A guide to audio connections and cable types (2023)

A guide to audio connections and cable types (1)

Connecting audio and AV systems is (thankfully) a lot easier than it used to be. For most people, home entertainment systems are no longer big racks of individual components hiding a rat's nest of cables and connectors, and we're better off with that. But there are still times when you need to connect your audio hardware devices together, and when you need to source cables (cords), connectors, or adapters, knowing the specific names of each type is absolutely essential. Let's go through the ones you're most likely to encounter.

Editor's Note: This post was rewritten and expanded on December 29, 2022 to reflect changes in technology and market, as well as changes to our house style and formatting standards.

How do I connect my headphones?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (2)

The two most common sizes of TRS jack plugs.

Wired headphones are connected to the analog headphone socket of a playback device via a so-called jack plug. If they are standard stereo headphones without a microphone, they are a TRS (Tip-Ring-Sleeve) connector with three connectors in one of two sizes. The smaller size of portable devices is called a minijack, or 3.5mm after its diameter. In the US it's sometimes referred to as a 1/8 inch jack, although that's an approximation. The larger headphone jack you will find is commonly known as a 1/4 inch (or 6.3mm) phone jack. Adapters are easy to find to change jack plugs from one size to another.

A guide to audio connections and cable types (3)

The cord of these headphones terminates in a 90 degree TRRS jack.

Wired headphones with a built-in microphone use a modified version of the same size mini-jack plug, but with an additional electrical connector (to carry the microphone signal) in the form of an additional ring, making it a tip-ring-ring-socket (TRRS) connector.

How do I connect my headphones if there is no jack socket?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (4)

These end in a 3.5mm connector, so new phones require you to use a dumb dongle.

Since smartphones have largely dispensed with the headphone jack, you have three options. If you already want to use wired headphones, you'll need a special adapter (a dongle) to connect to the phone's system port (a Lightning port on iPhones, respectively).USB-Cfor virtually everything else) and give you the analog 3.5mm headphone jack you need. These are also known as digital-to-analog converters (DACs).

If you want to stick with wired (because of) and don't want to mess with dongles, you can get a set of wired,USB headphonesconnect directly to your phone. If you prefer not to deal with dongles or cables, you can also switch to wirelessBluetoothRoute.

What are the other types of headphone jacks called?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (5)

The Drop+Ether CX closed-back headphones feature a 4-pin XLR cable for differential drive.

You may have come across premium headphones with different jack sizes, with different pin configurations (4.4mm Pentacon) or the much larger XLR (external line return) connectors. These are needed if you want to operate your headphones in asymmetrical or differential drive configuration.

What plugs are used on the headphone end of the cable?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (6)

The cable connects via 2.5mm jacks on the bottom of each ear cup.

Where the cable is detachable, the connectors used on the headphone end of the cable vary quite a bit and we won't cover them all here. 3.5mm jacks with a twist-to-lock system are fairly common. You can also find 2.5mm TRS jack plugs on some headphones (Bosefor example), while others have 2.5mm TS jack inputs on the bottom of each earcup for the cables to plug into (theMonoprice Monolith M1060For example).Premium Headphonescan use mini XLR connectors, and some use proprietary connectors likeSennheiser's two-pin connector.

A guide to audio connections and cable types (7)

The MMCX connectors are gold plated and fit snugly into the SE215's female input.

Many in-ear monitor (IEM) headphones use micro-miniature coaxial (MMCX) connectors. As the name suggests, this connector standard is small enough to easily fit in a pair of in-ear monitors. This attachment is primarily used for better-designed in-ear monitors, where a replaceable cable means the headset isn't junk if the cable fails. Also, the connection is self-locking and allows for 360-degree rotation, making the cable not only easier to swap out, but also harder to break in the first place.

What else are jack plugs used for?

Jack plugs are also used to connect audio signals to "management level' in a few different contexts. 3.5mm TRS mini-jacks are found on the ends of the common Aux ("Aux") cable, which you use to connect your phone directly to oneportable speakeror car stereo, for example. The larger 1/4 inch connectors are used in semi-professional applications to connect signals to either TS connectors (for unbalanced applications) or TRS connectors (for balanced applications). You can read more about what this meansHere.

What are XLR connectors?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (8)

XLR cables are used for microphones and other pro audio applications.

