With so many audio cable types to choose from, it might be challenging to determine which is best for your new setup, whether you’re just listening or creating.
You don’t have to be an audiophile to recognize that different audio cables are used for various purposes.
If you make material or record music in a studio, you’ll need audio cords that are significantly more professional.
Although there are many different cables for audio creation and enjoyment, they do not have to be opaque and scary.
Here’s an overview of the different types of audio cables available and factors to consider in choosing Audio cables.
What are Audio Cables?
“A cable that transmits an analog or digital signal generated by an audio speaker or amplifier.”
This is the most basic definition of an audio cable: it is simply a wire that transmits audio from one component to another.
When we talk into a microphone, the audio cable sends the signal to be processed, and the sound is heard through a loudspeaker.
Even when correctly inserted, every audio wire produces some noise and distortion. As a result, knowing which cable to utilize for a specific purpose is critical.
Analog audio cables convey electrical audio signals, whereas digital audio cables send digital data in binary code (the computer language of zeros and ones).
Balanced or unbalanced analog audio cables are available. Knowing the difference between balanced and unbalanced cables is critical when selecting the appropriate cables for each application.
This will protect your recordings or live performances from signal loss or excessive noise interference. The incorrect cable could even harm your devices.
What’s the difference between balanced and unbalanced cables?
- Unbalanced wires are more susceptible to radio interference and noise. When you rip an imbalanced cable open, you’ll find two wires: a conductor and a ground wire. This cable has two wires: a signal (sound) and a ground wire. The signal or sound wire transmits it, while the ground wire shields it from extraneous influences such as lights, televisions, and radio transmitters. Unbalanced cables include RCA connectors and Standard TS cable connectors.
- Balanced cables are designed to eliminate electrical hums and interferences, and balanced cables can efficiently minimize noise generated by electrical interference through their third conductor. A balanced cable will split your signal into two “copies,” one of which will have the polarity reversed. Two identical signals with reversed polarity cancel each other out, leaving nothing but quiet.
7 Different Types of Audio cables
1. TS Cables
they are usually unbalanced. TS Cables (short for Tip / Sleeve and sometimes known as guitar or instrument cables) are one audio cable type you want to keep as fast as possible.
They allow you to connect mono (one-channel) audio sources to amplifiers, mixers, and audio interfaces, such as guitars, other unbalanced instruments, effects pedals, and drum machines.
The 1/4-inch TS cable is the most common, but the 1/8-inch (3.5mm) TS cable is also used as mono headset microphones in consumer devices.
The 1/4-inch TS cables have more substantial shielding and are the preferable choice for signal noise.
2. RCA Cables
Consumer-grade audio equipment usually uses RCA cables, which are two-conductor wires. Stereo cables with two connectors, one for the left and the proper channels, are the most common RCA cables, usually white and red.
The business RCA invented and initially implemented RCA cables, where the name comes from.
This is a different type of Audio cable because of its tiny size and low cost of production; they are still often found on vinyl turntables and other consumer electronics.
However, they are steadily losing away due to the rise of digital audio connections and wireless devices such as Bluetooth. RCA cables are sometimes known as phono plugs or, more recently, an “aux cord.”
3. USB Cables
USB cables are often used as a digital stream to link an audio interface to a computer and connect MIDI devices to a computer in the audio industry.
USB audio is a popular choice for interfaces and synths because of its flexibility and speed. Several audio channels can now be broadcast in real-time via a single USB cable, thanks to technological advancements.
When it comes to multi-channel audio, USB offers better interoperability than alternative formats like ADAT or S/PDIF.
4. XLR Cables
XLR cables are one of the most classic and robust of all the different types of audio cables. They’re huge, hefty, and always balanced, as you’d expect from such a rigid wire.
XLR cables are used in various equipment, including microphones, speakers, PA systems, DMX lights, and instruments.
Whether you’re running a little six-foot wire or a lengthy 50-foot line, XLR cables are an excellent way to connect these devices to mixers and stage speakers to ensure a clear and crisp signal.
Many XLR converter cables are available, including XLR to 3.5mm, XLR to TRS, and XLR to RCA.
Speakon cables are almost exclusively utilized in the pro audio market to connect speakers and amplifiers.
They usually have a two-conductor connection, but they also come in four- and eight-conductor versions for high-power or bi-amped applications in live sound.
Due to the ability of speaker cables to lock into place like XLR cables, Speakon cables are commonly preferred in live sound versus 1/4 speaker cables.
Speakon cables were created to replace XLR and 1/4 connectors on Speakon cables to prevent unbalanced speaker cables from mixing up with instrument cables or balanced XLR cables.
6. MIDI cables
A MIDI cable is one of the most prevalent digital cables. They were first created in the 1980s to connect various synthesizers to sequencers and external controllers and are one of the oldest digital connectors still in use.
MIDI cables have a 5-pin connector and are roughly the same size and shape as an XLR cable. MIDI cables do not transfer any sound or audio data.
Instead, they’re utilized for communicating information regarding a musical performance, such as which keys to play and how difficult to play them.
MIDI cables are still used for different applications today, despite the popularity of USB connections as an alternative. MIDI is becoming more popular as a control protocol for digital guitar processors.
One of the most significant advantages of MIDI is that it can transmit up to 16 separate data channels over a single connection.
7. HDMI Cables
The HDMI Forum introduced ARC, Audio Return Channel, with HDMI Revision 1.4. This functionality allowed fewer wires to connect a TV to additional devices such as a soundbar (or surround sound system) and an AV receiver (or any other input device). As a result, HDMI won in the HDMI ARC vs.
Optical Audio debate due to its substantially higher bandwidth capability for lossless audio and practically all current audio formats.
Factors To Consider in Choosing the Different Types of Audio Cables.
One of the most important considerations when selecting an audio cable is what it will be used for—numerous types and grades of audio cables accessible, requiring specific essential considerations.
1. Cable Gauge
Another factor to consider when purchasing “live” sound audio cables is the cable’s size. The thinner (or larger gauge, such as 18 or 24 gauge) the cable, the more likely it will bend and eventually break.
Use 14 gauge, 12 gauge, or even 10 gauge wire for cables connecting to speakers, such as guitar amps or unpowered PA speakers.
Because there is more shielding around a larger wire, it helps to reduce possible interference.
Because connecting PA equipment and speakers transfer a LOT of electrical power, thicker cables will be better equipped to manage the load.
2. Recording Cables
On the other hand, if you intend to utilize your cables for studio recording, you should think about the overall quality of each cable.
Many people recommend using higher quality cables because the purpose of the recording is to retain the original sound while also ensuring that your audio gear picks up the most accurate and “cleanest” sounding rendition.
Other Things To Keep in Mind Before Choosing From the Different Types of Audio Cables Available
- Durability if the cable
- Cost efficiency of the cable
- Stereo cable format
Most people believe that purchasing audio cable is difficult; nevertheless, it is not. All you need to know is what kind of cable you want.
Different types of audio cables are used for various purposes, and this guide looked at some of the most common audio cable types and their typical applications.
Each audio connection has advantages and cons, and you must carefully determine which audio cable is best for your needs.