How to Find the Right Audio Cables and Connections

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you plug in your headphones into an entertainment unit only for them to fail? You can rule out a fault on the headphones if they work just fine on other devices. In such a situation, audio jacks would come in handy.

What would make an audio jack different from the others?

While it is easy to think that a gold plated stereo plug will outperform its counterparts, there are other specifications to think about other than the plating.

  • Size - There are about three different plug sizes, 6.5 mm, 3.5 mm, and a 2.5 mm plug. The measurements describe the diameter of the units.
  • Channel - A mono channel sends audio output to one speaker while a stereo channel serves two speakers. One simple way you can use to spot the difference is by checking the conductors, marked by black circles running around the pin at different intervals. Standard stereo jacks have three conductors, while mono jacks use two conductors.
  • Shape - The shape of the connector differs according to the function and interface of the output device. The shape gives rise to other types such as banana plugs, RCA, Toslink, and XLR plugs.
  • Male/female - Technically, the female unit is not a jack. It is a socket where the male jack plugs in. Adapters have male and female connectors, the male part joining the audio device and while the female connects to the headphones/speakers.

Can you tell me more about the types of audio connectors?

  • 3.5 mm - This type of plug can carry different channels depending on the specified use. Your regular headphones will likely use a 3.5 mm plug.
  • 6.3 mm male and female connectors - Slightly larger than the 3.5 mm stereo jack, it initially found use on telephone connections before widening the scope to amps, audio mixers, and musical instruments.
  • Banana plugs - You can find them on cable connections for top-of-the-range speakers and amplifier systems.
  • XLR connectors - You will find this kind of pin on professional audio devices. Its design helps to balance out the audio signals on high-power systems to prevent possible damage.
  • RCA plugs - RCA cables can serve different applications such as carrying audio and video signals. The three color cable used on DVD players has one video connector and two stereo connectors for the left and right speakers.
  • Optical digital connectors - The common interfaces used to carry digital audio signals include the 3.5 mm optical plug (commonly found on iPods) and the TOSLINK interface.

When do I get to use an adapter?

An audio cable adapter becomes necessary when you have two incompatible connections. You can have a USB to 3.5 mm stereo plug adapter, 6.5 mm to 3.5 mm adapter, or 3.5 mm to RCA adapter.

A splitter is another kind of adapter that allows you to connect a pair of speakers (or speaker and microphone) to the receiver. You may also use it to connect a stereo headset to the speaker and microphone port on your PC.