Making old HiFi Amps smart using amazon echo, google home and not a bluetooth receiver

Amazon Alexa Echo Dot

I have an old Denon amp that is dumb. By that I mean there is no HDMI in it and no other ‘smarts’ to it; including Spotify or Amazon music or airplay built-in. I could upgrade the Amp, which I have done for my home theatre set up but it just sounds so nice as a stereo amp I’d really like to keep it.

To complicate things I don’t have a remote control for it either. When I purchased it from Future Shop/Best Buy it didn’t include one as it was an open box item. I purchased one from Aliexpress but it never worked so I gave up.

I have a pretty smart home so I really wanted a solution as smart as possible because I didn’t want more remotes lying around the house.

My instant go-to with this problem was to get a Bluetooth receiver, like the Bose Soundtouch, but this is limited in range which is annoying if I am walking around the house listening to music but my phone is in my pocket pushing the limits of Bluetooth range. The Soundtouch does support WiFi also and now has Alexa built in but it was more expensive than I was sure I needed to spend.

So I ruled our getting a Bluetooth adaptor, and expensive WiFi options.

So what’s the problem I am trying to solve?

I would like to be able to sit on the couch and control volume and music selection without needing to get up off the couch and make changes to a device hard wired to the unit. As it only offers RCA connectivity it’s a challenge to attach and new technology to it.

I also want to be able to control the amp and not worry about signal drop out if I am out on the patio or walking around the house some distance from a bluetooth adaptor.

What is the solution then?

If I was truly committed to the cause I would connect an iPad or tablet or media player of some kind that allowed me to play music directly but as mentioned in the problem above I don’t want to get up every time I need to change things. The lack of remote removes the ability to change volume and a hard wired device (iPad, Astell & Kern etc) means I can’t change track selection easily.

So, the cheapest and smartest solution to this problem of having an old amp with no smarts? Amazon Echo (or Google Home). For very little money I have connected an Amazon Echo to the RCA input on the Denon and it’s been perfect.

It gives me the following smart features for my old HiFi

  • Play Spotify, Amazon Music, iTunes music etc via voice e.g. ‘Alexa, play House Relax playlist’
  • I can use the app on my phone from the couch to select/change tracks
  • I can adjust the volume via voice also e.g. ‘Alex, turn the volume up’
  • I can use it as a general smart device with external speaker meaning options for audio calls, podcasts, weather, conversions etc are an option

Are there any limitations to using Echo attached to the stereo?

There is really only one main thing with this setup, which isn’t a major one which is why I wouldn’t call it a problem – that is that you have to have the stereo on to hear what Alexa is saying back.

As soon as you plug in the 3.5mm audio RCA cable to the Amazon Echo (or Google Home) it doesn’t know if the stereo is on or off and sends all audio through the cable.

It means Alexa is still listening, but you might not hear what she says back. The light on the top of Alexa still operates so that is your cue to know she is still helping you, just with the inability to be heard.

Conclusion

Adding the Echo to my old amp seems like a simple and obvious solution but it wasn’t for me. The result has been a revelation – I love the sound from my Denon and now I can play hard wired devices (tapes, records/phono) AND smart music like Spotify and Amazon Music etc.

All for less than $50!

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