With lightning-quick changes in today’s technology, it often becomes hard to keep up with the latest advancements. This is especially true in the world of audio and video where existing technologies are constantly evolving to cater to the demands of tech-savvy audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts. You may be considering purchasing a new product and are unsure of how to connect it to your current setup. With this handy guide, we’ll run you through the type of cables you may come across no matter what you’ll be using. Use it as a quick reference if you are unsure of the type of port it connects to.
Analog cables carry an analog signal between two devices. This signal is an electrical signal which alternates between positive and negative voltage in a sine-wave which then represents the audio or video signal. Despite the increase in digital devices and digital technology, analog cables are still very relevant in the realms of Hi-Fi and Home Theater.
One of the most commonly used cables in audio and video equipment, RCA cables got their name from the Radio Corporation of America which first introduced the design in the 1940’s. This cable is often characterised by Red, White or Yellow coloured connectors. Yellow connectors are often reserved for video whereas Red and White connectors in a pair are usually meant for stereo audio connections.
The XLR Cable is primarily found in pro-audio environments but has since found its way into high-end audio components. XLR connectors are often referred to as balanced cables and found in a three-pin (positive, negative and ground) configuration as well as in male and female variants.
Found on most consumer grade products, the 3.5mm to 3.5mm cables are often used to connect your phone to a desktop computer speaker via your phone’s headphone jack and the computer speaker’s auxiliary (or AUX) port. You can also find some Bluetooth speakers with an AUX port to give you the option of a wired connection.
Subwoofer cables may sometimes be brand-specific but they’re generally similar to RCA cables and use the same type of connectors. Some subwoofers may have two RCA ports while others may have a single RCA port with an LFE (Low Frequency Effects) input.
If your turntable has a built-in phono pre-amp, you’ll most likely require RCA cables for the phono pre-amp’s outputs. There are however specific RCA cables that also have a grounding wire attached on both ends so you can ensure your turntable is grounded to prevent any unwanted hum. On other turntable brands you may also see DIN cables/connectors used instead of the usual RCA connectors.
Similar to XLR cables, DIN cables have pin connectors that are arranged in varying configurations (3-Pin, 4-Pin, 5-Pin etc.). If you’re a Naim Audio enthusiast, these are the cables you’ll find on Naim Audio products.
Digital cables carry a digital signal between two devices. This signal is an electrical signal which transmits information/data (one’s and zero’s) which then represents the audio or video signal. Unlike analog signals however, the digital signal will need to be converted into an analog signal at the final stage. This is usually the job of a Digital-To-Analogue-Converter (DAC).
The TOSLINK cable (Toshiba Link) was initially introduced by Toshiba in the 80’s as a means of connecting their CD players to their receivers. Since then, the TOSLINK (aka Optical Cable) has found its way into most consumer audio products and even some televisions. Optical ports are generally characterised by a squarish look to it with the top forming an arch. Toslink cables transfer data via light and often have cores made of optical fiber strands. These cables are quite fragile so treat them with care and don’t bend them unnecessarily!
Coaxial cables are commonly found in higher-end audio products in tandem with optical cables (or sometimes the only mode of digital connection). While they may look like RCA cables and even have similar connectors, coaxial cables specifically transmit data and are often used to connect Streamers and DAC’s. When faced with the choice of using an Optical or a Coaxial Cable, opting for the Coaxial cable would be the wiser choice as they’re capable of higher data-transfer rates.
AES/EBU cables (developed by the Audio Engineering Society and the European Broadcast Union) are a two-channel digital standard for connecting digital devices. While they may look like XLR cables, they’re capable of higher bandwidths and are often used for transferring data between High-End audio components.
The HDMI cable is one of the most commonly used cables in audio and video applications. Whether you’re connecting your TV to an AV receiver or connecting your Playstation 5 to a TV, you’d most likely be using an HDMI cable for this purpose as it is capable of high data transfer speeds and incredible bandwidth specifically for this purpose.
Ethernet cables are often used as network cables allowing you to connect your device to other devices over a local network or to the internet.
Still trying to figure out what that USB connector is called so you can find the right cable? This may help.
USB Type A
USB Type A connectors have been around a long time and are very common. Characterised by a flat rectangular port, type A cables are usually found on most consumer electronics from Playstations and Xboxes to TV’s and DVD players. Keep in mind that despite USB Type A connectors all looking the same, there may be different versions of the USB Type A, so (e.g. USB 2.0 vs USB 3.0).
USB Type B connectors are often characterised by a square shape and can be found in many devices from audio interfaces/DAC’s to your home printers.
Consisting of Micro-A and Micro-B, Micro-USB’s are miniaturized versions of the USB interface. You’ll find Micro-USB ports on bluetooth speakers and other products like wireless earphones.
USB-C is a new industry standard connecter capable of delivering both data and power via a single cable. Similar in size to Micro-USB connectors, the USB-C connector is a thin oval shape and can be inserted without requiring any specific orientation.