Since there are so many audio cables on the market, it might be difficult to determine which one is ideal for your new setup. This is regardless of whether it’s for listening or creating music. So, consider the cable’s length and the device you’re using since some devices only accept digital or analog cables. In contrast, others need older audio cables.
Cables for music production and pleasure don’t have to be a mystery or a source of anxiety. However, we have provided a complete reference to the many types of audio cables and why you should choose some over the others.
So, without any further ado, let’s jump right into it!
What Is an Audio Cable?
“A cable capable of transmitting an analog or digital signal produced by an audio speaker or amplifier.”
An audio cable is that it is a simple wire that transmits sound signals from one component to another.
When you speak into a microphone, the audio cable sends the signal you produce, over an audio wire, to a processing unit. You may then hear the result of that processing through a loudspeaker.
Every audio cable generates at least some noise and distortion, even when you put it appropriately. Consequently, knowing which cable you should use for a certain task is important.
Analog audio cables transmit electrical audio signals. On the other hand, digital audio cables transmit digital signals in the form of binary codes (the computer language of zeros and ones).
There are options for balanced and unbalanced analog audio cables available. When choosing the right cables for each application, a solid understanding of the differences between balanced and unbalanced cables is necessary.
This will safeguard your recordings and live performances from any signal loss or interference caused by extreme noise. For example, if you use the wrong cable, it might even potentially damage your gadgets.
What Are the Types of Audio Cables?
Analog and digital cables are the two kinds of cables that are likely to be present in a recording studio, and both serve the purpose of transmitting the information.
There are two primary types of audio cables that you’ll find. They are analog and digital cables.
Analog cables send information using continuous waveforms. For instance, if the data is a sine wave with a frequency of 100 Hz, the voltage traveling via the analog cable will execute 100 cycles of positive and negative polarity every second.
You can categorize analog cables as unbalanced and balanced cables. For example, analog cables may transmit line, instrument, or mic-level signals.
Digital cables send information across the cable through binary codes, consisting of ones and zeros that the cables generate as a sequence of voltage changes. There are many variants of digital cables. As technology develops, manufacturers are gradually phasing the more archaic varieties of these cables in favor of more recent variants.
When it comes to an audio cable, there are a few essential terminologies to learn. Knowing these terms can help you better grasp how to use a cable.
The distinction between balanced and unbalanced cables is one of the most typical terms seen regularly but sometimes misinterpreted. For example, we consider a cable balanced if it contains three connections and three conductors inside the wire (a positive, a negative, and a ground).
A typical example of a balanced cable is a microphone cable with three XLR connectors instead of two. Another option is a TRS cable, which stands for “Tip Ring Sleeve.”
On the other hand, unbalanced cables only include two conductors and two connections at any point inside the wire (signal and ground).
Most consumer-grade audio hardware employ unbalanced cables, like typical 1/4 instrument cables. One of the most significant advantages of balanced cables is that they are far more effective than unbalanced cables in eliminating interference and minimizing noise entering your signal.
Balanced vs Unbalanced Cables
The ground wire that covers the signal wire in unbalanced and balanced cables contributes to reducing the electrical interference. Nevertheless, this reduction is not always effective (especially over a long distance).
Due to the presence of a third conductor, balanced cables can reduce the noise generated by electrical interference better. A balanced cable will divide the signal you send out into two “copies” of itself. However, one of those copies will have its polarity flipped.
Take two identical signals and flip their polarities. The effect will be silence since the signals will cancel each other out.
So, doesn’t a cable that reverses the transmission polarity simply result in an inaudible signal?
At the end of the cable where the cable is receiving the signal, the signal that has its polarity inverted will have its polarity turned back to that of the opposite signal. Then, the cable puts the two signals together.
However, since both signals were subjected to the same interference and noise as they traveled down the cable, the noise will be the same on both the channels (and therefore have the opposite polarity). As a result, the polarities will cancel out when the signals are combined.
The term “shielding” refers to an additional layer of copper wrapped around the input wire’s full length to prevent noise from being transmitted along the wire. In unbalanced cables, having a shielding done is very important; nevertheless, having a shielded cable also helps to contribute to the overall clarity of your line and prevents noise interference.
TS cables are audio cables abbreviated for “Tip / Sleeve.” They are often known as guitar cables or instrument cables. However, since they are always unbalanced, they are one of the types you would like to keep as short as possible.
They make it possible to connect mono (one-channel) audio sources to amplifiers, mixers, and audio interfaces. Some examples of mono audio sources are guitars and other unbalanced instruments, effects pedals, and drum machines.
TS cables typically come in diameters of 1/4 inches, but you may also get ones that are 1/8 inches or 3.5 millimeters. We employ these smaller sizes in consumer items like mono headset mics. So if you want to prevent signal noise, your best bet is to go with the 1/4-inch TS cables since they have superior shielding and are the better alternative overall.
You’ll be able to tell the difference between TRS and TS audio cables even though they seem relatively similar. This is because TRS cables have three rubber strips on the connection tip, which create three conductors in the following order: tip, ring, and sleeve.
