Connect Your PC or iPod to a Home Stereo

Over lunch this past weekend a friend of mine mentioned he was going to buy some high end computer speakers because “I want better and louder sound from my computer like I get on my home stereo.”

“Have you tried connecting your computer to your stereo?” I asked.

“Can I do that?”

“Yes, you can. You can go wired or wireless.”

Today, I’ll discuss wired connections; tomorrow, wireless.

Wired

The first and least expensive way to connect your PC to your home stereo is with wires you can buy at Radio Shack. Wires work best in all situations, but distance between the computer and the stereo is usually the decision maker.

First, measure where you would run a wire from your computer to your stereo. If the distance is about 20 feet you can get the following items for $18 to $34 depending upon the lengths and options you need:

  • A 1/8″ extension: Available in 6, 8, 16, and 20 foot lengths. ($8.99 to $12.99). (You might not need this for your iPod since the stereo Y-cable below comes in a 3 foot length.  It may be long enough if you’re leaving your iPod next to the stereo.)
  • A 1/8″ to RCA Stereo Y-Cable ($7.49)
  • An optional 1/8″ audio splitter (up to $10.99): Get this if you have speakers connected to your computer that you would like to continue using. You won’t need this if you’re connecting your iPod to your stereo.

Here are links to the above items at Radio Shack’s web site. If you’re an “audiophile” you might look for high-end cables and connectors from Monster® Cable.

1/8 inch to RCA Stereo Y-Cable 1/8 inch extension cable: 6, 8, 16, or 20 foot lengths 1/8 inch Audio Splitter
1/8″ to RCA
Stereo Y-Cable

($7.49)
1/8″ Extension: 8, 16,
and 20 foot lengths
($8.99 to 12.99)
1/8″ audio splitter
(optional)
(up to $10.99)

Setup: What to Look For

If your computer is already setup with desktop speakers follow the cable from the speakers to the back of your computer. You’ll find they connect to a single lime green colored ‘jack’ or ‘port’. If you don’t have speakers on your PC, just look for the single lime green colored connection on the back of your computer. This is the “line out connection, and its opening is about the size of a pencil point. You might even see a symbol such as a circle with an arrow extending out of it next to the connection. Some computer makers may even label it “line out”.

If you want to connect your iPod to your home stereo you can connect the 1/8 inch connector to the headphone connection on your iPod. The RCA stero Y-cable will connect to your stereo.  (Alternately, you can buy an iPod to stereo adapter at any home electronics store, but this method works fine and may bge less expensive.)

On the back of your home stereo look for an unused “Line In” or “Audio In” connection such as the “Auxiliary” input, or the “Tape In” input. On a stereo this will be a matched pair of connectors; one for the right speaker, the other for the left speaker. Typically the right (R) is red, and the left (L) is white. You might even see that they are labeled “R” and “L” respectively. (Using the Tape In connection also gives you the option of recording sound from your computer). Some stereos may have spare connections on the front of the system. Whatever you do, do not connect to any connection labeled “out”.

The 1/8″ to RCA stereo cable will run from the line out connection on the PC to the line in or audio in connection on your stereo. The single thin pin connects to the computer, and the two circular plugs and pins (RCA connections) will connect to your stereo.

Safety First

Make sure your computer and stereo are turned off before connecting the cables.  If you leave either of them on you may get a buzz of ‘feedback’ the instant you plug in the cables. This feedback could damage your PC sound system or your home stereo. Play it safe and turn off both your computer and stereo.

Also, make sure the cable that will run from your PC to your stereo is out of the way so no one will step on or trip over it. You wouldn’t want the wire to wear out from being stepped on, and you wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt tripping on the wires. Wear and tear on the cables could cause harmful feedback to develop.

Setup: Connections

If you’re using the optional audio splitter, start at step 2. If you aren’t using the audio splitter, start at step 1 then skip to step 5.

If you’re connecting an iPod to your stereo connect the pin of the 1/8″ extension or the stereo Y-Cable to the headphone connection on your iPod, then skip to step 6.

  1. If you decided not to use an audio splitter, disconnect the PC speakers from the lime green line out connection on the back of the computer, and plug the pin end of the 1/8″ extension into the line out connection on the computer. Skip to step 5.
  2. If you opted to get the audio splitter, unplug your computer speakers from the lime green “line out” connection on the computer, and plug the pin of the audio splitter into the line out connection.
  3. Take the pin from your PC speakers and connect it to one of the connections on the audio splitter. It doesn’t matter which one you connect to it.
  4. Connect the 1/8″ extension to the other connection on the audio splitter
  5. Connect the pin of the 1/8″ to RCA jack stereo Y-cable to the other end of the extension.
  6. At the back of your stereo, connect the red end of the cable to the red connection of an unused Audio In connection (Either Audio In, Line In, Auxiliary, or Tape In will do), then connect the white plug of the cable to the white connection on the stereo.

Now you can turn on your PC or iPod and stereo. Make sure the volume on the stereo is turned down low, and check that the stereo selector is set to the input you used for your computer (or iPod) connection. Then you can turn up the volume.

