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Connecting your Mac to a home stereo, iPod, iPad, musical instruments, or speakers

You can easily connect guitars, microphones, keyboards, digital music players, home stereos, and speakers to your Mac. Learn how to connect third-party audio and music devices to your Mac, and how to configure them for use.

Playing and streaming music from your Mac, iPod, or iPad

You can play music from your Mac using iTunes, or, stream it wirelessly to external speakers using an iPod, iPhone or iPad.

If you need to use a third-party audio device to connect your speakers to your Mac, it needs to be plugged-in using a FireWire, USB or S/PDIF cable.  If drivers are required for the audio device, you should install them first, before plugging the device into the Mac for the first time.  If you aren't sure if a driver needs to be installed for your audio device, check with the documentation which was included with it, or, consult the manufacturers web site.  Class compliant audio devices do not require a software driver to work with a Mac, whereas non-class compliant audio devices require a driver for correct operation.  The most obvious clues that a required driver has not been installed for a third party audio device include no sound, constantly blinking lights on the audio device itself and/or difficulty choosing the device as an input (or output) in Sound preferences.

You can also stream music (as well as videos and photos) from your iPod, iPad, or iPhone using AirPlay. Additionally, with iOS 5 or later, you can wirelessly sync your iOS device (including music) over a shared Wi-Fi connection.

Connecting your home stereo to a Mac

If you want to digitize your vinyl record or cassette tape collection, or other sound source, you can easily connect your home stereo to your computer, then use audio recording software such as GarageBand to record the music on your Mac.

To do this, you will need a USB or FireWire audio interface that has dual RCA inputs, or if your Mac has an audio input, you can use a 1/8-inch stereo mini plug to dual RCA female connectors adapter.

Follow these steps to record from your home stereo to your Mac.

  1. Connect the RCA connectors to your stereo receiver's auxiliary (Aux) output. (This may also be called "Record" or "Tape Out" on some receivers)
  2. Connect the other end of the cable either to the audio input port on your Mac, or, to your Mac-connected audio interface.
  3. Turn on your home stereo.
  4. Make sure your stereo is set to output via auxiliary.
  5. From the Apple () menu, choose System Preferences, then click Sound.
  6. Click the Input tab and select your audio interface or the audio line In.

Connecting headphones and speakers

Macs have built-in speakers, but you may also consider connecting a set of headphones for personal listening, or, connect external speakers (which are sometimes also referred to as monitors) to your computer for audio mixing or other tasks.  You don't need to install additional software unless you have a surround sound speaker system that requires a driver to be installed on your Mac.

To use headphones, just plug in your headphone cable into the headphone/line out port on your Mac, if your headphones have a 1/4-inch stereo plug, you will need a 1/4-inch stereo female phono connector to 1/8-inch stereo mini-phono plug adapter.

Depending on your speaker connections and your computer's ports, you will need to connect them to your computer's headphone/line out jack, USB port, FireWire port, or optical digital audio output port. Generally, regardless of what type of connector you use, you'll need to connect one main cable to the appropriate port on your Mac to then "feed" the audio signal to your speaker system. Please consult the instructions that came with your speakers for information and about hooking up your speaker system. Your speakers instructions may also contain suggestions for ideal speaker placement locations.

Tip: If surround sound content plays on only two speakers of a 5-speaker (or more) surround sound setup, it may indicate a configuration problem with the speakers, or the application being used to play the content on the Mac doesn't support surround sound output.  For best results, always use either the iTunes or DVD Player applications to enjoy surround sound content on your Mac.

Attaching an audio interface

Using a third-party audio interface allows you to easily and quickly record yourself singing or playing a musical instrument on your Mac, and allows you to output your Mac's audio to professional speakers even if they use different connection types than your Mac has.

If you want to record instruments on your Mac, USB or FireWire audio interface devices are the easiest and fastest way to get started!  A variety of third-party audio interfaces are available to connect your musical gear (which uses connections such as XLR, 1/4 inch phono, RCA jacks, S/PDIF or MIDI) to your Mac.

A number of third-party companies produce Mac-compatible audio interface devices that allow you to quickly and easily record yourself, including AlesisApogee DigitalDigidesignRoland, MOTU, PreSonus.

This combined FireWire/USB interface (the Audio Express by MOTU) features a built-in audio interface and supports a wide range of audio connections


Once you've selected a third-party audio interface device, install any drivers (if needed) and then connect it to your Mac.

  1. Follow the setup instructions that came with your audio interface device and install the software drivers first, as necessary.
  2. If you have a USB audio interface, connect it to a USB port on your computer, using the cable that came with your device. If you have a FireWire audio interface, attach it to your computer's FireWire port, using the appropriate FireWire cable.
  3. Turn on your audio interface and connect its accompanying power supply, if needed.
  4. To make your Mac use the audio interface as its audio input or output, choose System Preferences from the Apple () menu.
  5. From the View menu, choose Sound. This opens the Sound preferences pane.
  6. Click the Input tab.
  7. Choose your audio interface in the list to select it for use. Note: If you don't see your interface in the list, be sure that you've installed the correct driver.
  8. Click the Output tab.
  9. Choose your audio interface in the list to select it for use.

Plug in your guitar, bass, keyboard or microphone

If you are connecting a musical instrument to your Mac, its recommended that you use an audio interface as they typically provide the preamp boost needed to bring up audio levels for instruments and mics. If you don't have one but your Mac has an 1/8-inch audio input port, you can still attach a guitar, bass, or microphone.

You'll need a 1/8-inch stereo mini plug to 1/4-inch phono adapter to bridge the connection from computer to guitar, bass, or mic with 1/4-inch phono connector, or a 1/8-inch stereo mini plug to XLR connector adapter for professional mics. Many professional mics require 48-volt phantom power. These will not work plugged directly into the audio input of the computer, even with the stereo mini to XLR adapter cable.

Once you've got an adapter, simply connect the 1/8-inch mini plug end to your computer's audio input port and the other end to your instrument or microphone. From the Apple () menu, choose System Preferences, click Sound, click the Input tab, and make sure that the audio Line In is the selected input device.

Sound preferences

To use your computer's audio input port as a sound input, select it in the Sound Input pane of System Preferences

Connect a USB musical keyboard

If you have a musical USB keyboard or controller, you can easily connect it to your Mac and set it up for use. If you have a MIDI keyboard, you'll need an audio interface that contains a MIDI In and Out port. See "Attaching an Audio Interface" above.

Simply install the third-party device driver for your keyboard if needed, restart your computer if prompted and then connect the keyboard to a USB port on your Mac. From the Apple () menu, choose System Preferences, click Sound, click the Input tab, and select your keyboard controller in the list to make it the sound input source.

Learn more

See also: Setting up iTunes and DVD Player for digital surround sound.

If you're having difficulty getting MIDI devices working with your audio interface and/or Mac, try following the steps in this article using the Audio MIDI Setup application.

Important: Mention of third-party websites and products is for informational purposes only and constitutes neither an endorsement nor a recommendation. Apple assumes no responsibility with regard to the selection, performance or use of information or products found at third-party websites. Apple provides this only as a convenience to our users. Apple has not tested the information found on these sites and makes no representations regarding its accuracy or reliability. There are risks inherent in the use of any information or products found on the Internet, and Apple assumes no responsibility in this regard. Please understand that a third-party site is independent from Apple and that Apple has no control over the content on that website. Please contact the vendor for additional information.
Last Modified: Aug 25, 2014
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  • Last Modified: Aug 25, 2014
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