How can I play digital music files through a HiFi?

What Are Digital Music Files?

Digital music files like MP3, WAV, FLAC, etc. store music data as numerical values in binary code rather than physical grooves like vinyl or pits like CDs. This allows the music to be stored and transmitted efficiently using computers and the internet but can result in some data loss compared to analog sources depending on the file format.

Formats like MP3 use “lossy” compression to reduce file sizes, throwing out some audio data deemed inaudible by algorithms. According to research, this can negatively impact sound quality compared to uncompressed formats when using high-end audio equipment (source).

Other digital formats like WAV and FLAC are lossless, meaning no audio data is discarded. These can contain the full dynamic range and frequency spectrum recorded. However, physical media advocates argue analog sources like vinyl have a more natural, warm sound (source).

Why Play Digital Music Through a HiFi?

Connecting digital music files to a hi-fi provides several benefits over playing them through a smartphone or laptop speaker. The primary advantage is the ability to take advantage of the high-quality audio components in a dedicated hi-fi system. Hi-fi gear is engineered specifically for premium music playback, with features like high-powered amplifiers, audiophile-grade DACs, and large dedicated speakers [1]. This can reveal superior audio quality that may not be apparent on a mobile device. With lossless and hi-res digital files becoming increasingly common, a hi-fi lets listeners access these enhanced experiences.

Another benefit is the convenience of bringing your full digital music library into the living room or listening room. Instead of being tied to a portable device’s smaller storage capacity, connecting to a hi-fi allows instant access to entire digital music collections for uninterrupted listening [2]. For audiophiles with large lossless libraries, this enhanced convenience and accessibility can be highly appealing.

Connecting Digital Devices to a HiFi

There are several options for connecting digital devices like smartphones, tablets, computers, and digital audio players to a HiFi system in order to play digital audio files:


Many HiFi systems have a USB input that allows you to connect your digital device directly via USB cable. This usually provides a high quality digital audio signal transfer. You would need to have music files stored locally on your device. Some HiFi systems may also support USB thumb drives for playback.

As noted in How Can I Play Music From My Phone Through My Home …, one of the most basic ways to connect a smartphone to a home stereo is using a 3.5mm to RCA stereo audio cable from the headphone jack to the HiFi’s analog audio inputs.


If your HiFi system has an HDMI input, you can connect devices via HDMI cable. This allows transfer of high quality digital audio as well as video if your HiFi has video playback capability.


Many HiFi systems have digital optical (TOSlink) or coaxial inputs that allow you to connect a digital device via optical/coaxial digital audio cable. These can provide excellent quality digital audio transfer.


If your HiFi system has Bluetooth connectivity, you can wirelessly stream audio from your Bluetooth-enabled digital device. Quality can vary depending on your HiFi’s Bluetooth implementation.


Some HiFi systems offer WiFi streaming capabilities, allowing wireless streaming from WiFi-enabled devices over the same network. Quality can be excellent with modern WiFi standards.


Connecting a USB device like a phone, digital audio player, or computer is a common way to play digital audio files through a HiFi. Most modern HiFi systems have a USB input that you can use.

To connect a USB device, use a USB A to B cable (the regular rectangular USB cable that connects to most phones, tablets, computers etc.) and plug one end into your USB device and the other end into the USB input on the back of your HiFi. Make sure your device is set to output audio over USB. On Windows PCs, this may require changing the default audio output in Sound Settings to the USB device. On Android, enable USB audio routing in Developer Options.

Once connected via USB, you can play audio files directly from your device and hear them through the HiFi speakers. Most HiFis support common formats like MP3, AAC, FLAC, WAV, and AIFF over USB.

Check your HiFi manual for specifics on USB connectivity and supported formats. Some models may even allow you to control playback directly from the HiFi remote when connected via USB.


HDMI is a popular way to connect digital devices like TVs, Blu-ray players, and game consoles to a hi-fi system for audio playback. HDMI carries both video and audio signals, allowing a single cable connection between devices. Many hi-fi systems have HDMI inputs to receive audio from source devices. The key to getting audio over HDMI is to enable a feature called Audio Return Channel (ARC) on both the TV and hi-fi system.

ARC allows audio to be sent both ways on an HDMI cable – from the source device to the hi-fi, but also from the TV back to the hi-fi for TV audio playback. Most modern TVs and AV receivers support ARC, but it needs to be enabled in the device settings. With ARC enabled, the TV can send its internal smart apps audio back to the hi-fi speakers rather than relying on the TV’s built-in speakers. This ensures a high quality audio experience from streaming apps like Netflix or Spotify.

Compatible digital devices like Blu-ray players, cable boxes, and game consoles can also connect via HDMI and send audio to the hi-fi system. When shopping for a hi-fi or receiver, look for one with multiple HDMI inputs to allow connection of multiple source devices. Using ARC over HDMI provides a high quality digital audio connection from modern digital devices to a hi-fi system.



