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Audio cables


What to watch when buying an audio cable for your equipment? As soon as the first audio cable was laid, discussions arose about which type of cable is the best. Audio and audio cables are fuel for lively debates between music enthusiasts, professional audio specialists and audiophiles.

Grounds for discussion about audio cable quality and what cables should be used in certain situations, are the many different configurations in which a cable is used. I.e. apart from the cables used, the audio source (Mp3-player, CD-player, SACD-player or record player), the amplifier, the speakers and even the ear of the listener play a large role in audio perception. There's also a lot of discussion about to what specifications audio cables should be manufactured.

If it's this complicated, is it even possible to choose the cable that is right for you? Yes it is! There are a number of rules of thumb for making the right choice. And of course you can always contact our customer service desk for personal advice.

Subjects

Should I use an analog or digital connection?
Do the connectors have to be gold-plated?
Why use shielded cables?
What's the difference between balanced and unbalanced signals?

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RCA

Question: Should I use an analog or digital connection?
Answer: Whichever you prefer.

This answer may come as a surprise, but it's true nontheless. Wether analog or digital connections are better is an ongoing debate. Digital cables like TOSLINK optical audio cables a signal without any interference, which should benefit the sound quality. No signal loss whatsoever. This is true up to the point that a cable keeps functioning properly. Some might object that a digital signal lacks the 'warmth' or 'colour' of an analog signal. So, who is right?

If we look at the practical site, in some cases you can't choose anything else than analog cables. For example, when you want to split a single stereo signal into two mono signals. In that case, you might need an analog 3.5 mm mini Jack to 2x 6.3 mm Jack cable. An optical cable doesn't come with that functionality, however it can carry up to 6 signals simultaneously (for example: 5.1 audio), where you would need 6 different cables when using analog signals.

Apart from this, you personal references are important. Some audio specialist claim that when you listen to an analog recording, it's best to play it back on analog equipment, like a record player. This would be most benificial to the music's timbre. But when playing digitally recorded music, digital equipmentis is preferred.

In conclusion: there is no one truth in this case. Digital audio cables deliver a loss-free signal, but might miss the warmth and timbre of an analog connection. But rather than using multiple analog cables, a single optical cable can tranport multiple signals, which can be used in 5.1 audio setups. But then again, analog cables can be adapted from one standard to another.

We advice you to choose for yourself, keeping in mind your personal preferences and what option is the most practical in your case. Not sure what to choose? Let us know and we are more than happy to help!

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Optical/TOSLINK

Do the connectors have to be gold-plated?
Answer: Not necessarily, but it is often the better choice.

Most connectors are made out of copper or nickel, because these metals are great conductors. The gold plating that is often added to the connectors has nothing to do with preventing signal loss. The gold plating is applied to prevent corrosion of the connectors. When a connector without the plating is exposed to fluctuating temperatures or humidty, it's conducting capabilities start to deteriorate. This can be noticed by the worstening sound and image quality. The gold plating protects the connectors against this deterioration. In other words: a gold-plated connector is not necessary but highly recommended.

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Professional Series instrument cable

Why use shielded cables?
Answer: Less interference ensures a better signal.

It not only sounds that simple, it actually is. Sources of (electromagnetic) interference can disrubt the signal sent through the cable, causing signal loss and background noise.

Cables can be shielded in a number of ways, but is always done with non-magnetic materials like copper or aluminum. Spiral-wound and braided copper are two of the most-used methods, the latter being the better option. Often, aluminum is added as an extra layer of shielding.

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RCA to 6.3 mm Jack

What's the difference between balanced and unbalanced signals?
Answer: The answer to this question is a bit more complicated, but logical nontheless.

Wether an audio signal is balanced or unbalanced depends on the number of audio signals that can be sent through a single cable. In turn, this depends on the connectors. A connector with 2 pins can only transport 2 signals, just as a cable with 3 pins, can transport 3 signals.

The number of signals is important to balancing audio signals. To balance an audio signal, it is always sent though a cable twice: once normal and once in fase. This is, so to speak, the opposite of the 'normal' signal. This way noise can be eleminated or at least minimized. To balance and audio signal, a cable has to reserve 2 cores for this purpose.

To send an audio signal though a cable, a ground core is always necessary. The quick learner will notice that for a balanced you will always need 3 cores in a cable. A cable with 2-pin connectors can never be balanced.

It is important to take mono and stereo into account. A mono signal is a single audio signal. A stereo signal is a double signal for the left and right channel. For a balanced stereo signal, 2 cables with each 3 cores/pins are needed. Whan a signal is sent through 1 cable, it can never be balanced. Using a 3.5 mm mini Jack or 6.3 mm stereo Jack for stereo, never results in a balanced stereo signal.

A cable with 2 RCA connectors on both ends can never carry a balanced stereo signal as these connectors only use 2 connections and cores. Usually, balanced signals are transported using 6.3 mm Jack or XLR connectors, which both have 3 connections. A 3.5 mm mini Jack also uses 3 connections and cores, but is hardly ever used to transport a balanced signal. The funny thing is that a 6.3 mm Jack plug with 3 connections is usually called a stereo plug, while it is meant to carry an unbalanced stereo or a balanced mono signal.

Does this mean that you always need to opt for a balanced signal?

A balanced signal is usually overkill for home use. A balanced signal comes in handy in professional recording studios or when covering greater distances, like in a P.A. system on stage. These surroundings can cause extra interference. In most homes, this is not the case, making RCA cables a good choice for most people for use in hifi setups, where XLR and 6.3 mm Jack cables are often used in professional (recording) scenarios.


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6.3 mm Jack to XLR
 
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