An eBay Buyers Guide to Terminated Interconnects

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An eBay Buyer's Guide to Terminated Interconnects

What exactly are terminated interconnects? Well, all cables carrying audio and video signals between different devices are called interconnects. People usually use them to connect CD and DVD players, tuners, turntables, preamps, and decks to an amplifier, or a surround sound home theater system to a television. Speaker cables that are used to connect amplifiers or other output device to a set of speakers are not considered to be interconnects. Most interconnect cables are terminated. This means that they come with connectors at both ends to enable easy installation. The quality of the interconnects is a contributing factor to the sound quality of a Hi-Fi system or home theater. If the interconnects are cheap and inadequate, then even the most expensive audio equipment can not perform at its best.

eBay has what must be the widest selection of interconnects, anywhere. When shopping on eBay for terminated interconnects it is important that the shopper first familiarise himself with the different types of interconnects and connectors. The shopper should consider the materials and length of the interconnects. He should also know how to search the eBay site for listings for terminated interconnects.

Connector and Cable Types

There are different types of interconnects. However, they can all be grouped into two big categories: analogue and digital.

Analogue Terminated Interconnects

Analogue devices have been used for years to record and reproduce audio and video content. There is a variety of different interconnect cables. They conduct analogue signals to and from analogue devices.

RF Coaxial Cable

The coaxial RF cable, or coax, or F-type should be thought of as a family of interconnects, rather than a single type of cable. It consists of a standard coaxial cable with two terminations that utilise some kind of fastening mechanism. This termination, or plug, makes it easy to connect, disconnect, and reconnect the cables. RF coaxial cables are primarily used to transmit video signals between home theater components, such as a video recorder, set-top box, and television. This cable can also carry stereo sound, but its main application is the transmission of video signals.

RCA Cable

RCA cables are the most common variety of cables used to connect video and audio equipment. The male RCA connector found on the end of a RCA cable consists of a pin surrounded by a ring. This pin fits into the corresponding female plug found on most audio and video devices. An RCA cable is versatile and can carry either sound or video. Dual RCA cables are used to transfer stereo sound between Hi-Fi system components, with each cable carrying one sound channel. Triple RCA cables are used to carry composite video in addition to stereo sound, and can connect a television set to a video recorder. Multi-channel RCA interconnectors are used to carry multiple sound channels in home theater sets, or RGB video in high-definition video in HD installations.

SCART

SCART cables are the de facto European standard for connecting a video or DVD recorder with a TV set. These cables are also used for connecting cable or satellite signal decoders to televisions. They have 21 pins and so can carry many different video and audio channels simultaneously. The fact that so many different signals can be transferred by a single wire accounts for the SCART cable popularity. On the other hand, this makes the SCART cable quite heavy and inflexible.

XLR Cable

XLR cables are mostly used to connect professional audio equipment. They utilise balanced audio interconnection, making it possible to run them at much greater length than unbalanced interconnects such as the RCA, RF coax and SCART.

Digital Terminated Interconnects

Digital signals can also be transferred through normal copper wires but other types of wire exist for conducting digital signals.

Digital Coaxial Cable

Digital coaxial, or DC cables, come in two flavours: SPDIF,  which looks like an RCA cable and AES-EBU,  which looks like an XLR cable. Digital coaxial cables are essentially the same cables as their analogue counterparts but they are better shielded to protect the digital signals being transferred from outside signal interference. A big debate is going on about whether it is okay for digital cables to be so much more expensive that their analogue contemporaries, given the fact that they more or less do the same job. Many argue that a standard, analogue RCA cable is good enough to carry digital signals as well. This may be true for short distances and provided there are no sources of signal interference nearby. To be sure no signal degradation occurs, the savvy buyer should probably go for the sturdier, better shielded digital interconnects.

Optical Cable

Optical, or TOSLINK cable, is used to transfer digital sound signals between home audio devices through an optical fibre. On the question whether optical or digital coaxial cables are better for carrying digital sound signals, the answer is probably that it depends on the circumstances. An optical cable works better for transmitting digital signals over a longer distance, while a digital coax is better suited to handle right-angle turns.

High Definition Multimedia Interface

The HDMI cable, with its 19 pins, is emerging as the new standard for digital device interconnection. Like SCART, it can carry multiple audio and video channels, but in digital format. It can carry uncompressed digital video and audio and even 3D video and is used to connect devices such as an HDTVs, computer monitors, video projectors to digital video sources like PCs, video cameras,  and DVD players. There are several HDMI connectors available and the HDMI protocol is continually being improved and expanded upon.

