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

Learn how to connect to and use Apple devices, third-party audio, and musical instruments with your Mac.

Play and stream music from your Mac, iPod, or iPad

There are several ways to play music from your Mac:

  • Use iTunes  
  • Stream it wirelessly to external speakers
  • Use AirPlay
  • Sync your iOS device (including music) over a shared Wi-Fi connection

You can use a third-party audio device to connect speakers to your Mac. Plug it in with a FireWire, USB, Thunderbolt or S/PDIF cable. Install drivers for the audio device, if needed, before you plug the device into the Mac. Check the manual or go to the manufacturer’s website if you aren't sure if it needs a driver. Plug-and-play audio devices don’t need a software driver to work with a Mac. You need to install a driver if:

  • There’s no sound
  • The lights on the audio device blink constantly
  • You can’t choose the device as an input (or output) in Sound preferences

Connect your home stereo to a Mac

If you want to digitize your vinyl record, cassette tape collection, or other sound source, you can connect your home stereo to your computer. Then use GarageBand to record the music on your Mac.

You need a USB or FireWire audio interface that has dual RCA inputs. If your Mac has an audio input, you can use a 1/8-inch stereo mini plug.

To record from your home stereo to your Mac, follow these steps:

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

Connect headphones and speakers

Macs have built-in speakers, but you can also connect a set of headphones or external speakers to your computer. You don't need to install additional software unless you have a surround sound speaker system.

To use headphones, plug in your headphone cable into the headphone/line out port on your Mac. If your headphones have a 1/4-inch stereo plug, connect a 1/4-inch stereo female phono to 1/8-inch stereo mini-phono plug adapter.

Connect your speakers  to your Mac's headphone/line out jack, USB port, FireWire port, or optical digital audio output port. For help hooking up your speaker system, read the documentation that came with it.

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

Attaching an audio interface

You can use a third-party audio interface to record yourself singing or playing a musical instrument on your Mac. You can also output your Mac's audio to professional speakers.

If you want to record instruments on your Mac, use USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire audio interface devices. You can use XLR, 1/4-inch phono, RCA, S/PDIF, or MIDI.

Some Mac compatible interfaces are AlesisApogee DigitalRoland, MOTU, and PreSonus.

Combined FireWire/USB interface (the Audio Express by MOTU) features a built-in audio interface.

Download and install the latest drivers for your audio interface. Then connect the device to your Mac and follow these steps:

  1. If you have a USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt audio interface, connect it to the corresponding port on your Mac.
  2. If your audio interface has a power supply, connect it. Then turn on your audio interface.
  3. To make your Mac use the audio interface as its audio input or output, go to Apple () menu > System Preferences.
  4. Click Sound.
  5. Click the Input tab.
  6. Select your audio interface in the list. If you don't see your interface in the list, make sure that you've installed the correct driver.
  7. Choose the Output tab.
  8. Select your audio interface in the list.

Plug in your guitar, bass, keyboard, or microphone

If you want to connect a musical instrument to your Mac, use an audio interface device. They provide the preamp boost that you need to bring up audio levels for instruments and mics.

If you don't have one, you can attach your instrument to your Mac's 1/8-inch audio input port. Use a 1/8-inch stereo mini plug to 1/4-inch phono adapter/connector to bridge the connection from computer to guitar, bass, or mic with 1/4-inch phono connector. To connect a professional microphone, use a 1/8-inch stereo mini plug to XLR connector adapter. Many professional microphones require 48-volt phantom power. If you plug them directly into the audio input of the computer, they won’t work. Use an adapter to connect the 1/8-inch mini plug end to your computer's audio input port and the other end to your microphone. 

From the Apple () menu > choose System Preferences,  Sound > Input tab. Make sure that the audio Line In is the selected input device.

To use your computer's audio input port as a sound input, go to System Preferences > Sound Input .

Connect a musical USB keyboard

If you have a MIDI keyboard, you’ll need audio interface that has a MIDI In and Out port. Otherwise, follow the steps to connect your Mac to a musical USB keyboard or controller.

  1. If your keyboard needs a third-party device driver, install it. 
  2. If prompted, restart your computer, and connect the keyboard to a USB port on your Mac. 
  3. Go to Apple () menu > System Preferences > Sound > Input tab
  4. Select your keyboard controller in the list.

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