Depending on the application, TRS cables are balanced or unbalanced in their construction. For example, when used on mono equipment, TRS cables may be balanced by having a positive conductor, a negative conductor, and a ground conductor.
TRS cables can carry two channels of stereo audio; however, the cables are unbalanced because each of the left and right audio channels uses two conductors.
We often use TRS cables in headphones. The headphone outputs are on various instruments, mixers, audio interfaces, and studio monitors.
There are various ways to convert the connection type when working with TRS and TS cables. These include adapters and cables that convert TRS to TS.
XLR cables are one of the most well-known and long-lasting varieties of the audio cable. These cables are large and cumbersome, and, as you would anticipate from a cable of this quality, they are always balanced. Because of this, using very lengthy XLR cables is safe without the risk of signal interference, in contrast to the situation when using other types of cables, such as TS cables.
You may find XLR cables on a wide variety of equipment, the most common of which being microphones, speakers, public address (PA) systems, DMX lighting, and certain other instruments.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a little cable six feet long or a larger cable fifty feet long. This is because XLR cables are a wonderful method to connect these devices to mixers and stage speakers. This is because they ensure a clear and crisp signal no matter how long the connection is.
Not all XLR cables are made equal. The XLR cables manufactured by ‘Cable Matters’ feature strain relief on the connector, gold plating on the XLR pins for increased durability over extended use, and individual insulation and foil shielding for the internal wires to further improve noise protection for the signal.
These features make the cables suitable for use in professional settings. In addition, many XLR converter cables are available, including XLR to 3.5mm, XLR to TRS, and XLR to RCA connections.
Speakon cables are almost exclusively used in the audio industry to connect professional speakers and amplifiers. However, we don’t use these cables in consumer electronics. Despite being often unbalanced, they continue to be a popular alternative to 1/4-inch speaker cables due to their ability to lock in place, preventing them from being disconnected accidentally during live performances.
They often come with strengthened cable braiding, which improves their longevity and reduces the amount of wear and tear they experience.
Because the manufacturers developed Speakon cables specifically for high-current audio systems, it is permissible to use them to connect speakers and amplifiers. However, before their invention, it was possible to connect speakers using low-current microphones or instrument cables.
This option did not exist after their invention. Instead, the unique appearance of Speakon cables makes them stand out even more from other cables that are the same size or have a comparable structure.
There is also the possibility of using a 1/4-inch speaker cable to a Speakon cable adapter to connect devices that do not already have the Speakon connection installed. However, it is important to remember that there are many different styles of Speakon cables, some of which the manufacturers build for higher-powered bi-amped installations. Therefore, it will not be possible to utilize Speakon cables since manufacturers do not rate such applications.
Speaker Cables / Banana Plugs
Speaker cables are distinctly diverse in construction than TS cables, even though their sizes are comparable. Manufacturers intend speaker cables for connecting amplifiers to speakers. However, they are used more frequently in amateur and home audio than in professional audio production. The most common use for them is linking A/V receivers to speakers outside the home.
Banana plugs are a common and convenient method for making both tidier and safer connections, even though these cables may terminate exposed copper wires. For example, you may install these in a home theatre with a banana plug wall plate, which helps organize speaker wires and clear space behind televisions and audio-visual equipment.
RCA cables are a typical component of household audio-video (A/V) systems. These cables are often used in DJ setups, where they link CDJ players and turntables to mixers. As with TS cables, each RCA cable consists of only two conductors on the inside, making them inherently imbalanced. Because of this, it is best to keep RCA cables as short as practically feasible.
Many devices can connect directly to one another over a pair of RCA to RCA connectors. It is also possible to use interconnecting cables with different tips to bridge the gap between incompatible devices.
MIDI is a cable standard that has been around since the 1980s. We do not use it to transport audio signals; rather, we use it to communicate event data. Ever since its inception, MIDI has been an essential component in the evolution of digital music creation. MIDI is still an essential part of many sequencers, synthesizers, and other musical instruments, even though USB cords may sometimes serve as a suitable substitute for MIDI.
The MIDI audio cable type always has a five-pin connector. It may be used interchangeably for MIDI In, MIDI Out, and MIDI Through connections. In addition, this cable type can also carry MIDI Through signals. Because some devices come with all three of these distinct MIDI port possibilities, the one into which you put your MIDI cable will very much rely on where that device is present in your audio setup.
Some devices come with all three of these different MIDI port options. You may also want to utilize multiple of those ports to transmit and receive MIDI event data to and from the same device.
S/PDIF cables, also known as Sony/Phillips Digital Interface cables, may be found on most popular consumer A/V systems, as well as certain set-top boxes, gaming consoles, and televisions. Optical (known as Toslink) and coaxial (RCA) versions are available for purchase.
In the realm of consumer electronics, they are a bit out of date since HDMI has essentially replaced this kind of audio connection in most recent gadgets. However, older devices can still benefit from using an optical S/PDIF cable. This is when HDMI isn’t an option or when a dedicated audio cable is more desirable to ease the setting up and configuring of the device. It is especially true when using optical cables since HDMI isn’t an option.
