How to Connect an iPod to a Stereo Without an AUX
By Jeff Grundy
You may use your Apple iPod primarily as a stand-alone music player by connecting the included ear buds. However, you can also use the device with more powerful car or home stereo amplifiers so you can crank up the volume and let others listen to your music collection. Some modern amplifiers and stereos include a 3.5mm "Aux" jack designed especially for music players such as the iPod. In some cases, though, you may have to use another method to connect your iPod if the stereo does not have such a jack.
Determining Connection Options
Before looking for alternative methods of connecting an iPod to your stereo, you should ensure that the system does not actually have an "AUX" or similar connector. While some car or home stereos have a 3.5mm "Aux" port on the face of the unit, others may have compatible ports labeled "Digital In," "Line In" or something similar. With some car stereos, the AUX port may be on the console, the passenger-side dashboard or even in the glove compartment. In other cases – and this applies to home and car stereos -- even if the stereo does not have a 3.5mm AUX port, the unit may have a compatible set of RCA ports you can use instead. Look for RCA ports labeled "Line In," "CD In," "Auxiliary" or even "DVD." If your system has a set of compatible RCA ports, you can use a 3.5mm-to-RCA adapter cable to connect the iPod instead of a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm AUX cable. If you do have a compatible set of ports on the car stereo or receiver, connecting the iPod using this method produces the best possible sound.
One simple method of connecting any type of portable music player, including an iPod, to a car stereo is to use an FM modulator. An FM modulator receives its power from the cigarette lighter adapter in your vehicle and has a 3.5mm cable that plugs into the port used to connect your ear buds or headphones. The FM modulator may use a single preset FM station frequency or may have a switch or dial that allows you to choose from several different frequencies for optimal reception. Regardless of the number of preset stations the FM modulator supports, however, using the device is the same. After connecting the iPod and plugging the FM modulator into the cigarette lighter adapter, simply tune the FM radio on the stereo to the preset frequency and then turn on the iPod and play music as you normally would. Music played from the iPod streams through the FM modulator to the radio, which then goes through plays the car speakers. Sound quality with FM modulators varies considerably by model. However, in most cases, sound from the modulator is usually on par with that produced by the FM tuner in your car stereo or receiver. Since radios use analog signals, music played through the FM modulator may lack the clarity or crispness of digital audio. While the audio with a modulator is not quite as good as digital options, connecting one is very simple and the devices are relatively inexpensive. Prices for FM modulator range between $20 and $50, and you can pick one up at your local electronics store.
Stereos with Tape Decks
Another connection option that works with many older car and home stereos is a cassette adapter. Similar to the way an FM modulator works, a cassette adapter has a 3.5mm cable that connects to the headphone jack on an iPod or MP3 player. If your system can play cassette tapes, simply insert the tape adapter into the deck, connect the iPod via the headphone jack and press "Play." At this point, any music you play through the iPod streams over the speakers connected to the stereo. Depending on the type of stereo you have, though, you may need to press the "Tape" source button on the unit before you can hear the music from the iPod. Cassette decks and players produce analog audio signals, so using a tape adapter may not result in the clear and robust sound you are accustomed to with digital music from your iPod. Cassette tape adapters cost between $20 and $40, and you can usually find one at your neighborhood electronics store.
Some car stereos and home receivers have integrated Bluetooth, enabling you to connect an iPod or other device wirelessly. With other stereos, you may be able to add a Bluetooth receiver by connecting one to the "Line In" or similar port. Whether you use a stereo with integrated Bluetooth or an add-on adapter, the unit should have a “Search,” “Pairing,” “Discover” or similarly named button. Before you press the pairing button, though, enable Bluetooth on the iPod. To do this, first press the "Home" button. Tap "Settings," "General" and then "Bluetooth." Swipe the "On/Off" switch to the right to enable the wireless connection. Press the appropriate "Pairing" button on the stereo or add-on adapter, and then wait for a list of detected Bluetooth devices to display on the iPod screen. Tap the device name of the stereo or add-on adapter on the iPod screen, and then tap "Connect." After the devices pair successfully, simply press "Play" on the iPod to stream your music through the car stereo. Bluetooth is capable of transmitting digital audio signals, so music from your iPod should sound as intended. However, in some cases, the iPod's distance from the Bluetooth receiver may affect sound quality and signal strength. If your stereo does not offer built-in Bluetooth support, you can pick up a quality add-on adapter for between $40 and $100 at your local electronics retailer.
A growing number of mid to high-end vehicles include docks that enable you to connect iPods and other similar devices to the stereo system directly without any additional cables. Additionally, many manufacturers produce add-on docks that you can add to both car and home audio systems by connecting them to RCA ports labeled "Line In," "CD In" or "Auxiliary." With a dock, you simply insert the iPod in the cradle and select the appropriate source button on the head unit or receiver. Once you insert the iPod in the cradle and press the correct source button, just press "Play" on the iPod to begin playing music over the speakers connected to the car head unit or stereo receiver. Sound quality using a dock should be good or excellent depending on the recording quality of the media you play on the iPod and if the stereo or receiver uses analog or digital audio-encoding technology. Depending on any extra features you may require such as continuous charging or video-playback capability, a good dock will run you between $40 and $100 at your neighborhood electronics outlet.
- Macintosh How To: How to Connect Your iPhone or iPod to Your Home Stereo
- PCMag.com: 6 Ways to Link iPods and Car Radios
- EveryiPod.com: How Can I Connect My iPOd to My Car Stereo?
- TechGuy Labs: How Can I Connect My iPhone to My Car Stereo Using Bluetooth?
- ElectricSprocket: Add Bluetooth Streaming to a Stock Car Stereo
Jeff Grundy has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.