Optical and coaxial are digital audio connections that can transfer uncompressed stereo PCM audio between devices. They use fiber optic cables or electrical coaxial cables to transmit digital data without converting it back to an analog signal.

Both optical and coaxial connections support two-channel stereo PCM audio up to 192kHz/24-bit, which is higher than CD quality audio. This makes them a great option for getting pure digital audio from your computer, TV, Blu-ray player, game consoles, audio streamers, and other devices into your HiFi system.

Compatible sources include computers with optical/coaxial digital outputs, TVs, set-top boxes, Blu-ray/DVD players, CD players, streaming boxes, satellite/cable receivers, video game systems, and portable audio players with digital outputs. Just connect them directly to your amplifier, receiver, or DAC using an optical or coaxial cable.

The main benefits of using the optical or coaxial inputs are that they provide an uncompressed stereo digital signal to your HiFi, avoid conversion to analog and back, and allow you to take advantage of high-resolution audio capabilities if your equipment supports it.


Bluetooth allows you to wirelessly stream audio from your phone, tablet, or computer to your HiFi system. To use Bluetooth, you first need to pair your phone or device to the HiFi. The HiFi system will have a pairing mode that allows it to discover and connect with Bluetooth devices. Make sure Bluetooth is enabled on your device, then initiate pairing mode on the HiFi – you’ll then be able to discover the HiFi from your Bluetooth settings and complete pairing.

Once paired, you can stream audio over Bluetooth from apps on your device to the HiFi. One consideration with Bluetooth is audio quality, as Bluetooth uses lossy compression which can reduce audio quality compared to a direct wired connection. However, modern Bluetooth versions like 5.0 support improved audio codecs like aptX and AAC for better quality. Just make sure your HiFi system and playback device both support the same high quality Bluetooth audio profile. The A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) is the key profile that handles high quality stereo Bluetooth streaming.

Bluetooth range is another factor – while modern Bluetooth can reach up to 800 feet or more, the effective range can vary a lot depending on interference. Keep your device within about 30 feet of the HiFi for optimal connectivity. Going beyond that range can cause issues like audio cutting out. Staying closer gives you the most reliable wireless streaming experience.



WiFi allows you to stream music wirelessly from a phone, tablet, computer or music server to your HiFi system. There are several main protocols that enable WiFi streaming including:


AirPlay is an Apple proprietary protocol that allows you to stream from Apple devices like iPhones, iPads and Macs to AirPlay compatible speakers. The audio is compressed while streaming over WiFi but still provides excellent sound quality.


DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) is an open standard that allows devices on a home network to discover and connect with each other. You can stream music from a DLNA compatible phone, PC or NAS drive to a DLNA enabled HiFi system.


Chromecast Audio is a small dongle from Google that plugs into your HiFi and allows you to cast music from hundreds of compatible apps on your phone or tablet. The audio streams directly from the internet rather than your phone for reliable streaming.

Digital Audio Players

Digital audio players offer dedicated playback of digital audio files and can connect to a HiFi system to output CD-quality or high-resolution audio (1). There are several options for digital audio players that work well with HiFi systems:

CD players with digital outputs – Many modern CD players include digital outputs like optical, coaxial, or HDMI that can connect to a HiFi’s digital input. This takes the audio signal directly from the CD decoding and outputs it digitally without extra analog conversions (2).

Media streamers – Streamers like the Bluesound Node or the Cambridge Audio CXN can connect wirelessly to your home network and stream audio services or music files. They include digital outputs to send the audio digitally to your HiFi (3).

Dedicated audio players – Brands like Astell & Kern, Sony, and Fiio make dedicated digital audio players designed specifically for audio playback. Many models include digital outputs like USB, optical, or coaxial to connect digitally to a HiFi (4). These players support lossless files like FLAC and WAV for high-resolution playback.

Using a digital audio player with a digital output bypasses the HiFi’s analog inputs for the cleanest signal path. Models that support lossless file formats can provide CD-quality or even high-resolution audio when connected digitally to a HiFi system (5).





Audio File Format Considerations

When playing digital music files through a HiFi system, the audio file format is an important consideration for optimal sound quality. Some key factors regarding formats include:

File Formats

Lossless formats like FLAC, WAV, Apple Lossless (ALAC), and AIFF preserve all the original audio data and quality. Lossy formats like MP3 and AAC compress the audio by removing some data. For the best HiFi sound, lossless is recommended.


Higher bitrates allow more audio data to be stored per second of playback. For lossy formats, aim for 320kbps minimum for decent quality, but lossless has no set bitrate limit and preserves all the original data.

Sampling Rates

Higher sampling rates (44.1kHz, 48kHz, 96kHz etc.) allow higher frequency content above human hearing to be captured and reproduced. Aim for ≥44.1kHz, but ideally 96kHz or 192kHz for optimal HiFi performance.


Make sure the HiFi system and connected digital devices support your desired file formats. FLAC and WAV have the widest compatibility. Check your digital audio players, smartphones, streaming services etc. for format support.

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