A guide to audio cables and adapters

The number of connectors even on a consumer receiver can be shocking, and sound cards, synthesizers, DJ consoles and other musical equipment add a dozen more professional ports to the list. Each connector needs its own cable. On which does the sound quality depend, which should be chosen with a multimeter, and which do not matter?

Unbalanced cables have two wires: ground and signal wire. They are susceptible to hum, microphone effects (cable movements can be heard in the speakers), noise and interference. The longer the wire, the more pronounced the unpleasant effect will be. To protect against interference, the cables are shielded: the earth wire is made in the form of a sheath, inside which the signal core is placed. The screen can be twisted, braided, foil or electrically conductive plastic.
Balanced cables consist of three wires – two signal wires and one ground (often also in the form of a braid). Moreover, the signal goes along two wires in antiphase, and at the input to the device, the phase of the second changes and the signal is added. This doubles the level, while all the interference that appears in the cable itself is canceled out. Noise cancellation in headphones is also based on the effect of phase subtraction. For the connection to be balanced, the inputs and outputs of the connected devices must also be balanced.
The well-known bells are constantly found both in household audio equipment and in DJ consoles, amplifiers and other professional equipment.

Connecting cable AudioQuest RCA x2 – RCA (x2) 2 299 *
RCA is used to carry a line level signal. The line signal is the most standard for audio equipment, it is it that mixing consoles operate with when mixing music and DJ consoles for live mixing. Mic and Instrument signals are output to Linear for recording using direct box and mic preamps, respectively. Also, the linear type of connection is often used in household appliances – amplifiers, receivers, CD and DVD players.

RCA connectors are easy to recognize – they are marked in white and red, like in the Denon AVR-X250BT Line signal level certified:

For household appliances: – 10 dBV with a nominal voltage of 0.3162 V RMS
For professional equipment: +4 dBu with a nominal voltage of 1.2280 V RMS
There are many line connector adapters available. The most popular is from RCA to 3.5 mm TRS, for example, for connecting a player to an amplifier. But when connecting a CD player to a studio mixer, keep in mind that the signal will be quiet due to the difference in certifications.

Connecting cable DEXP 3.5 mm jack – RCA (х2) 599 *
The acronym RCA itself stands for Radio Corporation of America – this company used them in phonographs in the forties of the last century. This allowed players to connect to amplifiers. In older technology, such connectors were called Phono. Some turntables are still labeled Phono Out.

Phono Out in Pioneer PLX-1000

RCA is an unbalanced mono connection. Because of this, they are very vulnerable to wire quality. It should be kept as short as possible. The requirements for any cable are quite simple: the thicker the signal core, the better. Manufacturers do not always write the cross-section of the core, so you can usually understand the quality of the cord by its thickness and stiffness.















XLR cables are always balanced. They were developed for connecting microphones and they successfully cope with this to this day. A second popular use is to transfer a line-level balanced signal between professional or high-end audio equipment. Sometimes XLR / TS adapters are used to connect a sound card to active speakers.

Connecting cable DEXP XLR – XLR 499 *
XLR connectors are of two types, female and male, for opposite sex jacks in the connected device. You can’t connect them incorrectly. Thanks to the balanced connection, there is no noise in the signal and the cable has no length restrictions. Interference immunity reduces cable quality requirements, but it is recommended to choose a cable with the widest possible cross-section and reliable connectors to avoid squeaks and rustles.

Tip-Sleeve – Always unbalanced cables for a mono instrument signal. Usually equipped with jacks with a diameter of 6.5 mm, they are linear and instrumental. The former are often used to transmit a signal from the outputs of a sound card to an active audio system. The latter are used to connect guitars, basses, synthesizers and digital pianos to an amplifier, DI-Box, or sound card. The instrument cable is shielded to prevent interference.

Connecting cable Rockdale 6.3 mm jack – 6.3 mm jack 950 *
The low signal level and the specific field of application place high demands on the quality of the cable. The key parameters for determining a quality cord are capacitance and inductance. The longer the wire, the higher its capacity. The higher the capacitance, the more the cable becomes like a capacitor, which turns the electrical circuit into a high-pass filter. In practice, this means that an instrument cable longer than 10 meters will muffle the signal. Therefore, you should choose an instrument cable with the minimum capacity and good shielding, reliable jacks and the shortest possible length.

Instrument cable Fender 6.3 mm jack – 6.3 mm jack 1 599 *
Tip-Ring-Sleeve are three-wire cables widely used in professional and household appliances. TRS comes in three versions:

● 6.3 mm – for studio and old household appliances: headphones, mixers, sound cards, karaoke microphones, etc.

