenty of room for a nano to dock in it quite nicely.

  30. Michael

    I have an iPod Nano 16 GB 5th Generation.

    Is this the correct iPod Dock(in the link below) I need to connect it to my Denon receiver?

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Apple-Universal-Dock-for-iPod-iPhone-MC746LL-A/263957924610?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT&_trksid=p2060353.m1438.l2649

    Do I need to have the volume on the iPod up to get good levels with it connected to the receiver?

    1. Looks like the right one.

      1. Michael

        This will make the iPod sound more like playing a CD?

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