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What Is an Optical Audio Cable?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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An optical audio cable is a type of cable that can be used to transmit audio signals between multiple devices, utilizing an optical signal that retains greater fidelity than some other methods of signal transfer. These cables can be made in a number of different ways, though they utilize optical fibers to transmit a signal that is visible as red light, usually using fiber optics or quartz glass fibers. An optical audio cable is typically used to connect devices that utilize digital audio signals, such as audio transmissions between a compact disc (CD) player and a receiver, though many high definition televisions (HDTVs) utilize these cables as well.

Also called a Toshiba™ Link or TOSLINK™ cable, the optical audio cable was first developed by Toshiba™ for audio signals between CD players and stereo receivers. It has since become the standard for use in transmitting digital audio signals between devices. The term “optical audio cable” is a generic name for this type of cable, which can be used to refer to cables made by any manufacturer. These cables typically have a single terminal at each end, which can be connected to the output and input connections on various audio devices and electronics.

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An optical audio cable can be made in a number of different ways, though they are typically some form of optical material that can transmit a signal through light. Optical fibers are often used in these cables, and though a single fiber optic can be used for some cables, a better signal is often assured by using a small bundle of optics together. The fiber optics are then wrapped in a protective outer cable, usually a flexible material like rubberized fabric or mesh. An optical audio cable can even utilize quartz glass fibers for a stronger signal, though these are typically more expensive and difficult to produce.

The standard maximum length for an optical audio cable is about 32 feet (10 meters), and shorter lengths are quite common. Cables of greater length can be used, but signal loss typically occurs unless some type of signal booster is used along the cable. Many different types of devices can be connected with an optical audio cable, including standard media player devices like CD players and home theater sound system receivers. HDTVs are often designed with connections for optical audio that allows an audio signal to be sent from the TV to a receiver, usually for a home theater system, which ensures greater sound quality.

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nony
Post 2

@everetra - That’s great, but not everyone has inputs and outputs for optical cables. For scenarios like that you might want to consider a converter, like an optical audio cable to RCA converter.

RCA are the old style connectors and most likely every standard piece of audio equipment has them. If you buy newer electronics you can use the optical audio cable to RCA converter to bridge the two technologies.

I don’t know if the sound will be as good as a pure optical cable connection from end to end, but it should certainly be better than a traditional RCA or even coaxial setup.

everetra
Post 1

Having worked in the telecommunications industry for many years, I can tell you for a fact that these optical cables are the way to go if you want rich sound for your home theater system.

I bought a few of these cables online to replace some copper cables I had for a home theater system, and even on an old system the digital optical audio cable delivered richer sound than I had ever heard before.

Even when I max out the volume the audio quality is crystal clear. Nothing beats using light to transmit the audio. It doesn’t suffer from signal degradation or static like other materials would.

I highly recommend these cables for your home electronics, if you don’t already use them.

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