Wading through the myriad of different connector types and cables can be a headache at the best of times and with so many different types and permutations of cable connector, it can be easy to get your wires in a bunch. Here we have a preliminary guide to assist you through the ever expanding universe of cables & connectors:
Name: ¼ inch TS/TRS
Often referred to as a phone or jack connection, this cable is one of the most common for transmitting audio signals. Available in balanced & unbalanced*, male & female**, ¼ inch TRS cables are the most common connector types for guitar amplifiers, active monitors and the vast majority of pro audio equipment.
Name: 3.5mm (AKA 1/8 inch connector/mini plug)
The 3.5mm connector is undoubtedly the most common in consumer electronics, generally featured as a connector on headphones, speaker auxiliary cables and HIFI home audio equipment.
2.5mm jacks are also used but not as common.
Name: RCA (AKA Phono)
RCA cables are commonplace amongst consumer electronics. They are used for delivering audio and video signals to and from speakers & DVD players. The ends of the connectors are sually colour coded for ease of use.
XLR cables are commonly used in stage lighting and professional audio applications for carrying balanced electrical signals. XLR cables are available in different pin configurations (3-7 pins) so it’s important to ascertain which pin configuration is required. 3 pin is usually the industry standard for audio connections.
Name: Component Video (Y-Pb-Pr)
Component video connections are essentially the pre-cursor to the HDMI, providing HD video & audio signals to older equipment (e.g. the xbox 360). The component video connection is often paired with RGB connectors and takes the form of a phono connection.
The coaxial video cable is designed to carry analog audio & video signals between compatible devices and can also carry RF (radio frequency) signals in the multi-megahertz range. Coaxial cables can come in a wide selection of connector types which can be found here.
Named after it’s alphabetical topology, D-sub connectors are most commonly used to connect VGA computer monitors with their respective PCs. There are many different sizes and pin configurations for D-sub connectors which can be found here.
Name: HDMI (High definition multimedia interface)
HDMI is an all-in-one cable designed to transmit 1080p video and surround sound audio at a high fidelity with no noticeable loss of quality. Commonly used to bridge connections between computers & monitors and televisions & their peripheral equipment (e.g. TiVo & Blu ray players)
Toslink cables are based on fiber optic technology; transferring digital audio signals via encoded pulses of light (PCM – pulse coded modulation). As a result, Toslink connections feature very little loss of signal quality as they aren’t susceptible to interference. However, it is advised to be careful when handling Toslink cables as the interior can be fragile. Toslink cables are commonly used in the pro audio industry to provide a high quality digital connection between active monitors and compatible audio interfaces.
Name: USB (AKA universal serial bus)
USB cables are by far the most widely used type of cable for digital connections and is designed to communicate both electrical & digital signals from device to device. USB connection speeds have improved since their conception and most computers feature USB 2.0 or 3.0. They can also come in a range of sizes including mini USB, micro USB and USB-C.
Name: Firewire (AKA IEEE 1394)
Firewire was designed as a high speed serial communication, similar in effect to USB albeit with a faster rate of data transfer. They are usually the connection of choice for pro audio and computing. Firewire cables are also available in fiber optic & coaxial versions.
Name: MIDI (AKA musical instrument digital interface)
Technically, Midi is more than just a connector. It describes a protocol in which digital instruments can transmit CC information between compatible devices, allowing for digital instrument data to be interpreted and recorded into a DAW or associated device. MIDI has come a long way since it’s conception and many modern devices now support MIDI over a USB connection, which eliminates the need for a dedicated MIDI interface.
Name: DIN (AKA Deutsches Institut für Normung)
DIN refers to a class of cables standardized by Deutsches Institut für Normung for their family of circular connectors and was originally the precursor to the MIDI cable. DIN connections come in a range of pin configurations. It is advised to ascertain the document number of your required DIN connection before purchasing.
Name: RJ (AKA Registered jack, Ethernet)
RJ is the industry standard for telecommunication interfaces, often used in transferring voice & data over long distances. There are many different types and categorizations of RJ cables which can be found here. RJ cables are often utilized in local area networks as a method of data transmission.
* Balanced & unbalanced – balanced cables contain an additional wire carrying an audio signal 180 degrees out of phase to attenuate noise usually picked up in the cable. Read more about balanced & unbalanced signals here
** Male & female is a common term used when describing types of connector. Male connectors feature a protruding connection, whilst female connectors are the inverse.