The Various Audio Cable Types

With each passing day, technology becomes further engrained in our lives. Some are in major ways while others are a bit more subtle. Others still are so common that the majority of us barely even notice them anymore.

Because audio cables have been around for so long, many of us just accept them as a normal part of life. For those who might not know, there are more than a few types of audio cable to choose from.

Balanced vs. Unbalanced: An Overview

While one audio cable may not look much different from the next, even subtle differences can be exponential. Whether for personal or business use, audio cables serve a litany of purposes. But there is an important aspect that you will no doubt run across: balanced and unbalanced.

Balanced cables have three conductors – positive, negative, and ground signals. Unbalanced cables only have one signal and one ground conductor. The only real difference between the two is that the balanced cables transmit signals through the positive and negative with one being the inverse of the other. Both are great at dealing with electrical interference, though a balanced cable is superior.

TS/TRS Cable

Short for “tip/sleeve cable”, the TS cable is one of the most commonly known types of audio cable. Generally speaking, these are used for musical instruments like keyboards, guitars, and more. It’s an unbalanced cable that has two conductors, which makes it suitable for short distances while connecting to mono instruments.

These cables can also connect to amplifiers, mixers, and several other audio interfaces that are capable of using TS cables. Most of the connectors are ¼” for instruments, 1/8” for mono headphones. The musical world puts TS cables to good use on a regular basis. The TRS cable is very similar except that it has another ring to it. TRS can act as both balanced and unbalanced, making it more versatile in the musical world.

RCA Cables

This type of cable – with one red connector and one white connector – was manufactured by the Radio Corporation of America. The RCA became the standard for low-cost audio cables over time. The design and construction are simple, which is why the cost has remained low for so long.

RCA became the standard for AV and home stereo systems. They are basically unbalanced cables since they have just two connectors. Because of that construction, they are ideal for short distances. These cables are even popular today for connecting analog devices and equipment.

MIDI Cables

Let’s get one thing clear from the start. MIDI cables don’t actually send sound or audio. They are sending event information between devices and equipment that have MIDI compatibility. This is one of the earliest digital audio cables, having 5-pin connectors.

MIDI cables basically carry data in a digital format rather than actual audio signals. Most of the modern MIDI cables have since been replaced by USB connectors and cables.

USB Cables

The standard for both audio and video in this day and age. It is very simple to use and extremely popular for digital audio interfaces. USB replaced the MIDI connector and has since been tweaked to carry data and power while being able to transmit audio signals.

The latest offering is USB C, which has basically replaced 3.5mm headphone jacks for mobile phones. USB also comes in other forms: Type A, Type B, and Micro USB, among others. For any audio and video equipment produced over the last decade, USB cables have become the norm. Even charging devices for most mobile electronic devices, USB has become the primary cable of choice.