Best Audio Cable: Choosing a suitable one from different types

FACTS CHECKED BY  Jose George​

When you use quality cables, you preserve the detailed and dynamic sound of the original recording. So, whenever you pick the best audio cable, look for the features mentioned in this article.

Table of Contents

Audio interconnect types:

Interconnect cables are mainly of two types:

Digital interconnect cables:

 These cables transmit sound in the form of 0s and 1s, i.e., the computer language. The surround sound system can carry six channels. Digital signals are less susceptible to degradation or interference. If your device has digital connections, it is advisable to use digital audio cables to get the optimum sound experience. 

USB

A USB cable helps carry digital audio messages from your personal computer to a converter (Digital-to-analog), receiver, and integrated amplifier. When you use a high-quality cable, you will get lesser timing errors which often degrades the sound quality.

There are four types of USB cables, i.e., USB Type A, USB Type B, USB Type C, and Micro USB Type-B. In some of these cables, you will find two different connectors at their two ends. Thus, you must ensure that jacks are present on the devices you are willing to connect a USB cable.

HDMI

HDMI or High-definition Multimedia Interface helps carry digital audio/video signals. The latest HDMI 2.0 version currently supports up to 32 multi-channel audios. It includes Dolby® TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD™ Master Audio, and other high-resolution formats.

With HDMI, you can also enjoy the flexibility of ARC or Audio Return Channel. Audio Return Channel is a back channel for audio signals from your television’s internal web apps or over-the-air tuner. If the source and receiving end have ARC, you need not connect a separate cable for audio signals. Nowadays, some sound bar systems also come with ARC. An advanced version of ARC, i.e., eARC, offers higher audio bandwidth and can also handle Dolby Atmos signals.

You can use an HDMI cable connecting an HD source like a high-definition cable TV box, Blu-ray player, or a high-definition gaming console.

Firewire (IEEE 1394)

Apple introduced this Firewire standard as a serial interface. You can connect different types of devices to a computer via this interface. Along with that, it also helps transfer digital audio from and to other audio interfaces. It has two different connectors; Firewire 400 alpha connector with six conductors and a Firewire 800 connector with nine pins. After the introduction of Thunderbolt, the Firewire interface is becoming obsolete.

ADAT lightpipe

The Alesis Digital Audio Tape is an optical interface that transmits multiple audio streams digitally. The American company Alesis developed this interface in the 1980s; since then, many manufacturers have embraced this protocol. In the professional digital audio world, it has become a standard now.

S/PDIF (IEC 60958)

Sony/Philips Digital Interface or S/PDI format transmits stereo digital audio signals. It is a consumer-type interface developed in the 1990s and was created on AES/EBU standards. The interface uses coaxial RCA connectors; however, people sometimes use fiber optic cables via TOSLINK connectors.

BNC

BNC is a typical connector that you use for radio frequencies. In digital audio, you use it to synchronize the clock between two digital devices. The signal passing through the BNC connector becomes a word clock which you can use in conjunction with S/PDIF or AES/EBU connection to improve accuracy and stability.

MIDI cables

The MIDI or Musical Instrument Digital Interface is a 5-Pin DIN connector you use with computers and synthesizers to send the velocity and pitch of the notes played on the keyboard. Since the 1980s, it has been an essential component in developing digital audio production.

 Although USB cables are replacing MIDI cables in modern equipment, MIDI is still a critical component of professional synthesizers and other instruments used in live applications. You can use a single MIDI audio cable for MIDI out, MIDI In, and MIDI through connections. 

MIDI cables

Caption: MIDI cables

Analog audio interconnects

These transfer audio as continuously fluctuating electric signals. These cables fail to handle six audio channels in digital surround sound. The signal interference in analog audio cables is due to EMI, and RFI is more than digital cables.

RCA stereo

An RCA cable helps transfer two channels of stereo audio signals. Here, the cable may be made of low-cost material which is unshielded. These are low-quality red & white cables with RCA plugs at both ends. You can use these cables for a stereo audio connection. The stereo mini to RCA cables has RCA connectors at one end and a 1/8-inch plug at the other. You can use this cable to connect a computer or audio player to any amplifier.

