Accessorize Your iPod®
Making the most of your favorite portable
Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.
More from Ralph Graves
If you have an iPod, congratulations. You're the proud owner of one of the most popular — and versatile — portable digital media players on the planet. And while your iPod can do a lot on its own, the wide variety of accessories made for it can help you get the most entertainment out of your player. Whether you own a compact iPod shuffle® , iPod nano®, iPod classic®, or the advanced iPod touch®, coupling it with the right accessories can make a world of difference.
More power to your player
Your iPod came with a USB cable that you use to charge the player's battery via connection to your computer. But what if you don't feel like fishing around the back of your computer for a free USB port every time your iPod needs a charge?
That's where an iPod Dock comes in. Simply place the player in the Dock, and you've got an easy, always-available way to power your player and transfer songs and shows. You can also find models specially made to connect to certain brands of home receivers, so you can control your iPod with your receiver's remote.
Of course, chargers are available for listening in the car, too; they plug into your car's cigarette lighter. With the right power accessory, the music doesn't need to stop when your iPod's battery is drained.
Listening options on-the-go and at home
Possibilities abound for listening to your iPod on the go. One of the first accessories many iPod owners pick up is a nice set of headphones. The quality of headphones ranges widely from affordable "sport" designs to noise-canceling models with impressive bass and clarity.
Our Learning Center article Headphones: How to Choose has more helpful suggestions.
At home, you can choose from an impressive array of speaker possibilities. There are mono, stereo, and even 2.1-channel speaker systems custom-designed for getting full, warm sound from your iPod — plus, you always have the option of connecting your iPod to your home A/V system. Best of all, many systems are styled to match the iPod's sleek looks. Here's a sample of what's available:
|The Bose® SoundDock® 10 digital music system provides a remote to control your iPod with.|
iPod Speakers — While some of these systems connect to your iPod through a stereo minijack cable, most feature a built-in Dock connector. Just slip your player onto the speaker system, and enjoy the sound. Many are also portable, so you can take them to a friend's house, the basketball court, or anywhere you want to listen. They often provide the option of using batteries (usually "AA"s) or AC power. Some include an AM/FM radio. Higher-end systems can work well as a permanent sound system for an office or dorm room. Many include a remote.
[Shop our selection if iPod speaker systems.]
Computer speakers — Some speaker systems designed to provide multichannel sound from your computer can also work with your iPod. These systems connect to your player quickly and easily via a stereo minijack cable. And since many include subwoofers, they can deliver even more room-filling sound than systems with built-in Dock connectors.
[Shop our selection of computer speaker systems.]
Integrating your iPod into your home audio/video system
You've got an impressive collection of music and video on your iPod. Why not enjoy it through your best speakers and your flat panel TV? Many manufacturers such as Denon, Onkyo, and Yamaha offer docks specifically made for their receivers. These docks usually let your iPod's song info show on the connected receiver's display, and allow the receiver's remote to control your player.
Many generate an on-screen navigation menu for your TV. Some even have not just composite video output, but component video as well, so you can get the best quality image on your TV for your iPod's videos and photos.
A growing number of high-performance docks bypass the digital-to-analog converter (DAC) inside the iPod so that the information can be processed by the more advanced DAC in your receiver, or even an external DAC. Better home audio, Tip #11: Bypass your Ipod's DAC explains how to do this and the advantage in more detail. Our article How to Choose an iPod Dock for Your A/V System has for more helpful suggestions on how to find the best dock for your system.
There are also wireless solutions for listening to your iPod at home. Employing RF, Wi-Fi® or Bluetooth® technology, wireless transmitters plug into your iPod's headphone jack and transfer data across your living room to your receiver or powered speakers.
Apple's AirPlay® technology lets computers, iPhones® and iPod touches running iTunes® 10 (or later) quickly connect with compatible receivers and speaker systems to play music. Our Intro to Apple AirPlay explains how this works in detail.
Getting more from video and photos
Almost all iPod docks now include composite video output. Many offer component video for high-quality progressive-scan viewing. These types of video output let you connect your docked player to a TV to enjoy your iPod's video on the "big screen." And you can display photos and slideshows from your player as well — handy for sharing images with friends and family.