● 3.5 mm – the most common stereo jack for household audio equipment: headphones, players and smartphones, speaker systems, etc.

● 2.5 mm – miniature connector for portable equipment: headsets, replaceable cords for headphones, etc.

Extension cable DEXP 3.5 mm jack – 3.5 mm jack 450 *
There are dozens of adapters from one caliber to another, splitters and hubs for TRS connectors. Some have a built-in DAC that allows you to replace the audio card if the 3.5 mm jack is broken in the laptop.

External sound card Creative Sound BlasterX G1 2 650 *
The three-wire design makes it possible to turn the cable into a balanced one. When connected mono to balanced devices, this eliminates noise. This is an unbalanced cable when connected to stereo, so its quality will affect the sound quality. A cable that is too long (more than 10 meters) can lead to high frequency losses, it is recommended to pay attention to the shortest possible length. TRS is gradually disappearing from modern technology, striving to get rid of wires in favor of Bluetooth, Lightning and USB type C. To connect your favorite headphones to a modern smartphone, a special adapter is increasingly used.

Adapter BOYA 3.5 mm jack – Lightning 1 999 *
The speaker cable carries the signal from the amplifier to the speakers. This is a vulnerable part of the audio system, and the quality of the audio depends on the quality of the cable. The lower the resistance of the conductor, the less signal loss will be. To reduce resistance, manufacturers increase the cable cross-section, use oxygen-free copper conductors and reach absurd audiophile solutions, disassembled into memes. However, in practice, it is possible to seriously harm the sound only when using a cord tens or more meters long.

Connecting cable DEXP SpeakON – SpeakON 460 *
Speaker cables are made without shielding.

Audio Engineering Society / European Broadcast Union is a digital data transfer format at speeds up to 3 megabits per second. Designed in the eighties for professional technology and multichannel audio transmission, it is rarely found in consumer electronics. It gained some popularity only in devices of the Hi-End class. An XLR connector is used as the interface, but dedicated cables are used for long distance transmission to avoid data loss. Microphone cables have too much capacity, so they spoil the signal and are not suitable for AES / EBU.

The Sony-Philips Digital Interconnection Format is a consumer incarnation of AES / EBU, a digital audio format developed in the late eighties at up to 3 megabits per second. This is much higher than the speed necessary for transferring stereo from CD, therefore, multi-channel 5.1 and 7.1 formats with compression can be transmitted via S / PDIF. This port is found in many DVD players, receivers, TVs, and other consumer devices.

S / PDIF interface can be digital and optical Toslink (about it below). In the first case, the usual RCA cables are used, in the second – fiber optic.

All RCA cables are coaxial (they have a signal wire sealed in a shield, all cables of this design are called coaxial), but it turned out that it is opposite the digital S / PDIF connector that they write “coaxial” on household appliances.

Coaxial Input on Denon PMA-800NE Amplifier

The format is very demanding on the quality of the cable through which both the digital stream itself and the synchronizing information flows. The latter is necessary for the receiving device to recognize and bind to the transmitting one, otherwise artifacts called jitter will appear – crackling, hum, noise, etc. As a rule, it is a poor-quality cable that is to blame for jitter. However, this only matters at large distances. A regular high-quality RCA within two meters will perfectly cope with digital data transmission. If a longer cord is needed, then, according to the standard, its resistance should be 75 ohms.

Once upon a time, using S \ PDIF, a CD drive was even connected to an audio card. Modern technology is switching to HDMI, but often TVs only have digital S / PDIF for audio output.

A / D Converter DK202 RCA – S / PDIF
To connect external acoustics to such a TV, you need a digital-to-analog converter with conventional RCA outputs.

Toshiba Optical Link is an optical interface for S / PDIF. At its core, it is a coaxial cable that uses fiber instead of a signal wire.

Connecting cable DEXP ODT Toslink – ODT Toslink 699 *
This gives the cable complete protection against electromagnetic interference and some other problems, but adds more requirements to the cable.

Toslink is often labeled Optical as on DENON DCD-600NE

Due to the fragile fiber-optic core, cheap cables break easily, while expensive ones are very stiff and do not work if you need to lay the cable with kinks. When transmitting data over long distances, the signal is easily lost, jitter appears, so a Toslink cable longer than a couple of meters should be of the highest quality.

