Audio Cables

Ensure quality sound for your home theater or stereo with the right audio cables

Audio Cables

Audio cables transmit sound signals between components of a home entertainment system. In order to get full surround-sound performance, the right cables must be utilized.

This guide highlights the different types of audio formats, cable types and connector types that are available.

Audio Formats

The key difference between interconnect cable options is what kind of audio formats they carry

  • Most CDs are stereo, which means there are two audio channels encoded on the disc.
  • Most DVDs are encoded with surround sound, which has 6 or more audio channels.
  • Surround sound formats include a number designation, such as 2.0 or 5.1, where the first number indicates the audio channels that correspond to directional speakers in that system. The second number indicates an additional low-frequency effects (LFE) channel for heavy bass sound typically produced by a subwoofer speaker.
  • To access a particular sound format, you need 3 system components: An audio source, such as a DVD player or cable receiver that generates a signal in that format, An appropriate speaker set-up, and interconnect audio cables designed to transmit the format between that audio source and the A/V receiver or TV.

Format Specific Formats Standard Speaker Channels Audio Cable Options

Dual-channel sound

  • Stereo
  • Left
  • Right
  • RF coaxial cable
  • Dual RCA cable
  • HDMI cable
  • Optical cable
  • Coaxial cable

Analog surround sound

  • Dolby┬«Pro Logic
  • DTS Neo:6
  • Front left
  • Front right
  • Surround left
  • Surround right
  • Subwoofer
  • RF coaxial cable
  • Dual RCA cable
  • HDMI cable
  • Optical cable
  • Coaxial cable

Digital 5.1 surround sound

  • Dolby Digital
  • DTS Digital Sound
  • Front left
  • Front right
  • Front center
  • Surround left
  • Surround right
  • Subwoofer
  • Multichannel RCA cable
  • HDMI cable
  • Optical cable
  • Coaxial cable

Digital 6.1 surround sound

  • Dolby Digital Surround EX
  • DTS-ES Discrete
  • Front left
  • Front right
  • Front center
  • Surround left
  • Surround right
  • Surround back
  • Subwoofer
  • Multichannel RCA cable
  • HDMI cable
  • Optical cable
  • Coaxial cable

Digital 7.1+ surround sound

  • Dolby Digital Plus
  • Dolby TrueHD
  • DTS-HD Master Audio
  • DTS-HD
  • Front left
  • Front right
  • Front center
  • Surround left
  • Surround right
  • Surround back 1
  • Surround back 2
  • Subwoofer
  • HDMI cable

Interconnect Cables

There are two categories of interconnect cables: analog and digital

  • Analog cables transmit sound as a continually fluctuating electronic signal.
  • Digital cables transmit sound as a series of 1s and 0s, the language of computers.
  • For optimal sound conditions, it is best to use digital cables, especially if you have digital connections on your equipment.
  • There are 4 types of analog cable designs: Coaxial RF cable, which is the most basic type that can transmit a dual-channel stereo signal with an analog video signal, Dual RCS cable, which is the standard audio option and comes with a white plug for the left speaker and a red plug for the right, Multichannel RCA connection, which is the standard approach for transmitting multichannel music formats, DVD audio and super audio CD (SACD), and XLR cable, which is the mainstay of professional audio equipment and some high-end A/V receivers.
  • There are 3 types of digital audio cable: Coaxial digital cable, carries up to 6 audio channels, making it a good choice for 5:1 digital surround sound, optical cable, which transmits the digital audio signal as pulses of light, which ensures a perfect signal, and high-def multimedia interface (HDMI) cable, which is the best audio cable option as it can deliver 8 separate audio channels, along with a video signal and is the only cable that can handle 6:1 and 7:1 formats.

Connector Types and Terminal Designs

There are four common types of speaker connectors: Stripped bare wire, pin connectors, spade lugs and banana plugs

  • Spring clip terminal designs use a simple clamping mechanism designed to accept bare wire and pin connectors.
  • 5-way binding posts use posts with screw-down connectors designed to accept spade lugs, banana plugs, pin connectors and bare wire.
  • For the most secure connection, use a 5-way binding post combined with pin connectors, spade lugs or banana plugs.