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How to Choose Digital Audio Cables

written by: Kumara Velu•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/29/2010

Most audiophiles can’t tell the difference in the sound quality between coaxial cables and optical digital cables (S/PDIF). This article will explain when each should be used and their pros and cons.

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    If you’re looking for a heightened audio experience whether you’re listening to your favourite music collection or viewing your favourite movie through your home theater system, the first requirement you must fulfill is having the right audio cables and connectors.

    The right audio cables and connectors these days mean cables and connectors of the digital type. Digital audio cables are manufactured with a primary aim – to provide the best quality audio signal which means preserving the original audio signal quality. To this end, there are two kinds of audio cables manufactured for this purpose – coaxial digital cables and optical digital cables.

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    Audio Coaxial Digital Cables

    Coaxial digital cables are popularly used for digital audio signal transmission. They look no different from RCA cables which many would have used to connect their VCR or DVD players to their television sets.

    The difference between RCA cables and coaxial cables are the latter are much thicker and are shielded in similar fashion to cable TV coaxial cables. The thicker shielding is important to keep out external signal interference. The aluminum wraps do a good job to that end.

    The wires are contained in a strong durable outer covering. In the case of coaxial cables used for digital audio signal transmission, there’s an imledance of 75 ohm, which tolerates a high amount of energy. Coaxial cables are affordable, yet deliver premium quality digital audio signal. As such they are very popular among audio buffs.

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    Optical Digital Audio Cables

    Optical digital audio cables look very different than coaxial cables. In place of the copper wire in coaxial cables, they utilize light pulses to transmit audio data. The advantage of an optical cable is that they are free from electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference. If you have to make a long-distance connection for some reason, rest assured that audio signals transmitted through them don’t degrade no matter how long the cable is. The optimum reproduction of audio signals is also assured because optical digital cables are immune to distortion caused by resistance, capacitance and inductance.

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    Which Digital Audio Cables Should You Choose?

    For beginners it could be a difficult task deciding whether to choose a coaxial or an optical cable. You may not be able to tell the difference in audio quality the two cables produce. Furthermore, your audio system, more often than not, allows support for both types of connections.

    As a general rule, you should choose optical cables as they are immune to electromagnetic interference, especially when they are in close proximity to computers or near power cords that emit radio frequency noise.

    Also, if you need long distance digital audio signal transmission, you would want to go optical. Say for instance if you need speakers to be placed about 20 to 30 feet away from your audio system, optical cables would do a good job in minimizing audio signal loss. If there’s a need for you to bend your audio cables owing to the nature of your audio system set up, then coaxial digital cables would be your choice.