XLR connectors are used to carry the small signals produced bymicrophones, and in other cases where signal integrity is important—typically in professional audio environments. Microphones have male outputs, andmic preamphave female input connectors on the front, and therefore the standard XLR cable has a female connector on one end and a male connector on the other. The plugs themselves are relatively large and heavy, and are specifically designed to carry balanced signals wired with balanced (microphone) cables. This type of cable works well for longer cable runs as it has better shielding and noise reduction.

What are RCA connectors?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (9)

RCA plugs are typically color-coded red (right) and white (left) for stereo connections.

RCA (or phono) connectors are smaller phono connectors that are commonly used to connect "line level" audio signals in consumer products. You'll probably recognize the red and white color-coded stereo cables from their use to connect older hi-fi system components, or alternatively the yellow plugs that carry analog video signals from vintage DVD players, VCRs, or video game consoles to televisions. Since they can only transmit unbalanced signals, they are only suitable for transmitting audio and video signals over relatively short distances. They're still fairly common, especially for connecting turntablesturntableto phono input stages, or e.gConnect home theaterSubwoofers. They are also used for coaxial digital audio connections (see section below).

Unlike many connectors, the RCA name does not derive from any specific physical aspect of the connection. It is named for the Radio Corporation of America, which developed and introduced the standard in the 1930s.

What connectors are used for speaker cables?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (10)

Speaker cables come in a variety of gauges and can be terminated with bare connectors or connectors such as the gold plated banana plugs shown here.

If you're not connecting a PA system, you'll probably need the primary connectionConnecting your speakersis the banana plug, pictured above right. Many speakers have binding posts or binding posts that accept the bare ends of speaker wire. If this is the case, it's important to ensure you connect the positive terminal on the source (amplifier) ​​to the corresponding terminal on your speaker to keep everything in phase. Most speaker cables have an identifier on one of the conductors to help you keep track of what's what. In some smaller onesactive speaker systems, the cable connecting the left and right speakers uses RCA (phono) connectors as shown below.

A guide to audio connections and cable types (11)

Active speakers have built-in amplifiers and require a power source.

How is speaker cable different from regular stereo cable?

Stereo connections, which are usually red and white (or red and black), have RCA connectors on the ends and are intended for low voltage (line level), low current use and have a central insulated conductor surrounded by a shield (ground). each channel (left and right).

Speaker wire, or speaker wire, consists of a pair of conductors surrounded by an insulating, flexible PVC or similar material, terminating in either bare ends or banana plugs (see above). This cable should be designed to transmit the power required for drivingLoudspeakers for sound generation. For higher performance, heavier gauge wire is required and cables should always be kept as short as possible. As long as these basic requirements are met, there isno point in spending a lot of moneyon cables, like our pastattempt shows.

How do digital connections differ from analog ones?

Digital audio connections transfer signals between devices without having to convert them to analog and back again, preserving quality. Another benefit is that digital signals are less susceptible to sources of noise and interference, making cable quality even less of a concern than analog.

What kind of cable do I need for a digital audio connection?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (12)

Austin Kwok / SoundGuys

HDMI cables carry up to 32 digital audio channels.

Standard consumer-level wired stereo digital connections, often referred to as “coax” (pronounced coax, not like the word coax), use the same RCA connectors we discussed earlier, especially with 75-ohm coax cables. Home theater and AV systems tend to use High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) cables, which also carry digital video signals. These enable eight or 32 channels of audio (for HDMI version 2 and higher) for surround systems, including Dolby ATMOS, and also offer bi-directional capabilities in the form of HDMI ARC and eARC. There is a full explanationHere.

What are optical connections for?

A guide to audio connections and cable types (13)

An optical cable can transmit digital audio signals in stereo.

Optical cables (also calledTOSLINK) are used to transmit digital audio between devices similar to a wired coaxial connection, but use light to represent the binary data instead of electrical voltage levels. These are preferred for stereo in most applications because they provide electrical isolation between devices and can carry up to eight channels of audio in multi-channel applications.

If you want to transfer audio between devices, these are the most common methods. The biggest differences come from the type and age of the devices you want to connect. Hopefully this helped, and whether you're looking to listen to music wirelessly or hook up a state-of-the-art soundbar, you know what you need to do it.



