Grant Muller

Make Your Apple Pro Speakers Useful

appleprospeakers-2I am convinced that everything Apple develops fits in to one of two categories: awesome or suck. In the awesome category you have stuff like the iPod, iPhone, and OS X. In the suck category, iTunes, iPhotos, and ahem their font management. Many years ago, when Apple started putting an ‘i’ in front of anything to make it the future, you could get an iMac. This was a neat little machine, underpowered but fun, that my wife bought to handle some graphic design. This little machine came with a pair of speakers that only sounded alright, but were appropriately labeled ‘Apple Pro Speakers’. It was only recently that I realized which category they fit in

A while ago I decided I’d use these speakers in the workshop so I would have some tunes while I’m working on stuff. I have an old computer down there, so I hooked them up and pressed play. Nothin’. I tried them on a few devices, and realized they only worked on the iMac. Had Apple really made proprietary speakers. I did some research and sure enough, the Apple Pro Speakers will only work on a Mac. This is unacceptable.

I figured at the end of the day, a speaker is a speaker, so with the right kind of modifications these should work anywhere. I looked at the jack and found that it had three sleeves instead of the standard two. The third ring must carry a signal of some kind, meaning somewhere between the jack and the speakers there had to be logic device to prevent sound if this signal wasn’t present. This is the offending piece:

appleprospeakers-1Where the speakers meet there is a tiny round enclosure, if you cut the speakers off at this point, and rewire them to a two ring stereo jack, you have salvaged your Apple Pro Speakers. You could take it a but further though…

I had broken the head band on a pair of noise canceling headphones a while back, and they were just sitting around taking up space. The noise canceling circuit of these headphones contains an amplifier, so I figured why not use the broken headphones to power the speakers, then I can just plug my iPod in and go.

I didn’t get real fancy with this, just pulled the speakers out of the headphones, and wired up the Apple Pro speakers directly to those now unused outputs. Cheapest iPod speakers ever (as long as you don’t count the price of the iMac or the headphones that were previously broken).

appleprospeakers-3 So if you have a pair of old Apple Pro Speakers, don’t just throw them away because they suck, put them to good use.

20 comments

  1. Hello,

    I have a PowerMac G4 Sawtooth AGP I just bought and have read that these speakers don’t work with it, only later G4s (Digital Audio and later). In other sites where I read about hacking the Apple Pro speakers, when the small round junction is cut away, there are a few — 4 or 6 — wires of different colors. What was the color scheme on your Pro Speakers and the headphones you used? Could you use pair of old broken iPhone or iPod earbuds for this?

  2. @Victoria In mine, I had 3 wires per side, 1 blue, 1 white, and the shield (its just plain copper). You might have to play around with it for a while to figure out which wires are which, but since there are only 2 cables carrying any audio, you’re talking about a maximum of 16 combination’s (would be 32 if polarity wasn’t a concern).

    You should be able to use a pair of old iPod earbuds for this, but as I understand it, those cables are standard. No pass-thru pin to protect you from using them on other devices.

  3. Hi Grant, thank you very much for your help. I was searching so long time for exatly that subject. Well, what i would like is an advice how I could plug these speakers to an amplifier, so that I could be more flexible. Well, in the end, it should be possible to plug any Speaker to an amplifier, because each speaker has a Plus and Minus pole wich can be connected to an amplifier. Did you see, wich cable is the plus?

    Sorry, I hope you understand me, I’m swiss and my motherlanguage is German.

    Hope to get an answer from you. Kindest regards Cristina

    1. No problem, you should have just asked in Swiss German, I have plenty of friends who could have translated that for me very easily 🙂

      I just did a typical check if the speaker by plugging in a small battery (like a double AA or something), into the speaker wires. What you do is touch the positive terminal and the negative terminal of the battery to each speaker wire. If the speaker “pushes” outward, than you have the phase correct (meaning that the wire touching the positive terminal of the battery is the positive wire). If the speaker pushes inward, than you have it backward. Does that make sense?

  4. Hey Grant, First off, you are awesome to have done this. I’ve been looking all over the web for a “how-to” do this. Is there any way you can make a video of this and post it on your site or a link to youtube on how you did this (quick step by step). I’m a visual person and it would be really helpful. Thanks in advance!

    1. I could probably make time for that. I haven’t used these speakers in the long time, I’d probably have to take them out of a box. Worst case, I can talk to you offline about how to do it.

      1. Hey, any luck with this? I’m working on an authentic upgrade of an iMac G4 and would love to get those speakers working with a standard audio jack and (if need be) small amp without modifying the speaker’s cable at all. I’m planning on removing the proprietary jack from the G4’s mother board and soldering into that. Any advice/help would be great.

        Thanks.

        1. I don’t think you should do anything to the motherboard. I would toy with the speakers themselves before doing anything that drastic. The computer should be able to drive these little speakers without issue. Its only something like an iPod that puts out very low signal that would require an amplifier.

