How to Connect iOS or Android Devices to Stereo Systems

Listen to the music you want and carry it with you, too

What to Know

  • Easiest: use a wireless Bluetooth adapter to pair a smartphone or tablet to a stereo system.
  • For higher quality audio, use DLNA, AirPlay, or Play-Fi Wireless Adapter.
  • Alternatively, you can use cables or a dock.

This article explains the various devices that can be used to play mobile audio on stereo systems.

Wireless Bluetooth Adapter

Bluetooth connectivity continues to mature and find itself into all sorts of tech products. You'd actually have a hard time finding a smartphone or tablet without Bluetooth as a standard. Some people even turn their old smartphones into portable media players using Bluetooth.

As such, Bluetooth adapters (also called receivers) are widely available and easily affordable.

Compact Bluetooth wireless receiver by Mpow
 MPOW


Bluetooth adapters come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and features. Most can connect to stereo systems, amplifiers, or receivers through a 3.5 mm, RCA, or digital optical cable, which may or may not be sold separately. These devices also require power, typically via an included USB or wall plug, and some even feature built-in batteries that can last for hours. Once hooked up, pair the adaptor with a smartphone or tablet, and you're all set to enjoy audio control straight from your pocket.

Keep in mind that standard Bluetooth wireless has a maximum range of 33 ft (10 m), which can be affected by walls, a line of sight, or physical objects. Some adapters boast an extended reach of up to twice the normal distance. Bluetooth also introduces some additional data compression, so it's possible (depending on the audio source) to lose a bit of quality, unless the products are aptX-compatible.

DLNA, AirPlay, Play-Fi Wireless Adapter

For the discerning audiophile or enthusiast, Bluetooth might not cut it in terms of overall fidelity. Thankfully, some adapters use Wi-Fi, which transmits audio to stereo systems without compression or loss of quality. Not only that, but wireless networks typically enjoy a greater range than what Bluetooth can achieve. 

As with the Bluetooth adapters described above, the Wi-Fi kind also connects through a 3.5 mm, RCA, or digital optical cable.

Apple Airport WiFi adapter
 Apple

However, unlike Bluetooth, you'll have to pay closer attention to compatibility. For example, AirPlay works only with Apple products (e.g., iPhone, iPad, iPod) or computers using Apple Music/iTunes, which means that Android devices are left out. However, some adapters may feature support for DLNA, Play-Fi (the standard from DTS), or general Wi-Fi connectivity through a proprietary app.

Again, double-check compatibility. Not all music-related mobile apps are designed to recognize and stream through each type.

3.5 mm-to-RCA Stereo Audio Cable

If wireless seems a little too fancy or involved, there's nothing wrong with sticking to the tried-and-true 3.5 mm-to-RCA stereo audio cable. The 3.5 mm end plugs directly into the smartphone or tablet's headphone jack, while the RCA connections plug into the line inputs on a stereo speaker, receiver, or amplifier.

Be sure the plugs match the same color of the input ports. (White is left and red is right for RCA jacks.) If the jacks are stacked vertically, the white or left one will almost always be on top. That's all that needs to be done!

3.5 mm to RCA stereo audio cable
 Amazon

The upside to using a cable is that, in most cases, you'll ensure the best possible sound quality. There's little need to worry about compatibility, lossless transmission, or wireless interference. It's also one less device that would take up space on a wall outlet or power strip.

However, a connected device's range will be physically limited by the cable's length, which can be inconvenient. Most 3.5 mm-to-RCA stereo audio cables are comparable, so overall length is likely to be the top consideration.

3.5 mm-to-3.5 mm Stereo Audio Cable

An alternative to the 3.5 mm to RCA stereo audio cable is your basic audio cable. Not everything will feature RCA input jacks, but you can pretty much count on the standard 3.5 mm port (also identified as the headphone jack for mobile devices). Maybe you have one of these cables lying around in a drawer somewhere.

3.5 mm stereo audio cables sport the same connection on each end (totally reversible) and are practically universal for audio equipment. If there's a speaker involved—be it a TV, computer, stereo, or soundbar—you can pretty much guarantee plug-and-play compatibility.

3.5mm stereo audio cables
 Amazon

It doesn't have to be expensive, either. Great soundbars can be found for under $500. Just as with the 3.5 mm-to-RCA cable, this connection will enjoy the same benefits of sound quality and physical limitations of range.

Most all 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm stereo audio cables are comparable to each other, so overall length is likely to be the top consideration.

Smartphone/Tablet Dock

While speaker docks seem to be a little less common these days, there are plenty of universal docks that serve to charge mobile devices while maintaining an active connection to an audio system. Why fish around for power or audio cabled when a dock offers elegant simplicity?

Besides, it's easier to glance at a screen that's propped up to see what song is currently playing or up next. Tidy, organized cables are always a plus, too.

iPhone dock by Native Union
 Native Union

Some companies, such as Apple, make docks only for their own products. If you spend a little time to hunt and shop around, you may find several compatible docks made by third-party manufacturers—be sure to stick with MFi for your Apple devices. Some docks might be created for a specific model, such as Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones, or a specific connection type, like Lightning for iOS, or micro-USB for Android.

However, it's more common to find docks with a universal mount, allowing you to plug your own product cables to connect to audio inputs for stereo systems. instead of through the dock itself.

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