If you want to connect your home theater to your surround sound system, you will need an RCA woofer cable (single-stranded). Make sure that the cable has copper conductors with double/triple shielding. Also, it must have RCA connectors with gold plating.

RCA multi-channel

As the name clears, these can transmit more than five audio channels along with one/two subwoofer channels as they have more than six conductor strands. If you have a Blu-ray player and want to handle digital-to-analog conversions, use a compatible amplifier through multi-channel RCA audio cables.

While picking this multi-channel RCA cable, make sure it has a central copper conductor with double/triple shielding and a gold-plated connector.

XLR (Stereo)

An XLR stereo cable helps you deliver balanced audio. Its connector has three pins. Out of them, one is for a positive conductor, one for a negative, and the last for the ground wire. Whenever any receiver or amplifier gets a signal through an XLR cable, positive and negative conductors’ noise cancels each other, giving you noise-free audio.

As being balanced, audiophiles prefer XLR to RCA connections when they need high-performance audio. When choosing an XLR stereo cable, ensure that conductors come with the proper insulation so that signals from two conductors remain separate and do not interfere. Also, good shielding prevents noise interference from outside. Many XLR connectors have locking mechanisms ensuring a safe and secure connection.

TS cables

These are Tip/Sleeve cables, which you can call instrument or guitar cables. You will want this audio cable as short as possible as they are unbalanced. This cable connects single-channel audio sources like a guitar, drum machine, effects pedals, and other unbalanced instruments to mixers, audio interfaces, and amplifiers. The cable is quite sturdy, durable, and reliable.

Generally, you will find these cables in ¼ inch (6.3mm) sizes; however, 1/8-inch sizes are also available. You will also find these cables in consumer products like mono headset microphones. There is better shielding in ¼ inch TS cables, so they avoid signal noise much better.

TRS cables

Though it looks similar to TS cables, TRS is different as they have two rubber strips on the head of the connector instead of one. This cable represents three conductors Tip/Ring,/Sleeve. Based on their usage, they can either carry balanced or unbalanced signals. If you use mono equipment, they are balanced with positive, negative, and ground conductors. On the contrary, TRS cables also carry two-channel stereo audio. Here, the TRS becomes unbalanced as two audio channels (left and right) take two of its conductors.

You can find these cables in the headphone outputs of instruments, audio interfaces, headphones, mixers, and studio monitors.

RCA audio cable

Caption: RCA audio cable

Five main parts that make the best audio cable:

  1. Outer jacket: it protects the inner components of the cable from getting damaged.
  2. Shielding: it protects the cables from electromagnetic interference and radio frequency interference. Further, it also prevents noise radiation from the cable.
  3. Dielectric: it is an insulating material between shielding material and conductor.
  4. Conductor: The central part of the cable carries the signals.
  5. Connector: The plug/part of the cable will connect to the device.
microphone with TS cable

Caption: microphone with TS cable

How to choose the best audio cable?

Different interconnect cables differ due to different audio formats. The various audio formats include stereo, analog, and digital surround sound. Every audio format carries a different number of audio channels.

Most CDs have two audio channels on their disc, meaning they are stereo. On the other hand, most DVDs are digital surround sound encoded, having six or more audio channels.

Surround sound formats come with different designations like 5.1 and 2.0. The first number indicates the audio channels corresponding to the directional speakers in these designations. For example, 5.1, 5 means the speaker channels in the system. The second number indicates a low-frequency effects channel for heavy bass sound.

If you want to get any of these sound formats, you will need the following:

  • An audio source like a cable TV, DVD player, or anything that can generate a signal in that particular format
  • A speaker set-up. Two speakers on stereo TV are enough for stereo sound. However, for surround sound format, you will need an audio/visual receiver to read the format and correct the number of speakers.
  • Finally, an interconnect cable connects the source and the A/V receiver. Also, remember that your device must have jacks corresponding to the cable connector design you are using.
TRS connector

Caption: TRS connector

Conclusion:

If you fail to choose the proper cables, even the top-quality speakers and most modern home theater systems will not give you an impressive surround sound experience. If you still have some doubts regarding audio cables, contact Cloom professionals.  

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