All About Pro Audio Cables and Optical Audio Cable Adapters

Pro audio gear, such as optical audio cable adapters, isn't all the same. Many manufacturers build a variety of types of equipment, but not all equipment is configured in the same way. Connecting to various instruments, outboard gear, and devices might require simple to complex configurations of cabling. There are many types of different pro audio cables and adapters, including both analog connections and digital signals from optical audio cables to adapters. Getting the right connections and cables is one of the most important elements of setting up a professional or broadcast quality sound rig.

Connecting Pro Audio Gear

When you buy pro audio gear, you're most likely going to need to connect this equipment to either your computer sound card or audio device. You might also be connecting several devices together, and those may have a configuration to fit your audio recording device or computer. Mixers, AD/DA converters, mic preamps, instruments, samplers, and other equipment might be part of this setup. You'll need the right cables to connect and configure your equipment.

Options for Pro Audio Cables

You need to examine your equipment or the specifications of the audio gear you're buying, so you understand its connectivity options. These connections can be analog, digital, or both. Look at your inputs and outputs on the device.

Analog connections

  • XLR
  • Phone or TRS cables: 1/4" or 1/8" stereo/mono
  • Mini
  • RCA
  • Speaker cables

People typically use XLR to XLR cables with microphones and mic preamps. Their inputs have three holes and outputs have three pins. Phone or TRS cables are long shafts like those used with headphones, guitar cables, and instrument cables. Mono cables have one ring around the shaft near the tip of the plug (output). The jack (input) is a round hole. Some equipment is configured with phone/XLR jacks doubled as one, to save space on the device. Stereo plugs feature two rings, one for left and the other for right. Mini to mini cables are similar to phone cables, just smaller. RCA cables are those that split a left and right side signal through two separate cords in one cable configuration for stereo sound. Plugs have a pin with a sleeve surrounding it, while jacks are holes and shafts to fit sleeves. Speaker cables are sometimes configured as small gauge wire with a positive and negative exposed copper wiring or "sleeve-with-pin," or they may be digital cables.

Digital connections

  • S/PDIF
  • Optical TOSLINK
  • MIDI
  • Word clock
  • FireWire/USB

S/PDIF is a coaxial type of digital audio cable that mimics the RCA analog style connection, but for digital audio signals. Optical or TOSLINK refers to a cable originally developed as ADAT for Alesis Digital Audio Tape use. It uses an optical red beam of light as the signal connection through a wire and plug. AES and EBU cables can look like XLR cables, or something with multiple pins within. MIDI is Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and it doesn't produce audio, but rather musical data such as volume, pan, velocity, note, and pitch, for use with MIDI cable devices and instruments. Word clock is a connection used to sync timing devices. FireWire and USB are common peripheral digital connections for use with PCs and Macs, audio recording devices, DAWs/workstations, digital instruments, and microphones.