You shouldn't have any problems at all using your ipod as a source and preamp with most amps. The one major problem u may have is having enough output from the headphone amp of the ipod to drive the amp to full power, however, unless you are a headbanger I am sure you will have plenty volume with most amps. I have my mac comp. hooked up to an amp driving a pair of bookshelf speakers, and the sound is surprisingly good.
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What you need is an integrated amplifier/receiver and a decent iPod dock so you can bypass the headphone circuit in the iPod. Onkyo makes a decent dock, and I'm sure there are others out there... which would set you back maybe a $100 at the most. With $500 your options for an integrated with enough clean power to drive the Grand Pianos are limited, I second the Nad suggestion, but you might also look at Creek (there is one A50 on Audiogon right now) which would give you a bit cleaner sound. I recommend doing some research yourself in the archieves here and on other audio sites.
I say do NOT use the headphone output of the ipod- it is already amplified to drive headphones - re-amplifying it just ain't right. Will be distorted - not enough signal strength - you'll have to crank everything WAY up (as scpetscott alluded to). Use the LINE OUT on the ipod via the dockport/30 pin connector. Use an apple dock or specially designed connector to get at the line out signal - then run it into a proper preamp or integrated amp with volume control. Another bonus to doing it my way is that you can run the ipod set to volume = zero. Battery will go a LOT longer because the ipod is not doing any amplifying. Just treat the ipod like any other source component - you need a preamplification to switch between sources and do volume control. But use the LINE OUT signal.
Popt for one of the Sontic T amps.Son of T IO think the $100 model.Your not going to get muhc volume at $100 or but there are rated 15 and have 3-5 usuable watts.Just don't remember how sensitive your speakers 93=4 db shopuld be able to work.Or get a Harmon Kardon 2 channel reciver of recent vintage cheap.I find their best of cheap recivers.
I'll join the chorus here and recommend a dock for the iPod going to a good quality integrated. I've used that setup with both Creek and Audio Refinement Complete integrateds and been very happy with both.
You can get good information about docks by going to http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/accessories/.
The one I bought worked well. It has a line-out connection, charges the iPod and has a nice little remote for changing songs. It's this one from Kensington.
You'll definitely want a dock for your iPod that goes into the amp. This is the one that I currently use, but at an amazing price that I just saw on a deal site:
It works amazing, doesn't use the headphone jack, and has a remote. The only tricky thing is that when you first plug it in you have to use the remote (not the ipod or the amp) to turn the volume all the up for the the output of the dock.
If your music is encoded at a high enough bitrate, you will enjoy this immensely.
I believe (seriously) that Dave Wilson used an ipod directly into some parasound power amps to demonstrate some new speakers and to show that the speaker is the most important link in the chain. I don't have an ipod, but I would imagine the only way he could have done that would have been to use the headphone jack.
i will go back to my original statement that the headphone out jack will power most amps quite well.. but maybe not to full volume and the sound will surprise you. I don't think the output of the iPod is much diferent then the headphone out on my iBook or mac mini. Plus... i just found out I have no problems hearing that "Silent" ring tone that teenagers download to their phones, and I am 44. So I must have pretty good ears.
Thanks for all the feedback. I've noticed that some of the McIntosh amps have imput sensitivity adjustments in the form of a switch (0.75V/2.5V) in the back and an input gain knob in the front to further adjust the sentitivity.
Does this provide any additional options? For example, could I connect the ipod line-in to the amp and then use the gain knobs as volume knobs?