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 sleeker HomePod, Apple’s first speaker was a big, clunky white box. It also featured no wireless connectivity; instead, you had 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 end.
Apple released the iPod Hi-Fi on February 28, 2006just five days later he announced that the billionth song had been downloaded from the iTunes Store. However, that was also less than a year before Steve Jobs 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 as Apple introduced the first iPod touch.
From the start, the iPod Hi-Fi was a strange product. According to our sources, Apple had hired an engineer from Klipsch to run things, since then, as now, its focus was on delivering excellent audio quality above anything else.
In this regard, the iPod Hi-Fi succeeded. It sounded incredibly good at high volumes with virtually no distortion, and it could do so while running off six D batteries. but neither was it cheap.
In fact, its $349 price tag made it more expensive than most iPods you’d use it with. While its connectivity wasn’t as limited as the HomePod – it offered a 3.5mm input jack that also supported optical audio – it was still clearly designed for iPod owners.
Despite this, the iPod Hi-Fi gained a niche fanbase, and many kept their Apple speakers long after they were discontinued. In fact, I still have two in my house, even though I haven’t used a Dock Connector with them in years. Instead, the audio-in jack lets them stream music using AirPlay adapters.
That doesn’t mean the dock is completely obsolete, though. 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 tech pairing project: Connecting a 2021 sixth-generation iPad mini to a 2006 iPod Hi-Fi.
Connect 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 like to see eclectic technologies working together, but it’s also a great way to get a glimpse into the history of Apple products and how things worked before.
In the past, we’ve seen Mitchell pair a 1977 Atari joystick with an iPhone X, and even turn an iPhone into a vintage DOS gaming PC. He also showed 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.
Now, however, he’s bridging the generation gap between Apple products again, taking Apple’s latest iPad – the sixth-generation iPad mini released last fall – and figuring out how to connect it to the iPod Hi-Fi.
Of course, since the iPod Hi-Fi has an auxiliary input port on the back, one can simply run an audio cable between the devices. However, that would be too easy and, moreover, you would not be able to charge the iPad mini or take full advantage of the iPod Hi-Fi remote control.
So Mitchell set out to figure out exactly how to mate a 30-pin Dock connector – technology 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 a lot more complicated than expected, and while most people aren’t likely to want to go through the trouble of doing it themselves, the video does offer some really insight. fascinating how these two pieces of Apple technology fit together – and much of what happened in between.
As Mitchell notes in the video, Apple provides a 30-pin Dock Connector to Lightning adapter, which we’ve talked about in the past. However, it seems that even today’s Lightning-based devices no longer work with this adapter.
Although it’s been years since I’ve bothered trying to connect an iPhone to one of my iPod Hi-Fi speakers, I’ve confirmed Mitchell’s findings that it no longer works reliably with recent versions of iOS. An older iPhone and iPod touch running iOS 10 both work as well as ever, but not my iPhone 12 Pro Max with iOS 15.
However, the iPad mini 6 has a USB-C port, which complicates things even further. Although third-party USB-C to Lightning adapters are available that transmit either audio or power, but no single adapter does both. Also, none of the adapters Mitchell could find would transmit any type of control signal. 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 load. As he explains in the video, the original iPods charged and synced only through Apple’s FireWire connection, which provided 12V charging power. At the time, FireWire was the dominant port on iPods. Mac from Apple, so it made sense.
Since Windows PCs rarely had FireWire ports, Apple had no choice but to gradually switch to USB, first for syncing and then eventually for charging. This transition began with the third-generation iPod in 2003, which synced via USB and charged via FireWire. Apple actually provided a two-pronged 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 that and moved entirely to USB charging, but it never completely abandoned FireWire, at least not for classic iPod models. FireWire syncing disappeared with the fifth generation iPod in 2005 (also known as “iPod with video”), but even the latest iPod classic, released in 2009, still supported 12V FireWire charging – and therefore still works perfectly with iPod Hi-Fi.
Notably, the very first iPhone also supported FireWire charging, as did the first-generation iPod touch. However, these are the only iOS devices to do so. I guess it’s because the iPod Hi-Fi was still on the market when these came out, but it’s probably no coincidence that it was discontinued the same day the first one arrived iPod touch.
For Mitchell’s experience, however, that meant pulling the 12V power from the necessary Dock Connector pins and passing it to the 5V lines required by the USB standard. Fortunately, Scosche solved this problem years ago with the PassPort adapterand Mitchell managed to get his hands on one of his dock-based versions.
As an alternative to Apple’s own Lightning to 30-pin Dock connector, Mitchell has also found an old CableJive dockBoss adapterwhich has been designed to bypass the Lightning port entirely, allowing users to remove audio and USB cables from the 30-pin Dock connector.
With the dockBoss, a standard 3.5mm audio jack provides the audio stream, which luckily wasn’t locked down in the days of the Dock Connector – it was already an analog signal, so just pass the connection – while that a USB-A port passes through the charging power and data signals.
With that supported on the iPod Hi-Fi side, all that remained was to patch the audio and USB signals to the iPad mini’s USB-C port, 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 experience by placing the iPad mini on top of the Hi-Fi iPod, but strictly speaking that part is more a matter of aesthetics than anything else.
If it were fair to assume that power and audio wouldn’t be an issue, what was pleasantly surprising was that Mitchell’s experiment found that even playback commands passed successfully from the remote control from iPod Hi-Fi to iPad mini 6. .
That meant he could use the remote to start and pause playback and skip tracks, all of which passed directly through the iPad mini, as you’d expect. The volume control also worked, but that wasn’t reflected on the iPad mini; instead, it just controlled the speaker-side audio. I’ve encountered similar limitations with my iPod Hi-Fi units over the years; only iPod classic models worked reliably with volume controls; even the original iPhone and iPod touch lost this integration in later firmware updates.
As mentioned, you’re unlikely to want to try it yourself – at the very least, you might struggle to find the necessary adapters to remove it, although we have to admit the large, colorful high-res screen looks like certainly to a much better on the iPod Hi-Fi than the old iPod classic ever did.