Alesis Digital Audio Tape is a multi-channel audio transmission format developed in the nineties. At that time, he was able to transmit 8 channels at 48 kHz resolution over a single wire for recording on an S-VHS cassette. The modern version of S / MUX can also transmit 4 channels at a sampling rate of 96 kHz, or 2 channels for audio at 192 kHz.

ADAT in S / MUX version on Tascam SERIES 102i sound card

The interface uses an optical TosLink connector, sometimes labeled ADAT Lightpipe. ADAT, along with S / PDIF, is often found in modern professional technology – sound cards, DACs, mixers.

Extension cable Cablexpert ODT Toslink – ODT Toslink 1 299 *
Word clock
Word connector on Tascam US-20×20

Sometimes on professional sound cards or DACs of the Hi-End class (as well as in receivers, amplifiers and players equipped with such a DAC) you can find Word Clock connectors just Word, similar to bells. This port uses S / PDIF, AES / EBU and ADAT digital connections for more accurate synchronization between devices. The Word Clock carries a synchronization signal to avoid jitter and the effect of desynchronization of sound with the picture in home theaters. The interface is a BNC connector and coaxial cables, the requirements for them are the same as for S / PDIF.

These cables carry MIDI information from synthesizers, midi keyboards, effect processors and other musical equipment to a sound card or controller. Consisting of two signal cables in the shield and a 5-pin DIN connector (only 3 pins are used). Not a lot of control information is transmitted, therefore, there are no special requirements for MIDI cables; any serviceable cord up to 15 meters long will transmit a signal without loss or error.

The modern digital standard for home appliances transmits video and multichannel audio. There are two types of HDMI cable certifications: Standard (video resolution up to 1080i) and High Speed ​​(video up to 4K with 3D and Deep Color). Both support up to 7.1 multichannel audio transmission with sampling rates up to 192 kHz.

DEXP HDMI to HDMI connecting cable, 3 m 1 499 *
Any working cable up to 5 meters long will not spoil the image quality and catch interference. For long distances, you should choose high-quality cables, here the general rule follows: the thicker and more rigid, the better.

Many audio cards, DACs, headphones, microphones, amplifiers and receivers are connected to the computer using the USB interface. The most popular version is still 2.0, providing speeds up to 480 Mbps (although somewhere around 300 Mbps will be closer to reality). In practice, this is enough for simultaneous recording of about 50 tracks in 48 kHz / 24 bit resolution.

Connecting cable Cablexpert USB 2.0 A – USB 2.0 B 340 *
When the sampling rate is doubled, the number of possible tracks is halved, so a USB-C audio card is better suited for recording high-resolution audio. Its characteristics correspond to USB 3.1 (speed up to 10 Gbps, 20 times faster). Also, USB-C is able to work in alternative modes, replacing, in particular, Thunderbolt and HDMI in the presence of a compatibility marking and an appropriate adapter.

Adapter Apple 5 499 *
Audiophilia has made its way to USB cables, you can find comparisons of the sound of expensive cords on the Web. This happened due to the fact that USB transfers data without checking the amounts for packet loss, as in HDMI. However, in practice this is not critical, and for short distances, a regular high-quality USB cable is enough to get a clear lossless signal.

Firewire (IEEE 1394)
Fading into the sunset, the Firewire connector was once widely used in sound cards, hi-fi DACs and in studio technology. Although the first incarnation of 1394a was even inferior to USB 2 in theoretical speed (up to 400 Mbps). In practice, it boasted a more stable connection, less data loss and lower write latency.

Connecting cable Noname FireWire IEEE 1394 4P – FireWire IEEE 1394 6P
The main problem with Firewire is not as a cable, but as a controller: for stable operation, you need controllers from manufacturers certified for a specific audio card. A cheap chip built into a motherboard is often useless.

Well-known to Mac owners, the connector has speeds up to 40 Gb / s in the current incarnation of Thunderbolt 3. Today, the connector is used in studio sound cards and is trying to make its way to the Windows market, appearing in motherboards.

Round cable Apple Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) to Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) white 0.8 m 4 499 *
Thunderbolt is a continuation and replacement of Firewire, so a 1394 sound card can be connected to a PC with a modern connector using an adapter.

Adapter Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire IEEE 1394 4P
Wireless connectivity is gradually replacing cables in home appliances, Bluetooth speakers are replacing audio systems, and soundbars have already learned to transmit multi-channel sound over the air and compete with home theaters. Modern codecs allow you to transmit a signal in high definition without any loss. But while the old technique is still working, you can always find the appropriate cords and adapters on sale.