How To Connect Android Phone, Tablet To HiFi, Home Theater
How to Connect Your Android Tablet or Smartphone to Your (old) HiFi or Home Cinema/Theatre System
It's easy, isn't it? All gadgets talk to each other these days.
To a certain extent, but even if your HiFi or Home Cinema is brand-new it may not be that straight forward. If your HiFi is quite old it will not talk to modern gadgets without a little help and how do you get the best sound quality? So here are the various options.
This can be very easy (and free) or a bit more complicated
It could cost nothing if you already have some parts lying around, a few dollars or lots if you want a really upmarket solution.
Time required: 10 minutes or a few hours
Cost: free or a couple of dollars upwards ...
- 3.5mm Jack plug to Phono / RCA cable
- USB to HDMI converter cable - Optional
- Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC) - Optional
- Soldering Iron (optional)
1. The Simplest Way to Connect An Android Tablet or Phone to a HiFi or Home Cinema System
Most tablets and phones have two main outputs: A 3.5mm jack-plug (for your headphones) and a micro USB. You may already have an appropriate cable to connect the jack plug to the amplifier, otherwise a suitable cable can be purchased for a couple of dollars, or a bit more for a better quality one (preferably with gold plated terminals) or, if you already have a good phono to phono (also called RCA) interconnect then a 3.5mm jack to RCA adapter could be used. Connect the Phono/RCA plugs to one of the available inputs on your Amplifier or Surround-sound (Home Cinema) system (make sure it is turned off with the volume turned down) then turn the system on, switch it to the appropriate source (e.g. if it is plugged into the "CD" input, select that option) play some music on the tablet or phone and gradually increase the volume and see what it sounds like. Easy!
2. Is that quality good enough? The outputs from modern portable devices are surprisingly good. If not you may have to try some other options.
I work as a silicon chip design consultant and a decade or so ago when digital audio devices (e.g. CD players) were going from multi-chip designs with separate analogue and digital chips with separate power supply rails and a DAC (digital to analogue convertor) to provide the interface to the real world , to single, tiny, "mixed-signal" chip designs, then quality of the analogue-output from the chip was compromised by the proximity to the digital signals: digital noise was contaminating the music and the on-chip DACs weren't that great either. So I have always assumed the only way to get decent "HiFi" output from a digital device was to get the digital off the chip and into a separate high-quality DAC (or one of the digital inputs on your surround sound, home theatre system) The output from the jack-plugs on some modern devices now seems to be a lot better than it was.
Using cables from the tablet or phone, the ideal connector would be a 3.5mm Mini Optical to Full Size Toslink, but most tablets do not have this output, which is a shame - It's a special optical jack-plug that fits in the head-phone socket and takes the digital signal to the optical input of your home-theatre etc. Even some modern Apple laptops no longer have this output, so failing that we need to use the micro-USB socket.
If your amplifier or home-theatre system have HDMI inputs a micro USB to HDMI adapter cable can be used to connect from the tablet or phone, but check the compatibility of your devices first and also make sure that the version of the Android operating system on the tablet allows the audio output to be send to the micro USB socket. The adapter will also probably require another standard USB socket as a power-source, so check first that this is appropriate for your setup. The advantage of this setup is you can also use it for displaying video from the portable device on your TV. If your home-theatre doesn't have HDMI inputs (mine doesn't. It's too old) you could use an HDMI input on your TV, do the DAC conversion there and use the audio output from the TV to the amplifier/theatre system (a bit convoluted) Some more modern amplifiers and home theatre systems also have USB inputs which could also be a simple solution.
3. O.K. So the options so far have been inexpensive and relatively simple, but what is the absolute best sound quality you can get from an Android phone or tablet?
An expensive stand-alone DAC (digital to analogue converter) plugged into your HiFi amplifier should give the best results. It is probably the most expensive option, but if you are using high quality digital files you should hear the benefit. The DACs in you home cinema system probably won't be as good (there may be lots of them so they need to be quite inexpensive)
4. But what if you don't want to plug you mobile device in with cables?
Good point. It's not very mobile if you have a cable attached to it.
The latest systems and TVs may already be able to talk to your mobile devices without any wires, so check what's built-in before you buy anything. With Android devices you can use Bluetooth to send the audio to your HiFi etc. although there is some additional compression of the data which may result in a noticeable drop in quality, alternatively there are "Android TV", "Miracast" and "Chromecast" which allow wireless transmission of your music and video to your TV. These are also available as dongles that can be plugged into your HDMI socket on your TV, if not already built-into your "Smart TV". Apple have similar solutions: Apple TV and AirPlay.
These wireless options are the most elegant solution, but may take a bit more time to set-up.