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Digital Audio Connections: Coaxial and Optical

Digital audio interconnects consist of two main types of cables: coaxial and optical (or Toslink). Coaxial and optical audio interconnects are used in home theaters to connect DVD players, HDTV tuners, video game consoles and more to the A/V receiver or controller.

Some folks argue strongly either for Toslink or for coaxial digital audio connectors. You should use whichever is available to you — if they’re both available, they’re both equally good.

The HDMI connection is primarily used as a method for making digital video connections, but HDMI can also carry up to eight channels of digital audio. As A/V receivers continue to include more HDMI connections, you’ll be able to use a single cable to connect a source device such as a Blu-ray disc or DVD player or set-top box to your receiver, and also a single cable to connect the receiver to your display.

Coaxial digital interconnects

Keep in mind the following details on coaxial digital interconnects:

  • The coaxial interconnect resembles a single (mono) audio interconnect. It has standard RCA jacks on both ends and a coaxial cable between them. The conductors inside coaxial cables are of a different construction that’s designed to handle the higher frequencies of digital signals.

    You shouldn’t use standard audio interconnects in place of a coaxial digital cable. If your digital audio doesn’t sound right, check to see whether you have the correct digital interconnect hooked up.

  • The term coaxial (or coax) is typically used to describe the cables for connecting antennas, cable TV feeds, and satellite dishes to your home theater. That type of coax (using the F connector) is a completely different kettle of fish from a coaxial digital audio cable.

Optical digital interconnects

Here are some things you should know about Toslink optical interconnects:

  • The Toslink optical connector uses fiber optics instead of copper cabling and carries the digital signal as pulses of light instead of as an electrical signal.

  • The connector on a Toslink interconnect, viewed head-on, resembles a house.

  • The female Toslink connector (on your receiver or DVD player or wherever you’re plugging a Toslink into) is usually covered by a little removable dust cap.

    The Toslink optical interconnect.
    The Toslink optical interconnect.
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