Know Your Audio Connectors

The Main Audio Connectors

If you’ve been looking around the various places where audio equipment is available to buy, you may have noticed that there are a lot of different ways to connect them all together. There are all sorts of cable and connector types, usually without any explanation as to why you should pick one over another.

Usually the most practical thing to do is pick the connector that’s common to both devices and use that, but sometimes there are multiple options, and if you haven’t yet actually bought anything it’s useful to know what you’re looking at. In this short article I am going to be highlighting some of the different connector types that you may run into and what you should know about each one.

I also have a buyer’s guide on the site that will help you choose between cables of different qualities without wasting your money. So do check that out.

The Original: RCA Connectors

RCA adapters are the most common connector and have been widely-used with home stereo equipment for decades. They were originally called “phono” connectors, since they’ve been used with record players since the 1940s. The term “RCA” comes from “Radio Corporation of America”. This was the company that originally invented them.

RCA cables can be easily identified since they are color-coded. Stereo cables have one red and one white connector that will correspond to the socket color on your device. The cable itself is the same, the colors just help keep it all organized. You will definitely need a few of these and a basic pair is usually included with each component when you buy it.

Monkeying Around:
The Banana Plug

You don’t see these too much anymore, but they are still used as speaker connections. The banana plug is a flat connector with two spaced prongs. It uses screws to hold the speaker wire in place instead of solder. This means that you can easily make your own cables with little effort.

Speakon, Speak On

Speakon is a brand-name for a type of connector that you’ll mostly find on large PA speakers, so for most home users this won’t ever come up. They are a large plastic connector with no visible prongs. It gets inserted and then twisted to lock in; this is useful for safety and security at public events.

Size XLR

XLR connectors are often known as “mic cables”, but they are also used on some speaker systems and amplifiers. They use a metal housing with three prongs and have a secure retention clip. One prong is negative, one positive, and one ground.

Totally Sweet: TS and TRS connectors

TS (Tip Sleeve) and TRS (Tip Ring Sleeve) connectors are ones that most people have dealt with. The headphone jack on your smartphone is an example of a TRS socket. TS connectors are mono whereas TRS connectors are stereo.

They come in three sizes: 3/32” (2.5mm), 1/8” (3.5mm), and 1/4” (6.3mm). The smallest size is pretty rare in the wild, but the other two are quite common. The 1/8” connector is usually on low-impedance headphones and is what most people think of as a “headphone jack”. The largest size is often used as a speaker cable or as an instrument connector. The 1/8” is used in computers, CD players, and many other common audio devices. Other than for headphones, you are unlikely to use this for hooking anything up on a proper home stereo, however.

USB: Universally-Loved

The last connector I’m going to talk about is the only digital one here and is not actually an audio connector. USB is a widespread connection standard for computers and other digital equipment. I doubt anyone reading this hasn’t worked with some form of USB, since it’s everywhere you look these days. As a digital standard it doesn’t really matter what cable you buy as long as it is certified for the USB standard your turntable uses. Some turntables have a digital-to-analog converter that lets you hook up the system to a laptop or desktop computer to digitize your vinyls. So that’s where this would be relevant.

Plug It In

These are all the main connector types that you’ll encounter when working with record players in a home stereo environment. Don’t forget to check out my buyer’s guide on cable quality and selection, which goes well with this article. Don’t worry – it’s actually pretty easy; as long as you know to put the round peg in the round hole you’ll be fine.

Vinyl Vintage Audio System Reviews

If you’re completely new to the world of vinyl and vintage audio, I’d recommend to start with the reviews on Turntables, Phone Preamps, Record Cleaners and Speakers. Once you’ve got this covered, make sure to check the menu for more of my reviews.

Turntables Record Cleaners Phono Pre-Amps Bookshelf Speakers