Types Of Audio Cable Connectors: An Ultimate Guide On Audio Cable Connector Types

FACTS CHECKED BY  Jose George​

What do you imagine while thinking about musical and audio gears? It must be headphones, speakers, electric guitars, and other items. It’s true that for music, all these instruments are essential; however, you cannot overlook the importance of plugs, jacks, connectors, and audio adapters. You must ensure that you pick compatible connectors for your audio systems to make the setup function. You use audio connectors to plug the microphones, connect the speakers, and set the amplifier. However, there are different types of audio cable connectors. Which one do you need?

What are audio connectors?

An audio connector is a component that helps connect cables and wires to other devices or types of wires and cables. It is either a male or a female, and you can say it as input or output. A jack is a fixed thing, and mostly, it is a female. A plug or the male part connects to this jack/plug.

Based on different shapes, designs and forms, there are some connectors that you can easily plug into their corresponding port. On the other hand, some connectors have a locking mechanism to secure the connection. 

audio connection

audio connection

Common types of audio connectors

Different types of connectors are based on shapes, sizes, and configurations.

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. Commonly, you can use them for portable devices and audio connections on your personal computers or phones. You must have seen this connector on your headphones, also.

The connector comes with a TRS arrangement which refers to Tip, Ring, and Sleeve. This configuration has two contacts that allow for left and proper audio channels.

3.5 stereo Mini Jack connector

3.5 stereo Mini Jack connector

¼-inch/ 6.3mm TRS plug

Music artists use them in pianos, headphones output, keyboards, guitar amps, missing desks, recording equipment, and more. You can also call it a stereo jack, balanced jack, or TRS jack.

This 6.3mm connector also has a TRS design but is larger in length and diameter. You can also find it in TS configurations; however, TRS is most common for balanced audio and stereo sound.

6.3mm TRS plug vs 3.5mm TRS plug

6.3mm TRS plug vs 3.5mm TRS plug

RCA connector or PHONO 

You can also call them Cinch plugs, RCA plugs, or phono connectors; these are most common in Hi-Fi systems and consumer stereo equipment, as you can link phonographs to amplifiers with these connectors. Further, you may need RCA connectors if you use a turntable with receivers and speakers.

Sometimes, you will find these connectors in red and white colors where the red channel is for the right channel, and the white one is for the left channel. These colors help you connect them with the correct ports. An RCA audio connection sends two-channel analog signals to the left and right audio channels. In addition, you can also use it for Mono audio. 

Several cables with RCA connectors

Several cables with RCA connectors

3-pin XLR

You may use these audio connectors in different professional audio applications and call them mic leads or Cannon leads. Originally, Cannon produced audio connectors and released them in the Cannon X range, with Cannon XL and Cannon XLR as its higher versions. This connector is like a barrel of around 2cm in diameter and has 3 to 7 pins for male plugs and holes for female ports. 

However, the 3-pin configuration is the most common connector. You may use it for balanced audio to reduce the chances of electromagnetic interference and other unwanted noises. 

The XLR connectors are preferred over TRS for their use in audio interfaces, mixers, mic cables, PA applications, or other professional audio devices.

Audio cable with XLR connector

Audio cable with XLR connector

TOSLINK/Optical

TOSLINK or Toshiba Link works as an optical interface for digital audio signals. It was initially designed to use Toshiba CD players. Other manufacturers are using them as the widespread optical digital audio connector. This plug has one side as square, and another side has angled corners.

TOSLINK connector helps to send digital audio signals from one device to another. It can support different audio formats, including Lossless 2.0 PCM or compressed 2.0/5.1/7.1 Dolby Digital or DTS. However, it fails to support HD audio like DTS_HD, Dolby TrueHD, Master audio, DVD-A, and SACD.

In the TOSLINK connector, the cable comprises an optical fiber, converting audio signals into light for transferring them. Despite being fiber optic cables, their length is confined to 5 meters only due to low-power LEDs in transceivers.

Types Of Audio Cable Connectors:
Optical audio cable

Optical audio cable

Banana plugs

The common problem of audio systems is the unreliable speaker wires which become frizzy over time and may get pulled out easily. Further, their quality deteriorates over time, affecting the audio sound quality. Banana plugs come as a solution to this problem. These connectors join the different strands of wires, so installation becomes easy.

A banana plug or a connector comes with a metal pin resembling the shape of a banana. You must know that these plugs do not improve or degrade the sound quality, and they are only good for adding convenience to your connections and avoiding mess. You may take some to prepare the plugs, but once done, it will readily connect to your audio/visual receiver.

Types Of Audio Cable Connectors: Banana plugs on the back of the speaker

Banana plugs on the back of the speaker

Types Of Audio Cable Connectors: Speaker pins

Speaker pins are similar to banana pins as they help terminate speaker wire connections. However, they differ from banana plugs in their straight and narrow profile. And whether you use spade connectors, speaker pins, or banana plugs depends on the terminal on your system. You need to check whether you have binding posts or spring terminals.

In spring terminals, you must press the clip, insert the speaker pins or wires, and then release. You can only use speaker pin connectors or bare wires and not others in the spring terminal. On the other hand, in binding post terminals, there is a screwed collar that you can unscrew. After unscrewing, you will see a hole where you can connect either of the speaker pins, banana plugs, spade connectors, or bare wires.

All these different connectors offer convenience as they have nothing to do with sound quality. 

Types Of Audio Cable Connectors: MMCX connector:

MMCX refers to Micro-miniature coaxial connector, and you will find it on IEMs and earbuds primarily due to their small size. The headphone Monolith 1060 featured this connector. You can snap an MMCX plug into an MMCX jack, allowing 360 degrees of rotation.

Along with its small size, this connector is quite versatile. You can easily replace MMCX cables for adding Bluetooth or inline-mic.

Types Of Audio Cable Connectors: Audiophile MMCX connector 

Audiophile MMCX connector 

Types Of Audio Cable Connectors: SPEAKON connector

Neutrix designed these latest connectors for pro-audio equipment to run with high inductive loads and currents. These connectors prevent damage to the equipment from arcing if disconnected due to high load. These connectors have a twist-on locking mechanism which keeps their connection secure.

You can find these connectors in 2,4, or 8-pole designs. Among these, you can interchange 2-pole and 4-pole designs as you can use them in the same socket or port. Though not very popular, these connectors are advantageous over other speaker connectors.

Types Of Audio Cable Connectors: Speakon male and female

Speakon male and female

Difference Between Audio Connectors, Jacks, Plugs, & Adapters

An audio connector refers to anything that helps you connect a wire, device, or cable to another cable, wire, or device. A cable’s end part connects to a compatible jack or port through different locking mechanisms like screw bolting, blade locking, flip, etc., to ensure safe and secure connections. 

The jacks or sockets are the female connectors with a hole or opening that receives the plug from making a connection. 

The plug is the male part of the connector that connects to the jack pr port. For example, your 3.5mm headphones plug connects to the 3.5mm jack on your laptops or phones.

An adapter links two incompatible devices, and they receive the signal from one device, convert them, and make them compatible with the receiving device. Sometimes, you may also use them to convert one connector to another.

Conclusion

The market has numerous audio connector types for different audio equipment and devices. Making mistakes in using a device incompatible with your receiver or equipment is obvious. Be careful when you select the connectors, as the audio quality of your system largely depends on the type of connectors, input/output device, cables, and audio media. Do not compromise on quality; get the right cable and connectors.

Need a buying guide?