What are the 3 main connector types of audio? ›

There are a variety of different audio connectors available. The most common types are 3-pin XLR, RCA, and 6.5mm TRS plugs (also known as ¼" jacks).

What are the five common audio ports? ›

The most common audio connections you'll find are:
  • 3.5mm (also known as 1/8 inch or the small headphone size) ...
  • 6.3mm (also known as 1/4 inch or the large headphone size) ...
  • Digital Coaxial. ...
  • Digital Fiber Optic. ...
  • Stereo RCA (Red + White) ...
  • XLR.

What are audio cables and connectors? ›

Audio connectors and video connectors are electrical or optical connectors for carrying audio or video signals. Audio interfaces or video interfaces define physical parameters and interpretation of signals.

What cable wires for audio applications? ›

Coaxial cables or coax are used for digital audio because of their relatively low cost and large bandwidth. RG6 and RG11 audio cables are inexpensive, unbalanced coaxial cables that consist of a central, metallic core surrounded by a layer of insulating material.

What cable gives best sound quality? ›

HDMI Cables:

The sound quality is better than other two cable types. These cables transmit multi-channel audio formats such as DTS:X and Dolby Atmos. The HDMI audio connection cables can also support current and new video formats such as Ultra HD 4K resolution, as well as HDR formats.

What are the four basic types of audio signals? ›

In fact, there are four different types of signals in the audio world that when mismatched can cause problems.
  • Microphone Level. Microphone level or mic level is the voltage signal produced by a microphone (surprise) and is the weakest of all the audio signals. ...
  • Line Level. ...
  • Instrument Level.
Aug 17, 2018

Which color cable is for audio? ›

They are often color-coded, yellow for composite video, red for the right audio channel, and white or black for the left channel of stereo audio. This trio (or pair) of jacks can often be found on the back of audio and video equipment.

Which audio cable is the most used professionally? ›

XLR cables are used for microphones and other pro audio applications. XLR connectors are used to carry the small signals produced by microphones, and in other instances where signal integrity is important — typically professional audio environments.

Is HDMI audio digital or analog? ›

The basics. Both HDMI and optical pass digital audio from one device to another. Both are better than analog (the red and white cables). Both can pass multi-channel audio, like Dolby Digital.

How many types of audio cables are there? ›

Audio Cable Types & Their Uses
Cable TypeUsage
Speakon CablesConnecting loudspeakers to amplifiers
TS CablesConnecting mono, unbalanced signals
TRS CablesConnecting mono, balanced signals and stereo signals
RCA CablesConnecting devices like DVD players to TV sets or CD players to receivers
6 more rows

What are the types of cable connections? ›

There are three types of cable connectors: coaxial cable connectors, twisted-pair cable connectors, and fiber-optic cable connectors with the twisted pair.

What are the 4 most commonly used analog connector types? ›

Connector Types:
  1. The RCA Plug and Jack: The RCA is the most common connector type on consumer gear for composite and component video, as well as for both digital and analog audio. ...
  2. The BNC Plug and Jack: ...
  3. F-Connectors: ...
  4. The 4-pin mini-DIN Plug: ...
  5. The HD15 / mini dSub 15 / VGA connector:

What are the differences between audio cables? ›

The Difference between Analog and Digital Audio Cables

Well, they both transmit audio information. The only difference is that analog cables transmit electrical audio signals while digital cables transmit digital information in binary code (zeros and ones, the language that computers speak).

How do I choose an audio cable? ›

A longer thinner wire will have higher resistance than a shorter t hicker wire of the same structure. An ideal wire should have the lowest resistance possible. To get the best energy transfer a thicker wire such as a 12-gauge wire would be preferred over an 18-gauge thinner wire.

What is the standard audio cable? ›

Coaxial RF cable, which is the most basic type that can transmit a dual-channel stereo signal with an analog video signal. Dual RCS cable, which is the standard audio option and comes with a white plug for the left speaker and a red plug for the right.

Which is better for sound optical or coaxial? ›

And, in our experience, compared to optical, a coaxial connection does tend to sound better. That's because it has greater bandwidth available, meaning it can support higher quality audio up to 24-bit/192kHz. Optical is usually restricted to 96kHz.

Is HDMI or RCA better for audio? ›

Both RCA component and HDMI work well, but of the two, HDMI is the better choice. It's a single cable for both audio and video hook-up that delivers superior video quality, surround-sound audio quality, 3D support, and more, verses using many wires using RCA component connections.