Audio Cable Types

Here is a table with an overview of standard sound formats and recommended interconnect cables for home audio.

Sound Format

Specific Formats

Audio Cable

Dual-channel sound

Stereo

RF coaxial cable

Dual RCA cable

HDMI cable

Optical cable

Coaxial cable

Analogue surround sound

Dolby Pro Logic

DTS Neo:6

RF coaxial cable

Dual RCA cable

HDMI cable

Optical cable

Coaxial cable

Digital 5.1 surround sound

Dolby Digital

DTS Digital Sound

Multi-channel RCA cable

HDMI cable

Optical cable

Coaxial cable

Digital 6.1 surround sound

Dolby Digital Surround EX

DTS-ES Discrete

Multi-channel RCA cable

HDMI cable

Optical cable

Coaxial cable

Digital 7.1+ surround sound

Dolby Digital Plus

Dolby TrueHD

DTS-HD Master Audio

DTS-HD

HDMI cable

When choosing terminated interconnects to link audio inputs and outputs to one another, it is important that the buyer consider the cable geometry. This includes the nature of the insulating material and specifics related to the conductive materials.

Cable Materials

Almost all interconnect cables are made of copper, as they depend on modulation of an electric current to transfer signals. Copper is a very good and relatively inexpensive conductor and does a fine job in most cases. Audiophiles often favour gold plated interconnects as gold is resistant to corrosion. High-end cables can be silver plated or made of solid silver or oxygen free copper (OFC). Today, manufacturers are making terminated interconnects using rhodium. However, there is still debate as to whether these materials really improve sound and video quality in the end. Some claim that this whole precious metals business is just a way to get consumers to pay more just to have a better looking cable than their neighbour. Good quality and proper gauge copper cables are sufficient in the great majority of applications.

The exception when it comes to materials is optical digital wire. This cable does not use a conductor but a plastic or glass-quartz optical fiber to transfer signals. Of course, glass-quartz is better than plastic but even the cheaper varieties of optical cable can easily run for more than 20 metres without signal degradation.

Length of the Terminated Interconnect

As a rule of thumb, interconnect length should be minimised as much as possible. The interconnects are more prone to signal degradation than speaker cables. So it is best to stick with short interconnects, or in other words keep all the equipment close together in a closet or other piece of furniture and just install the speakers wherever they should be placed inside the room. A cheap RCA interconnect should not be longer than one metre, while high-end cables can easily go up to five metres. If someone has to install longer interconnects, he should consider a balanced interconnect scheme such as that offered by XLR cables. Those are the type cables used in professional recording studios and for concerts.

How to Buy Terminated Interconnects on eBay

It is easy to buy terminated interconnects on eBay, as long as you know how to search the site. Searching the site using a search query like 'terminated interconnects' does not yield more than a couple of results. To find the cables you are looking for, them you need to use generic search phrases like 'audio cables' or 'video cables'. You can browse through all the listings returned by the local search engine or refine your search further using criteria such as brand, price range, type of connectors, cable length, and more. Of course, if you are looking for something specific you can also start off with a more specific search query, such as 'standard 1.4 HDMI connector'.

Once you have found the interconnect you require, it is a good idea to carefully check out all product photos and technical specifications before committing to a purchase. It is also advisable to contact the seller directly with any questions. To do that, just go to their profile page and click on the contact link. The sellers that have earned the status of 'Top-rated Seller' are likely to be most knowledgeable about the items they offer for sale. If you are new to buying terminated interconnects online, it is best to stick to doing business with Top-rated Sellers.

Conclusion

Buying terminated interconnects is an essential step in getting the best out of a home theater, Hi-Fi audio system, or other collection of audiovisual devices. It is well-known that a system is only as good as its weakest link, and as interconnects are usually one of the cheapest components, and so often overlooked, it is important for a buyer to purchase the best terminated interlinks that they can afford.

Whether the buyer is using analogue RCA or SCART cables, or optical, digital coaxial or HDMI interconnects, quality does matter. On the other hand, this does not imply that everyone should buy interconnects made of gold, silver, rhodium and other precious metals. If the buyer uses cables of proper gauge and acceptable quality and keeps the length of the interconnect to a minimum, then there should be no signal degradation. If an interconnect needs to be longer than five meters, one could consider balanced interconnects or a high-end optical cable, depending on the type of signal that needs to be transmitted.

eBay offer buyers a varied selection of analogue and digital interconnects. Current listings can number in their thousands, but with eBay's easy to use search platform, a buyer can find just what they are looking for in just few clicks of the mouse.

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