The evolution of technology over the last few decades has made audio cables essential for connecting audio sources, such as computers and iPods, with audio outputs, like sound speakers. Learning a few fundamental facts can save you lots of time and money when searching for the right type of audio cable for one or all of your electronic devices.
Balanced and Unbalanced Audio Cables
The profusion of cables and plugs available for sale can appear confusing and discouraging to most casual buyers, so knowing a few basics about audio cables can help you figure out just what you need at home, in the office, or in your car. Consider first whether you need balanced or unbalanced audio cables. The so-called balanced lines work best with long cable runs, like between a mixer and a club PA system. Most professionals dealing with long cable runs look for XLR or TRS cables, used to transmit balanced audio from one device to another. Much more common in general usage, unbalanced cables are less complicated and widely utilised in headphones connected to personal music devices. One drawback with unbalanced cables is that they are much more likely to cause noise problems. Always try to keep your unbalanced line as short as possible to minimise potential noise the signal may carry into your connected equipment.
Digital and Composite Audio Cables
Digital audio cables provide high-quality playback and connect high-end home entertainment centres with surround sound. Three types of digital cables are widely available, the most used of which is the high-definition multimedia interface cable, best known by its abbreviation HDMI. Digital coaxial and optical cables present the two other, often more expensive, options. Composite cables, familiar to most users from as far back as the glory days of the VCR, provide one video and two audio connections. This trio of links is still widely used in most common audio and video set-ups, linking TV sets to digital cameras and video game consoles.
Selecting Audio Cables by Quality
The basic purpose of any audio cable is to carry an electrical signal from one device to another, without corrupting the signal or introducing unpleasant noise. Audiophiles can choose from a wide range of expensive, high-quality cables built to last and designed to keep the signal clear and noise-free. While you may not need this level of cable quality to connect standard home equipment, keep in mind that quality cables deliver better sound over longer periods. Remember that you want audio cables that are durable, flexible, and have quality connections compatible with your devices. Finally, figure out how long the cable needs to be before you purchase one that is either much too short and needs extensions, or much too long and liable to be stepped on or pulled.