What cable is best for surround sound? ›

Multichannel RCA Cable

If you can't use HDMI or optical cables, multichannel RCA cables are the best way to power 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound in your home theater.

What are the 6 sound formats? ›

Here are seven popular audio file types and some unique differences between them.
  • M4A audio file type. The M4A is an mpeg-4 audio file. ...
  • FLAC. The FLAC audio file is Free Lossless Audio Codec. ...
  • MP3. The MP3 audio file is an MPEG audio layer 3 file format. ...
  • MP4. ...
  • WAV. ...
  • WMA. ...
  • AAC.
Apr 30, 2020

What are the six parts of a sound system? ›

In brief, a basic sound system consists of these components:
  • Microphone (wired and/or wireless)
  • Mixer.
  • Power amplifier.
  • Loudspeaker.
  • All the necessary cabling.
Apr 8, 2022

How do I know if my cable is mono or stereo? ›

They are generally identified as TRS, or Tip/Ring/Sleeve on both the jack & the plug connectors. A mono jack will only have a Tip & Sleeve section, while a stereo jack will have the additional Ring component. The same can be found on a plug connector where a mono will have a single marking, while a stereo has two.

Can yellow RCA be used for audio? ›

Do you need Audio? Use the VGA video cable What connectors are on the back? Red/White/Yellow RCA S-Video White/Yellow RCA (This is mono audio. You can use the RCA cable, but not plug in the red.)

What does XLR stand for? ›

The XLR Connector, which stands for External Line Return, is a type of electrical connector found primarily in professional audio, video, and stage lighting equipment.

Which are the 2 most common cables used in audio? ›

Whether you're listening, creating, or simply transferring data from one device to another, USB cables are some of the most ubiquitous and well-known digital audio cables in the world. You'll find them in various shapes and sizes, though USB-A and USB-B cables are two of the most common.

Is RCA better than optical out? ›

The Final Verdict. Honestly, while RCA still has its use cases and charms, coaxial and optical are a cut above in terms of actual tangible audio quality for your setup. The differences between these two, however, are negligible, and will often come down to things like price or product build.

What is the most common audio connection? ›

3.5mm stereo Mini Jack connector

You may know this by different names like the headphone jack, 3.5mm connector, ⅛ inch connector, or stereo minijack. It is the most common and highly popular connector of all audio connections.

What's better arc or optical? ›

So which one is better? HDMI ARC or digital optical audio? HDMI ARC is a better option. It supports Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, and up to 7.1 channels of uncompressed audio while Digital Optical only supports Dolby Digital and up to 5.1 channels of uncompressed audio.

Do all HDMI cables support audio? ›

HDMI is renowned for its video quality, but it also can carry audio without the need for multiple cables. HDMI supports Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD for 7.1-channel sound for loss-less, theatre-quality audio. HDMI 1.4 also supports audio return channel, which sends sound from your TV tuner to your receiver.

Is optical audio better than aux? ›

Optical input definitely offers more advantages and can provide superior audio quality. However, you may not be able to differentiate if you don't have high listening skills and extremely vivid audio files. But optical input is the modern form of input and we recommend optical over AUX input.

What are the 5 types of cable? ›

Cables are classified into 5 types depending upon their purpose as follows:
  • Ribbon Electric Cables. It consists of multiple insulated wires running parallel with one another and is used for transmission of multiple data simultaneously. ...
  • Shielded Cables. ...
  • Twisted Pair Cables. ...
  • Coaxial Cables. ...
  • Fibre Optics Cable.

What is the 3 prong audio cable called? ›

XLR Audio Cables

Perhaps the most popular audio cable is the XLR Audio Cable. It has a bulky three pin connectors that is almost always used as a balanced cable. As a result, you can use XLR Cables for long distances without fear of distortion, noise or interference.

What is the difference between a TRS and TS cable? ›

TS cables are generally used for mono, unbalanced signals. These are most commonly used with electric guitars. TRS cables can be used for mono, balanced signals as well as stereo signals. An example of a mono, balanced signal would be the line in or out from your audio interface.

