How to Stream Your Music Collection Through an Old Hi-fi

Old Hi-Fi

How to stream your music collection from its digital storage to your music player? With modern audio equipment, that’s often built in. But what about older, still-loved hi-fi that doesn’t have that capability?

Use Those Speakers

When we’re out and about, a common way to listen to music is through headphones or earbuds. Back at home however, we probably have far better speakers, to do our tunes more justice. If your mobile device is an iPod or similar, it may have a docking station that is itself hi-fi or is connected to one, so problem solved. However, if you use your phone or your computer as your music storage, the question of connection arises.

We’re going to look at three ways of doing this, at three different levels of complexity. But as that complexity increases, so does the scope of capabilities and the convenience in use.

Run a Cable

Stream Your Music Collection - Stereo lead, 3.5mm Jack to RCA phono

Image courtesy Neet Cables.

The simplest way is to run a cable from the headphone output of your phone, pad or computer to the auxiliary input of the hi-fi. It’s also the cheapest method, as a cable like the one shown costs only a few pounds. There is a 3.5mm stereo jack plug at one end and at the other, RCA phono plugs for left and right channels. Cables like this are available in a range of lengths.

It is however, an antiquated solution. It works perhaps for a table top, but several metres of cable running along a carpet, even temporarily, is hazardous and untidy. The kids and dogs will trip over it. The cat will prey on it. There may well be spousal complaints. Furthermore, the longer the cable, the heavier; and a 3.5mm jack socket is meant to carry a signal, not a weight. You’re putting that fragile connection under strain.

We live in a wireless age. In some respects, there are better ways than running a cable.

Go Bluetooth

Most, if not all modern smartphones and laptops have Bluetooth. Admittedly an older hifi may not. Neither may an inexpensive, everyday one. Nor, curiously, might a very expensive, purist system have Bluetooth functionality. No bother – the solution is at hand.

Stream Your Music Collection - Bluetooth Audio Adaptor

Bluetooth audio adaptor

It comes in the form of a Bluetooth audio adaptor. There are several of these with similar functionality. The one shown here cost me around £12 (US $15 – $16). It has a 3.5mm stereo jack socket and comes with a stereo link to connect to the hi-fi.

Bluetooth is a form of radio with a deliberately very short range. It is really meant for enabling a very personal network of devices. Use the Bluetooth on your phone or other computing device to seek out local Bluetooth devices in the same room. When it finds the adaptor, then your device must ‘pair’ with it.

Essentially, this replaces the cable of the previous solution. You play the music on your device, it passes through Bluetooth radio to the adaptor connected to the hi-fi. In effect, the hi-fi is behaving as your device’s wireless headphones.

Keep in Mind

This tiny adaptor can be very discreet, even hiding under your stereo amplifier, and the connecting cable goes to the back of the amplifier, out of sight. It is a tidy solution; but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

The gadget needs power, so its built-in battery must be charged. The charging socket is USB, so it plugs in as your phone does. The battery will have a life of a few hours, so if you use it all day or every day, charging will be a consideration.

Another issue I have found is an apparent cost to audio quality. Compared with wired routes, music sent over Bluetooth seems to lose some of its crispness. Not exactly muffled, but neither is it perfect.

The DLNA Way

We’ve looked at DLNA in an earlier Can-You-Whistle-It article. Your stored music is served from a computer, to any other DLNA-compatible device on the network. Where that capability does not exist in your hi-fi, you don’t need to replace the hi-fi. That’s because DLNA adaptors exist, so you can retrofit that function.

Stream Your Music Collection - Neet 'Airstream Pro' DLNA Audio Player

Image courtesy Neet Cables

The adaptor shown is the Neet Airstream Pro. Unlike the Bluetooth solution described above, it is mains-powered, so there are no concerns about charging.  And just as the Bluetooth adaptor, it comes with a connector cable that plugs into your stereo’s AUX socket. However, it also has an optical out; so if your hi-fi has an optical input, use it instead of the phono lead, for clearer sound.

Control of the stream comes from a DLNA app running on your phone or pad. The stream passes through your device, and plays on a network connection between your DLNA server and the Airstream.

Stream Your Music Collection - Android DLNA Select Renderer screenThe way it works is that you use the app to select the music. Next the app looks around your network for all available DLNA devices, including the app itself. So you also get to choose which music system plays the output.

Wired or Wireless?

Like all DLNA devices, the Airstream must be connected to a computer network, where a DLNA media server is running. Of course the two ways of doing that are wired and wireless. Of these, wireless is the quickest and cheapest to set up – but it’s also the less reliable.

To stream your music collection through a wireless network puts demands on an already busy system. If there are other phones and pads in the household, also competing for the limited capacity of wireless, the network may not cope too well. Also, your wireless network is probably using the busy 2.4GHz band, which is used by just about everything from your microwave oven to your baby monitor, and probably next door’s as well. The scope for interference in that band is huge. On any wireless audio player, you may get away with it and run problem-free. But you may also experience dropouts, where the music suddenly ceases to play, mainly due to network congestion. For me, losing a good song halfway through is unacceptable.

That’s the reason I’m drawn to the Airstream Pro above. It’s also why I’ve chosen to show you the back of the machine rather than the front. For there, next to the rightly disconnected wireless aerial, is that precious RJ45 LAN socket. That means this gadget plugs right into the network, making it rather less likely to suffer interference with its communications, and consequent dropouts.

Stream Your Music Collection

For me, any permanently installed music player must be able to play from our music library. That means it must connect to the network. And for increased reliability of the stream, that must be via a network cable.

Network connectivity is de rigeur for so much audio-visual technology nowadays. So as more and more networkable technology comes into the household, I’m now insisting that if it isn’t actually mobile, it must have an RJ45 socket and it will be wired to the network, not wireless. This is so its network operation is less likely to be interrupted, and so it does not interrupt anything else that doesn’t have the luxury of a wired connection.

Of course that insistence is creating a new problem of actually connecting all this machinery up, to get the best out of it. That means paying attention to the household network. That’s the subject of a separate article.


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