Extra flexibility and control
You can find all kinds of remotes that make controlling your iPod easier than ever. Some models work in the car, so you can operate your iPod without looking away from the road. Some work at home, sending an RF signal through walls to your A/V system in another room. And some strap onto your wrist, so you can control your player while it's in your pocket or bag, without having to fumble around for it.
Listening in the car
What's the best way to listen to your iPod while you drive? Well, it depends on your car's stereo, your budget, and the level of convenience and sound quality you want. You can choose a basic, inexpensive solution, or a high-end option that delivers optimal sound quality and lets you control your player using your car's radio.
Whatever option you choose, make sure you have an accessory that lets you secure your iPod in the car. Whether it's a universal mount that attaches to the car's interior, or a vehicle-specific mount that bolts onto the dash, one of these simple gadgets can help keep your iPod from flying around your car at the next sudden stop.
Now, let's take a look at what's available for getting music from your iPod to your car's radio.
- Cassette adapter — This gadget has been around for a while, and it's still as easy to use as ever. Just plug it into your iPod's headphone jack, and place the adapter in your cassette player. The resulting sound quality sounds about as good as, well, a cassette tape.
- Wireless FM transmitter — Like the cassette adapter, this device plugs into the iPod's headphone jack. But instead of using your car's cassette deck, it turns the music from your iPod into an FM signal, which it transmits to your car's radio. These devices can be powered by "AAA" batteries or your car's cigarette lighter. This option is simple and easy to install, but in some locations, interference and static can be a problem.
Getting better sound quality in your car
- Wired FM modulator — Much like a wireless FM transmitter, this device sends a signal to your car's FM radio. But unlike the wireless solution, the wired FM modulator provides a signal directly to the radio's antenna input, so the signal is much stronger. The FM modulator is still susceptible to interference from surrounding stations, however.
- Auxiliary input — Some car head units are equipped with an auxiliary input jack, which allows you to connect your iPod directly to your car's radio using a minijack-to-RCA cable. While some head units have an aux input conveniently located on the front panel, many place the aux input in back, requiring you to run the cable under the dash.
- Bluetooth adapter — If you want to connect your iPod to your car's radio wirelessly, consider the Bluetooth options. These newer adapters consist of a transmitter, which plugs into the iPod's headphone jack, and a receiver, which plugs into your head unit's auxiliary input. Sound quality is just as good as a wired connection, and without wires running to and from your dash.
|A factory stereo iPod adapter like this one from USA Spec let's you operate your iPod with your car's CD changer controls.|
Full-function options for ultra-convenient operation
The options above are partial solutions for in-car iPod listening: they let you get the music from your player to the car's radio, but you have to find separate options for securing, and maybe also charging, your iPod.
Interfaces exist, however, which let you use your car stereo (or an external remote) to control the music coming from your iPod, and to display the iPod's information on the car radio screen (or on an external display). This can make using your iPod especially convenient in vehicles that have those controls built into the steering wheel — and contribute significantly to safer driving. Plus, these solutions keep your iPod fully charged, so you don't have to worry about running down the battery.
- Factory stereo iPod adapters — These interfaces are made specifically to connect your iPod to your factory radio. They connect to your factory radio CD changer port and to the iPod, so the sound quality is optimal. They allow you to navigate through your iPod's song collection using your factory radio controls, including steering wheel controls. Some models can display the information on your iPod's menu on your factory radio's screen. This kind of adapter also charges your iPod automatically, making it ideal for long trips.
- Brand-name stereo iPod adapters — If you've upgraded your car's sound system with a brand-name stereo, chances are good that the same manufacturer now has an iPod interface available. These brand-specific adapters connect to a CD changer input, and give you the same superior sound quality as auxiliary input connections. You also get full access to the iPod's menu from your radio and a power supply to keep your iPod charged. Most brand-name radios have superior displays, which makes navigation even easier. Plus you can take full advantage of your system's sophisticated sound-shaping options, so you can get the best possible sound from your iPod's song collection.