  5. very clever Grant.. i like! I just dug up my imac and mac pro speakers thinking I could easily plug these into my airport express for some wi-fi music, but alas, here I am at this discussion for obvious reasons.. so.. you say above that I can easily cut cable above the enclosure, rewire them and they should work fine, correct?
    Is the rewiring straight forward (color-to-color) or is there more to it?

    option 2 is if I want to add an amplifier component to them as you did. so without a wired amp, would the volume/performance be poor? I can’t tell from the photo above but doing this option, is a/c power needed or the speakers simply plug into the (ipod) device?

    I have a computer speaker set that comes with two small standard speakers that each plug in to a sub-woofer/amp.. so I’m wondering as yet another option to rewire each of these mac pro speakers separately (to a mono 3.5mm male plug) and plug them into the sub-woofer/amp to get maximum use of their audio quality?

    thoughts? thanks!!

    1. The wiring is very straightforward, should just be color to color. I believe that mine were blue and red, but it may be different internally for you. You can also just use a pair of alligator clips to test it out.

      The quality/volume is extremely poor without an amplifier of some kind. If you are using a computer, it should drive them just fine, but you’re not going to be able to just plug an iPod in and expect it to sound alright. AC power isn’t necessary to plug into an iPod, but you’ll want to build in some kind of inline battery powered amplifier to run your iPod off of it.

      The second option you mention should work just fine (plugging in to the sub). You’ll want to start with the volume very low, since you don’t know the wattage that the sub is putting out, but it should be able to drive those speakers without issue.

  6. alright, so I’m in the middle of the operation and have separated the speakers and have stripped off the white plastic coating.. I now see that one speaker has a white and blue wires, the other speaker has red and yellow wires. do i now have to remove the color coating off of each wire on the speakers?

    Also I guess its a matter of trial and error knowing which are positive and negative.. also because the old headphone cables that I’m splicing them to have a red and copper, the a green and copper sets of wires so I’m not sure which belong with which..

    1. I recall the blue wire. That should be the positive. I imagine on the other the red is positive. You should be able to test them out with some alligator clips to test which is + and which is –

      You will need to strip off the insulation to get to the conductors

  7. thanks for your help and time! well I’ve successfully stripped the wires and have tried all combos while the speakers are plugged into my computer and somethings not working.. It seems pretty straight forward and I’ve spliced speaker cables before no problem.. I tested these speakers before cutting off the enclosure and they worked fine.. I also tested the old pair of headphones from which I’m using the male output cable and they worked fine too. hmm . Am I missing something?

    1. Sorry, I was tied up there for a while. What color are the wires coming from the main plug? You should have at least 3. From the speakers you’ll have at 2 per speaker. We just need to find the positive ground relationship between those connections.

      Keep in mind that this must be connected to an output that actually puts out some power, like your computer’s sound card.

  8. hi there.. thanks for checking in! the old headset from which I’m using the wires are the big over-the-ears 70’s style looking headphones.. but not from the seventies. it has a left and right set of wires that come together to a 3.5mm male jack. each side has two wires.. one side has a copper and a green wire. the other side has a copper and a red wire. The thing is that I have it plugged into my computer, and I switch connecting each color to the wires from the pro speakers and none of the combinations work. weird . I tested both the pro speakers and the old headphones before cutting any wires so I’m at a loss because it seems pretty straight forward. also I plugged the speaker wires into my stereo amp and they still work. thanks for your help!

    1. Sorry for taking so long, it’s been a hell of a week.

      What you have with those wires is a positive and a negative. The copper is likely the negative, the colored wires are the positives (red and green).

      Now, I’m assuming what you’ve done is separated the speakers from the main junction, and you have two free standing speakers. The wires there I think are blue and white, though I might be mistaken. At any rate you should have a colored wire and a less colored wire. The colored wires should connect together, the other copper should connect as well.

      If that doesn’t seem like it’s working make sure you turn it up! The volume will need to be quite loud to drive these speakers most likely, depending on the source.

  9. Hey Grant!

    I’ve cut apart another pair of old headphones just in case and the process still isn’t working. From everything else I’ve read, they only work when plugged directly into some sort of amp. When I do that, they work.. as soon as I try to splice an extension cord to them, it doesn’t work.. its only when the speakers are directly plugged in to an amp that I get a result.

    Since you seem to have had success with this, I would love (moreso out of curiosity at this point than anything else) to send these to you with extension cord pieces and pay you for you time.. let me know if you’re up for it and no worries if you want to pass … to be continued … 😉

  10. Hi Grant, My understanding was that these speakers had amplifiers in them, and that the third connection on the cable was the power to the amps. I don’t have a set in front of me at this point – do I have that wrong?

  11. I opened up the center enclosure at the “Y” and removed the chip . I wanted to keep the cords stock. the red and black wires are going to be abandoned and the others still continue to the plug (blue/white, yellow/brown) ill dissect the plug and then add the new normal sized headphone jack.

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