What are the 7 types of cable network? ›

The following sections discuss the types of cables used in networks and other related topics.
  • Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) Cable.
  • Shielded Twisted Pair (STP) Cable.
  • Coaxial Cable.
  • Fiber Optic Cable.
  • Cable Installation Guides.
  • Wireless LANs.
  • Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) Cable.

What are the 3 types of cables that are used for a wired connection? ›

Fiber optic cable, twisted pair cable, and coaxial cable are the three main types of network cables used in communication systems.

What are 3 types of wire connections? ›

The three types of wires used in household circuits are Earth wire, Live wire, and Neutral wire.

How many types of XLR connectors are there? ›

XLR connectors are available in male and female versions in both cable and chassis mounting designs, a total of four styles.

Is RCA to XLR balanced? ›

Is there a difference between XLR and RCA interconnects? XLR cables are usually balanced (3 pin) and RCA cables are unbalanced (1 pin). The main benefit of balanced cables is their ability to transfer sound signals over much longer runs/distances without signal loss, or interference.

What is the best cable for mixer to speaker? ›

XLR Cables

XLR outputs and inputs are most commonly used for main outputs on mixers or higher end controllers or for microphones. XLR cables are popular in the pro audio world for a few of reasons: They are always balanced – it's very easy to run long cables.

Do RCA cables make a difference in audio? ›

Speaker and RCA interconnect cables should serve two key functions: to pass the audio signal with absolute purity at full fidelity and to reject interference that can add noise to the signal. A high quality cable lets your system perform its best, while remaining faithful to the source material.

What size cable is best for speakers? ›

Speaker wires that are anywhere between 12 to 16 gauge are most commonly used for connecting speakers to an amplifier or an Audio/Video (A/V) receiver.

What are old audio cables called? ›

RCA or composite cables -- the classic red, white and yellow cables you used to use to plug in your Nintendo to the television -- are still available on most televisions and some computer monitors. Toss. It's not the most popular or desirable way to push video or audio, as it's an analog connection.

Should I use XLR or RCA cables? ›

XLR connectors are a professional cable standard, so find more use in professional settings than RCA. They are a higher quality cable and deliver a balanced signal, making them far less susceptible to signal noise, attenuation, and crosstalk.

What cable is used for XLR? ›

An XLR connector is a type of electrical connector used mostly in professional audio and video electronics cabling applications such as for stage microphones and other analog sound equipment, as opposed to home audio/video equipment using RCA connectors.

What type of cable is used for speakers? ›

Copper is the most widely used material for speaker cable due to its low cost and low resistance. However, copper does oxidise so it needs to be well covered and insulated.

What are the 3 primary levels of signal on analog audio cables? ›

There are 3 main signal types that our common types of audio cables and connectors carry. The common names for these signal types are "guitar level", "mic level" and "line level".

What is the most common audio connector? ›

3.5mm stereo Mini Jack connector

You may know this by different names like the headphone jack, 3.5mm connector, ⅛ inch connector, or stereo minijack. It is the most common and highly popular connector of all audio connections.

What are the 3 AV cables for? ›

Cmple - 3-RCA Composite Video Audio A/V AV Cable GOLD - 3 ft Our RCA three-cable bundle is designed for high performance and connects your TV, VCR, DVD player, camcorder, projector, video game console or any source with composite audio (left/right) and video to your TV, monitor or A/V receiver.

Is A XLR cable analog or digital? ›

XLR cables are what's most often used for analog functions such as microphones and interconnects. Analog has a much lower impedance requirement so cables don't have to be rated. Usually, the impedance is between 45 and 75 ohms.

Is a RCA cable analog or digital? ›

RCA cables transmit analog, or non-digital, signals. Because of this, they cannot be plugged directly into a computer or other digital device. RCA cables connect amplifiers to all sorts of devices.

Is AV and RCA the same? ›

Composite Audio/Video (A/V), sometimes known as a RCA connection, combines black & white and color information into a single video signal and separates the audio into left and right channels. It provides better picture quality than RF. This connection transfers both audio and video signals.

Can I use yellow RCA cable for audio? ›

Do you need Audio? Use the VGA video cable What connectors are on the back? Red/White/Yellow RCA S-Video White/Yellow RCA (This is mono audio. You can use the RCA cable, but not plug in the red.)

Is RCA to amp input or output? ›

Connect the RCA cables into the amplifier input sockets, following the color of the cables. The red cable also goes into the red input socket of the amplifier.


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