Everything You Need To Know About Different Types Of Audio Cables

Are you ever at a loss as to which audio cable will work with your latest piece of equipment? This post is for anyone new to dealing with audio and confused about why there are so many kinds of cables.

The audio you want to play or record, be it analog or digital, is an important factor to consider. The signals for both analog and digital audio may be sent without any interference because of the existence of separate wires.

While digital connections communicate data in binary form, analog wires convey electrical acoustic impulses. Choose the right instrument cable rather than a speaker cable if you play instruments like guitars, keyboards, etc.

First, let's address the most common queries related to analog cables.

What Are The Characteristics That Distinguish Balanced Cables From Unbalanced Cables?

Unbalanced cables are more likely to take up noise and radio interference than balanced connections. The inside of an unbalanced cable consists of a conductor wire and a ground wire.

However, these interferences and electrical hums can be eliminated by using balanced wires. They do this using three wires (two conductors and ground) inside the device. The noise is effectively canceled out by the two working together using a second wire.

Different Types Of Audio Cables!

XLR Cables

XLR cables are intended to be used with balanced audio equipment. People talking about "unbalanced" cables usually imply regular RCA cables where the ground and negative wires are twisted together.

All three pins on the male and female ends of a balanced XLR cable are connected to separate wires. Only one of the lines is ground, while the other two carry the signal. The balanced audio and video cables are distinguished by its usage of two separate signal wires. In contrast, the ground wire shields the signal wires from electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency (RF).

The electrical impedance of both signal lines is identical since they are both built of the same materials. This means that when an XLR cable transfers a signal between balanced source/receiver connections, the two signal wires (one positive, one negative) carry the same signal but in reverse polarity. This is the standard method for connecting balanced XLR cables, and it creates a balanced (differential) connection.

RCA Cables

Numerous professional audio gear, such as mixers, includes RCA connectors. For audio sampling purposes, this might be helpful when connecting commercial instruments to mixers. In professional situations where the cable distance is short or sound quality is not as crucial, RCA cables are also often utilized.

RCA cables are easily recognizable due to their single-pin design, grounding ring at the cable's base, distinctive yellow, red, and white color schemes for composite signals, and green, blue, and red color schemes for component signals. Unfortunately, they are unbalanced because their wiring is neither positive nor negative.

By contrast, the signal will be unbalanced if you link two balanced devices via an unbalanced cable like an RCA connector. The signal may or may not be recognizably transmitted to the secondary device, but the quality cannot be assured in the same way that it can be with a balanced cable design such as XLR.

TS Cables

Tip/Sleeve (TS) cables are a kind of audio cable that only have two points of contact (the "tip" and the "sleeve"). Instruments like guitars, basses, and even synths can connect them. The two wires in TS cables require short cable runs or a direct box to avoid signal loss.

They have a diameter of about a quarter of an inch and are distinguished by a single rubber ring at the connector's tip. Instruments like electric guitars, effects pedals, and even certain hardware drum machines and synthesizers generate unbalanced mono signals that may be sent across TS connections.

TRS Cables

The TRS cable has three contact points labeled "tip," "ring," and "sleeve," and although it may seem like a TS cable, it is very different.

Balancing a stereo transmission's left and right channels is not a problem with TRS wires. Like their TS counterparts, they typically measure a quarter of an inch in width and are distinguished by the presence of two rubber rings on the metal connection.

Smaller 1/8-inch TRS cables are often used to connect headphones to a computer or phone and may transport an unbalanced stereo signal.

MIDI Cables

The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a method for updating musical instruments. Electronic musical instruments like keyboards, controllers, and drum machines may all be linked to computers and other hardware using MIDI connections. The MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) standard makes it possible for electronic instruments to exchange data with one another.

There are three different kinds of MIDI ports, and devices may have one, two, or all three. As a result, there are three ways to communicate with this device: out (MIDI Out), in (MIDI In), and through (MIDI Thru). Data transmission in both directions, rather than simply one, is normal in each case, necessitating the use of supplementary connections.

MIDI couplers are used to expand a MIDI connection by connecting two MIDI wires. You can also utilize MIDI splitters and Y-Cables to change a male MIDI to a female MIDI or vice versa. You may use a USB to MIDI converter if your device doesn't have a USB port. Some, like the USB to MIDI cable made by Cable Matters, are compatible with tablets that use the USB-C connector.

S/PDIF Cables

The S/PDIF interface is a digital audio transport standard. It eliminates the requirement for a lossy analog-to-digital conversion when moving digital audio from one device to another. Instead, a digital audio signal is converted into a binary code of ones and zeros before being broadcast instead of an analog signal.

When using S/PDIF, you may send digital audio signals from one device to another (over short distances) without first converting them to analog. This can save you time by reducing the number of DA (digital-to-analog) conversions you need throughout your sessions.

Two types of digital audio may be sent via a S/PDIF cable: lossless PCM audio and compressed 5.1/7.1 surround sound. Since the S/PDIF format does not introduce any extra noise to the audio stream, the sound quality is improved.

Banana Plugs (Speaker Cables)

Banana plugs connect wires to electrical devices or circuit boards and are used for testing purposes. They are spring-loaded and have a single wire (conductor). There are two kinds of banana connectors: plugs and sockets. The banana is compatible with standard banana plugs (often referred to as a banana jack).

The banana connector is often used in test leads, cables, and other test equipment accessories. Banana plugs, also known as jacks, are male connectors that get their name from the shape of the plug's tip where electrical current flows.

A banana plug, also known as a cylindrical pin, features protruding "metal leaves" that provide a secure connection (a tight fit) in a socket, preventing the pin from dislodging. Banana plugs are often attached to wires using soldering, crimping, or screwing. The banana plug is a popular adaptor that allows you to use one connector with many different connection types.

USB Cables

"Universal Serial Bus" is what we call USB nowadays. Connecting computers to their many peripherals is a common task, and USB cable assemblies are among the most common.

Typically, a USB cable will have one end conforming to type A standards and the other according to type B standards. The gadget is powered from the type-A end and receives electricity at the type-B end. This is done to avoid malfunctions if, for instance, two PCs were connected through USB-A.

Although "type-B" is not often part of the nomenclature, Mini and Micro connectors are believed to be scaled-down versions of the more common type-B.

Micro-USB, USB-C, and Lightning cables are the most common and often replaced types.

Speakon Cables

Speakon cables are often used to connect professional speakers and amplifiers and are not utilized in consumer electronics. While they are often unbalanced, the locking feature makes them a convenient alternative to standard 1/4-inch speaker cables for use in live performances. Many also have braided cables for added strength and resistance to wear.

Since Speakon cables were explicitly developed for high-current audio systems, you may safely use them to link your speakers to your amplifier. high quality microphone or instrument cables might have been used to link speakers before they were invented. In addition, Speakon cables are easily distinguished from other cables of the same size and design because of their unique appearance.

Wrapping Up

Despite widespread claims to the contrary, the finest audio cable is the one that serves your needs and is within your budget, even though many brands and manufacturers insist that only certain quality cables can provide the "best" sound.

There may be some truth to the assertion that gold-plated connectors are better conductors than others. However, it is better to bear in mind that using a cheap cable instead of quality and expensive one may not always display a drastic sound difference. An ideal cable is one that works and serves the intended purpose.