If you’ve connected an iPod to your stereo, the volume control on the iPod can also be used.

If you get any feedback, turn off the stereo, and make sure your cable connections are proper and correct.

I’ll discuss wireless connections in tomorrow’s post.

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6 comments

  1. LD says:

    Thanks Robert for such great detailed info. Question on connecting an iPod to my home stereo. Most sites say it’s fine to use either headphone jack or dock. (I don’t own a dock currently). One site insists on the docking port: “The headphone jack will give you an amplified signal, and the size of the signal sent to your receiver’s amplifiers will be variable by the iPod’s own volume control. This can be dangerous to your home equipment, so it’s best to use the docking port. There are several companies that make docking port to RCA jack adaptors for the iPod…. The XtremeMac iPod Audio Kit is an acceptable all-in-one option with sturdy lines that will give you a good signal connection from the iPod docking port. This ensures the cleanest, flat, un-amplified signal possible.”
    My Questions:
    1. What’s your take on this?
    2. IF you agree with using the docking port, is a higher-quality cable OK (Belkin or JVC were recommended)? Or do I need a kit or Monster Cable, as recommended by the previous site? [And, will a docking port accept the stereo Y-cable or do I need an adapter, as well]?
    THANKS for clearing this up.

  2. Thanks for writing, LD. I’m glad you found the information bountiful. I try to be thorough and clear.

    Docking Port
    I’ll assume the docking port in question is the Apple Universal Dock ($49). One advantage is it looks cleaner/neater sitting next to your stereo instead of a loose headphone cable, and it comes with a remote control. If you add a USB power adapter ($29) you could also charge the iPod, but the same holds true without the docking port. If you choose to use the universal dock, your standard 1/8″ stereo y-connector ($7.49) can be used.

    Cable and Monster Cable
    I find the headphone cable and jack suitable, and I consider myself to be something of an audiophile when it comes to stereo equipment, but care must be exercised with the volume control. The rule of thumb with stereo equipment is to always have the volume turned down before turning on any equipment. Taking care to do so has always worked fine for me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love Monster Cable, but I’ll pass on them if I’m trying to hold onto my cash that day or week. Currently, I use an ordinary stereo y-connector from Radio Shack, and I have had no problems with it. I play my iPod on the stereo a few times a month, and just leave the cable in plain view. No one else in the household has complained yet, and most of them are much neater and more organized than I.

    To clarify, the standard stereo y-connector will connect to the universal dock, but get the Monster Cable if its in your budget. Their cable is of a higher gauge, and does make a audible difference if you have an ear for it.

    Feedback and Amplification
    It’s true that the iPod output level with just the headphone jack is affected by the iPod’s own volume control. You should always start with the volume on the stereo and iPod turned down. Then turn up the stereo volume to a level you usually find suitable — you won’t hear anything until you turn up the iPod’s volume — and then set the iPod to play and turn up it’s volume control. Resist the urge to make it “extra loud” by turning it up too high.

    Though I don’t have a docking port now, it has been my experience that any device that utlizes the iPod’s connector, instead of the jack, disables the volume control of the iPod wheel. Using the iPod wheel will have no affect on volume.

    Another note: Care should be taken when the stereo is on, but an iPod isn’t connected to the jack (without the dock). If your stereo gets set to that input, and if something charged or metallic comes in contact with the end of the jack — think kid’s fingertips or some stray metal object like a set of keys set to rest on the shelf — then harmful feedback could occur. My headphone jack is set wll out of reach, so I’m likely to be the only offender.

    Hope this helps. Thanks!

  3. LD says:

    Robert,
    Thanks so much for the insanely quick reply. I knew some but not all of your hints from spending waaaay too much time trying to find an answer to what I had imagined to be a simple question. You can’t imagine how grateful I am for your informative answer, and I hope others are lucky enough to stumble across this page. I had no idea about the potential problem with an unconnected jack lying about. And while I’d read about starting with both volumes turned down, your directions were much more clear than anyone else. For the cabling/jack/docking insights, I remain eternally grateful.

    • Thanks for your gracious compliments. Happy to be of service.

      And please note the unconnected jack is only an issue if the stereo is on and turned to that particular input. On my stereo I’ve connected it to the Aux input. I leave the cable connected all the time, but only switch to Aux after I’ve connected my iPod.

  4. Kate says:

    Thank for your detailed instructions but sadly after following them, I still can’t get my ipod to play on my stereo. I bought the monster cable but weirdly, the Y cable has a red marked connection head and a blue marked connection (yes blue) so is that my problem? I think the main problem is with the stereo. I am selected the option of AUX for it to play but with all the cables connected (the red one into right and the blue one into left) and the grey one into the headphone jack of the ipod. It still wont play… Any suggestions

  5. Just so you folks out there don’t think I’ve been ignoring Kate’s question, she and I have been chatting by email about her problems connecting her iPod and stereo. When we reach a solution, I will post a note on the results. Thanks Kate!

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