Breathe New Life Into an Old iPod Hi-Fi by Connecting Your iPad | Here’s How

Apple iPod Hi Fi Credit: teoruiz / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Cropped
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Long before the HomePod was even a gleam in Apple’s eye, the company actually made its first foray into the home speaker market with the iPod Hi-Fi.

Compared to the considerably more elegant HomePod, Apple’s first speaker was a big, clunky white box. It also featured no wireless connectivity at all; instead, you were required to perch a traditional iPod on top to drive playback from there.

It was very much a product of the iPod era, but it was also the last harbinger of a generation that was about to come to an end.

Apple released the iPod Hi-Fi on February 28, 2006, only five days after it announced that the billionth song had been downloaded from the iTunes Store. However, this was also less than a year before Steve Jobs famously unveiled the company’s first iPhone in January 2007. Apple’s first speaker didn’t last very long after that, either — it was unceremoniously discontinued on September 5, 2007, the same day that Apple introduced the first iPod touch.

From the beginning, the iPod Hi-Fi was an odd sort of product. According to our sources, Apple had hired an engineer from Klipsch to head things up, since then, as now, its focus was on providing great audio quality before anything else.

In that respect, the iPod Hi-Fi succeeded. It produced incredibly great sound at high volumes with basically zero distortion, and it could do this while running in six D-cell batteries. It was a great party speaker, even if it was more “luggable” than “portable,” but it also didn’t come cheap.

In fact, its $349 price tag made it more expensive than most of the iPods you’d be using it with. While its connectivity wasn’t quite as limited as the HomePod — it did offer a 3.5mm input jack that also supported optical audio — it was still clearly built with iPod owners in mind.

Despite this, the iPod Hi-Fi gained a niche fan base, and many held on to their Apple speakers long after they were discontinued. In fact, I still have two of them in my home, although I haven’t used a Dock Connector with them in years. Instead, the audio input jack serves well as a way of streaming music to them using AirPlay adapters.

That doesn’t mean the dock is completely obsolete, however. Even though it’s an old-school 30-pin Dock Connector, where there’s a will, there’s a way, as YouTuber Niles Mitchell demonstrates in his latest technology pairing project: Linking up a 2021 sixth-generation iPad mini to a 2006 iPod Hi-Fi.

Connecting a Modern iPad
to an Old iPod Hi-Fi

Mitchell’s YouTube channel, Will It Work? has become a great source of entertainment for those who enjoy seeing eclectic pieces of technology working together, but it’s also a great way to get some insight into the history of Apple products and how things used to work.

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In the past, we’ve seen Mitchell pairing up a 1977 Atari Joystick with an iPhone X, and even turn an iPhone into a vintage DOS gaming PC. He’s also demonstrated how a Windows Phone can scan an AirTag, how to control a VCR using Siri on a HomePod mini, and what you can do with the Lightning port on an iPod nano.

Today, however, he’s once again crossing the generation gap between Apple products, taking Apple’s newest iPad — the sixth-generation iPad mini that came out last fall — and figuring out how to connect it to the iPod Hi-Fi.

Of course, since the iPod Hi-Fi has an auxiliary in port on the back, one could just run an audio cable between the devices. That would be too easy, however, and besides, you wouldn’t be able to charge the iPad mini nor take full advantage of the iPod Hi-Fi’s remote control.

So, Mitchell set out to figure out exactly how to mate up a 30-pin Dock Connector — tech that was discontinued in 2012 — with the USB-C port found on the latest iPad mini.

It actually turns out that the whole process is much more convoluted than you’d expect, and while it’s unlikely that most folks will ever want to bother doing this themselves, the video does provide a really fascinating look into how these two pieces of Apple technology fit together — and much of what came in between.

As Mitchell notes in the video, Apple does provide a 30-pin Dock Connector to Lightning adapter, which we’ve talked about in the past. However, it appears that even today’s Lightning-based devices no longer work with this adapter.