USB cables are almost everywhere on current audio devices, equipment, and accessories. After all, USB is widely considered the most common digital interface the world has ever seen and is available in various shapes and varieties. The most prevalent USBs are the USB-A and the USB-B.
Through the use of a standard known as MIDI over USB, USB cables may transmit not just audio data and power, but also MIDI data. Because of this, they are fantastic for connecting computers to audio interfaces and synthesizers. In many situations, they can take the place of multiple cables where you’ll require audio and MIDI cables for a complete connection.
In other words, they are great for connecting computers to audio interfaces and synthesizers. However, due to the USB-C cable’s built-in functionality for audio, it is becoming increasingly popular with the 3.5mm TRS connector often found on smartphones and tablets.
On the other hand, USB cables aren’t backward-compatible with certain older instruments and accessories. When compared to other kinds of audio cables that are more durable, they are more likely to get damaged after extended usage.
How Does an Audio Cable Work?
The copper cables housed inside the casing of an audio cable transmit signals in surges of electricity, which allow for the transmission of these signals. In addition, the audio cable has a metal wrapping that manufacturers specifically design to prevent interference from signals coming from the outside.
The standard resistance for audio systems is 75 ohms and the cable type allows for a broader bandwidth than is possible with a similar RCA cable. However, because the cost of audio cables is far lower than that of the optical S/PDIF type, they are the cable most often used for domestic or individual audio requirements.
Does Audio Cable Quality Matter?
Yes, the audio cable quality matters because better-quality audio cables produce better sound. In contrast, low-quality audio cables won’t be able to produce clear and good sound.
Is Audio Cable Same as Aux?
No, an audio cable is not the same as an Aus. To explain this better, we’ll take a USB audio cable for comparison.
The primary distinction between USB and auxiliary cables is that USB cables transmit digital signals, whereas aux cables transmit analog signals. A USB cable sends data the way a cable connected to a computer does. In contrast, an auxiliary cable sends audio the same way a cable connected to an amplifier or headphones does.
It is dependent upon the speaker system and the arrangement as to which cable you should use. USB cables are often more convenient and provide improved sound quality, but they are incompatible with analog audio systems. Auxiliary cables come in handy when neither a USB nor a digital port is available, as is the case with certain older automobiles, record players, and home theatres.
In some circumstances, the playback on the device you connect your cable to, such as a vehicle head unit, is controlled via USB. Because auxiliary ports can only transmit analog signals, you won’t have the same level of two-way capability as you would with other types of connectors.
Does Audio Cable Length Matter?
When it comes to sound quality, cable length makes a difference, which is an important factor you will need to consider. But, on the other hand, the degree to which this is accurate differs from one circumstance to the next.
So, the good news is, even if they are somewhat lengthy, the cables you currently own should work fine. So, for example, suppose you have attempted to use longer cables without experiencing noise in the system but have been unsuccessful. In that case, there are several issues that you may want to consider here.
Can Audio Cable Be Used for Video?
Yes, you can use an audio cable for video. But, it’ll not work properly.
Because the audio cable cannot handle the higher video transmission rate, the quality of the video will be significantly compromised. However, there will be a noticeable decrease in the video’s level of clarity, an increase in jitter, and some sync issues. However, there is a possibility that you might actually see some video footage among all of the clutter.
The problem is that manufacturers do not design audio cables to deal with the incredibly high frequency of data used in the video. Video cables, on the other hand, ARE intended to manage such high frequencies. Therefore, you should use only a video cable whenever you require one.
Can Component Cables Be Used for Audio?
Yes, you can use component cables for audio. They’ll work just fine.
Can Audio Cables Go Bad?
Yes, they can certainly go bad.
The most typical cause of a cable going bad is because you move it way too much. Do not be shocked if your cables wear out rapidly if your setup needs you to often disconnect and connect the cable to different devices. This will cause more wear and tear on the cables.
Another related cause of faulty wires is when you accidentally damage them in some way. For example, it is simple to trip over or snag oneself on cables if they are left dangling or scattered over the floor. If you apply sufficient force, you might cause damage not just to the cable but also to the equipment to which it is attached. Because of this, it is essential to maintain a tidy and organized cable setup.
The crimping process is the fourth cause of faulty cables. It is possible to pinch the wires if you bend the cable in any direction, whether to bundle it up or follow it around a wall. This may, over time, lead the wires to send a signal that is weaker or possibly none at all.
Can Audio Cables Be Spliced?
Yes, you can splice audio cables.
When you are recording music or performing live events, knowing about the different kinds of audio cables and the different levels of audio is essential. It will give you the knowledge necessary to plug in your setup and get the finest sound possible.
In addition, whether you’re chatting with the sound guy at the venue or making a purchase at the music shop, you want to seem like you know what you’re talking about, right?
Therefore, add this audio cable guide to your bookmarks, and be sure to refer back to it whenever you need it.
Because the magic of music can only happen when you plug in all of the components together, advertisements for musical equipment usually depict instruments floating in space.
So, this was a complete guide on audio cables.