Monday, June 7, 2010

Turning Your iPhone Into A Music Machine

This is a slight departure from my normal blog entries. I’ve categorized my blog into three categories: Vodou, Spirituality and Life. This one fits nicely into the life category.

I love music. From an early age, I sang, played instruments and collected recorded music. I have a good collection, it’s grown and shrunken over the years. I know some people have more and I’m comfortable with that. I’ve had 8-tracks, records, cassettes, CDs and lately it’s all digital. It feels slightly retro that my early digital music was sampled at a lower bit rate to save hard drive space, it sounds slightly compressed and scratchy, like an aged cassette. Most of my current purchases and rips of CDs just purchased (all fitting within the DMCA) are of a much higher sampling, sounding new, crisp and clear. I wish my entire collection was digital. It keeps me from digging in the car looking for “that disc”, the one that my 6 disc changer ate (it died with a legendary 100 discs in that 6 disc changer – anything missing was assumed by my wife and I to be in it).

Still I buy music, go to concerts and listen to music via radio and Internet. The Internet is amazing for this. I listen to local radio (The Current), Sirius XM and Pandora to help find new music. I test drive purchases via Rhapsody, making sure I don’t get burnt (like I did recently with MGMT buying before trying).

The problem with portable media like iPhones/iPods and MP3 players is you usually get low quality headphones and speakers to play it through. We used to do this. It was sad and disappointing. Then I discovered Bluetooth A2DP.

It all started with Bluetooth 2.0. I had a computer or two that were equipped and I had a pair of Plantronics headphones that doubled as a phone headset. That was the beginning of moving in the right direction, but not quite there yet. If I had my way, every car and home stereo would have Bluetooth stereo audio receivers built into them. They don’t.

I understand true audiophiles will say, Bluetooth compresses audio, it’s not pure. Well my MP3 collection is already compressed and I can’t hear the difference. So I don’t really care. Give me the wireless option, I’ll be happy.

So I set out to change that. And I made my iPhone into an audio powerhouse.

Trick out your Amplifier / Receiver

Sony Two-Way Bluetooth Adapter I started by purchasing a Bluetooth receiver for the stereo, the home stereo with the big high-quality speakers. I opted for a Sony Bluetooth 2-way radio (sends or receives). There are others that will likely do the same thing and I’m not meaning to pimp Amazon or Sony, I’m sure you can find many devices and places to buy similar items; read the comments. I added a mini-headphone jack-to-RCA adapter from Radio Shack. Viola! Instant iPhone connection to my home stereo delivering my music to my sweet speakers.

Add Music Apps

iPodPandoraRhapsody Besides my iPhone’s iPod, I added apps. I already had my music collection present and ready to play wirelessly. I added Pandora, which at the time of this writing is still free on the iPhone. Pandora is great for finding music similar to stuff I already like. Then I added Rhapsody. This lets me test drive my purchases before I commit. The 2.0 app lets me stream, the same way it does to my computer, to one iPhone. Enter bliss. I can now listen to my music, discover new music and test drive before I buy – all to the home stereo.

Rhapsody is a fee-based service. Although I say I test drive before I buy, I’m sure I buy more than I normally would have without it. After streaming an album a few times, I usually want to have it if I haven’t grown sick of it. Not to mention Pandora and Rhapsody are battery killers if they’re running off of 3G.

imageFurthering my discovery of new music, I have Shazam. If you haven’t used it, it records and analyzes the music playing through the iPhone’s mic, uploads the sample and tells you what it is. It’s useful if you’re someplace and you are hearing something really great playing, like a coffee shop. I can then save it for later to stream via Rhapsody. It’s a wonderful combination.

What If You Don’t Have a Ton of Money?

If you don’t have the money to burn on a Bluetooth receiver, we started with that mini-headphone jack into the stereo and plugged it into the iPhone/iPod, a cheap Radio Shack purchase. It’s a huge quality improvement in sound, but lacks the remote control DJ capability you have with Bluetooth. As well, you don’t need an iPhone. You can vary the equipment and probably use other phones.

My computer also plays off the stereo via Bluetooth, but I could use that same cable to plug the computer or laptop into the speakers and do all the above with a myriad of Internet-sourced music.

You can certainly do without Rhapsody if you don’t want to pay the monthly subscription. I know there are other apps. I have a few Internet radio stations (The Current, WWOZ) on my phone as well. You can stream a lot of stations.

You can add Sirius XM radio streaming to the iPhone, even if you don’t have a Sirius or XM radio, but that’s an extra fee I haven’t justified. If it was free like it used to be with the radio subscription ….

I however am happy. I can carry the phone to the kitchen or the couch and DJ. This is certainly splurge, but for the music junky, a different kind of bliss than I usually write about.


  1. I'd be happy to take that copy of "The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads" you have on vinyl off your hands. I might even have a really good rip of the CD to trade you for it! :-)

  2. Michael, you'd be angry with me if you knew both where it was and how it's being stored.

    How did Billy Joel title it? Songs from the Attic?