Although it’s been years since I’ve bothered to try connecting an iPhone to either of my iPod Hi-Fi speakers, I confirmed Mitchell’s findings that this no longer works reliably with recent iOS versions. An old iPhone and iPod touch running iOS 10 both work as well as they ever did, but my iPhone 12 Pro Max with iOS 15 does not.

However, the iPad mini 6 has a USB-C port, so that complicates things even more. While third-party USB-C to Lightning adapters are available, they either pass audio or they pass power, but there are no single adapters that do both. Further, none of the adapters that Mitchell was able to find would pass any kind of control signals. From what we understand of Apple’s Dock Connector and Lightning connectors, that’s not particularly surprising.

Mitchell’s experiment was also complicated by the fact that the iPod Hi-Fi uses FireWire based charging. As he explains in the video, the original iPods charged and synced only over Apple’s FireWire connection, which provided 12V charging power. Back then, FireWire was the dominant port on Apple’s Macs, so that made sense.

Since Windows PCs rarely had FireWire ports, Apple had little choice but to gradually move to USB, first for syncing, and then ultimately for charging. This transition began with the third-generation iPod in 2003, which synced over USB and charged over FireWire. Apple actually bundled a dual-headed cable so Windows users could charge and sync their iPods at the same time, by plugging the FireWire end into a wall adapter and the USB end into their computer.

By the time the fourth-generation iPod was released in 2004, Apple had rectified this and moved fully to USB charging, but it never fully left FireWire behind, at least not for the classic iPod models. FireWire sync disappeared with the fifth-generation iPod in 2005 (also known as the “iPod with video”), but even the last iPod classic, released in 2009, still supported the 12V FireWire charging — and therefore still fully works with the iPod Hi-Fi.

Notably, the very first iPhone also supported FireWire charging, as did the first-generation iPod touch. However, those were the only iOS devices to ever do so. I’m guessing that’s because the iPod Hi-Fi was still on the market when those came out, but it’s probably no coincidence that it was discontinued the same day the first iPod touch arrived.

For Mitchell’s experiment, however, this meant drawing the 12V power from the necessary pins in the Dock Connector and passing it over to the 5V lines required by the USB standard. Fortunately, Scosche solved that years ago with the PassPort adapter, and Mitchell managed to get his hands on one of its dock-based versions.

As an alternative to Apple’s own Lightning to 30-pin Dock Connector, Mitchell also tracked down an old CableJive dockBoss adapter, which was designed to bypass the Lightning port entirely, allowing users to pull audio and USB leads out of the 30-pin Dock Connector.

With the dockBoss, a standard 3.5mm audio jack provides the audio stream, which fortunately wasn’t locked down in the Dock Connector days — it was already an analog signal, so it’s just a matter of passing the connection through — while a USB-A port passes through charging power and data signals.

With that taken care of on the iPod Hi-Fi side, all that remained was to patch the audio and USB signals to the USB-C port on the iPad mini, which is trivial by comparison. Many modern adapters exist for this purpose, so Mitchell used a UGreen adapter. Mitchell adds a USB-C dock to this just to add a bit of extra elegance to the experiment by standing the iPad mini up on top of the iPod Hi-Fi, but strictly speaking, that part is more about aesthetics than anything else.

While it was fair to assume that the power and audio wouldn’t be a problem, what was pleasantly surprising was that Mitchell’s experiment revealed that even the playback controls were passed successfully from the remote control on the iPod Hi-Fi into the iPad mini 6.

This meant that he was able to use the remote to start and pause playback and skip tracks, all of which passed right through the iPad mini, just like you’d expect. Volume control worked as well, but this wasn’t reflected on the iPad mini; instead, it just controlled the audio on the speaker end. I’ve run into similar limitations with my iPod Hi-Fi units over the years; only the iPod classic models ever worked reliably with the volume controls; even the original iPhone and iPod touch lost that integration in later firmware updates.

As mentioned earlier, it’s unlikely you’ll want to try this yourself — in the very least you might have a hard time finding the necessary adapters to pull it off, although we have to admit the large and colourful high-resolution screen certainly looks a lot better on the iPod Hi-Fi than the old iPod classic ever did.

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