Types of Audio and Video Cables: A Comprehensive Guide

A cable, while often overlooked and tripped over, is a very important part of your work/play setup. Without the proper audio cable, the detective cannot learn what their lead suspect was wearing; without the proper video cable, they cannot know that the suspect directly threatened the victim. Audio/visual cables are the flexible backbones of the tech world; everyone requires sound and sight in all settings.


Cables usually refer to two or more wires that are bonded or twisted together to carry electric current. Audio visual cables are those that transmit both audio and video signals.

Let’s explore the various types of cables that carry only audio data, the ones that carry only video data, and the ones that carry both.




- 2.5mm / 3.5mm Cable: Let’s start with the 3.5mm cable. It is the most common audio cable available on the market. These cables are also called “headphone jacks” because they are used to connect headphones to source devices. Ports for this kind of cable can be found on computers, TVs, and phones. The 3.5mm comes in various versions: TRS, TRRS, and TS. The TRS has two rings that give it three conductors, making it perfect for stereo connections like speakers. The TRRS comes with three rings (four conductors), allowing stereo audio and a mono mic.


If you were to shrink the 3.5mm cable, you would have the 2.5mm cable. Both the cables have the same functions and shape, different only in size. Similar to the 3.5mm, the 2.5mm is also divided into TRS, TRRS, and TS versions. You used to find a 2.5 port on phones, but nowadays, they are commonly seen on cordless home phones and radios.


- ¼” Cable: Think of the 3.5mm as the original work. The 2.5mm was the downsized version. And now the 1⁄4'' is the scaled-up version. Everything is the same, right down to the versions (TS, TRS, TRRS), just bigger. Here, the plugs are larger and hence, heavy-duty. They are used in professional audio equipment like musical instruments, amplifiers, and speakers. Oftentimes, these cables are called “guitar jacks” or “instrument jacks” because that is what they are mostly used for.


Optical Toslink Cable: Optical Toslink is what you need for your at-home audio needs. These cables are the fiber optic cables for audio: they turn the signals into lasers, which then travel down the cable and which are again turned back into audio at the end. New-age TVs have ports for optical cables. The great thing about Optical Toslink is that it uses a digital signal to give you clear and crisp audio. The drawback? This sort of signal only has a max distance of 5 meters before it peters out and stops working altogether. You can get an extender if you want a way around this issue.


- XLR Cable: Like the ¼”, the XLR cables are used for professional audio equipment. XLR comes in different versions; you can tell them apart by the number of holes/pins inside the connector. You have the most common version, the 3-pin. XLR connectors can have a maximum of 7 pins. While some professional audio equipment uses both, some microphones/mixers mostly use XLR when not using ¼”.


- SpeakOn Cable: SpeakOn is the new kid on the block. Their purpose is the same as the ¼” and XLR, most commonly used in loudspeakers. They are designed in such a way that they can carry large amounts of power, which makes them ideal for heavy-duty amplifiers. It's a safe connector as their metal contacts are found inside the connector, so you don’t run the risk of electrocuting yourself. Moreover, these connectors lock into place.


- MIDI Cable:MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It looks very similar to the 5-pin XLR cable; the only difference is that these are made using 5-pin DIN connectors. The purpose of this cable is to connect musical devices to computers, which allows the audio signal to transfer as a data signal. This is not limited to audio and is also able to send info like patch data.




- S-Video Cable: S-Video cables have become antiquated these days. It's impossible to find an S-Video connection on new devices, but a lot of old equipment still employs it. The days of VCRs, and old TV sets are numbered, but until those are gone, S-Video will be around.


- DB9 Series Cable: Yet another antiquated video connection is DB9. This was commonly used in computers, specifically computer monitors. Over the years, this has been replaced by VGA. DB9 was also used to send data signals, but that also has been replaced by USB. You may find old computers that still use DB9.


- SVGA: SVGA stands for Super Video Graphics Array. It is a step above the standard VGA. It offers you a higher resolution with more colors than the VGA. It has also been called Enhanced VGA or Ultra VGA.


- HDMI to DVI Adaptor: These adaptors are used to remodel DVI output from your computer or other devices to projectors/TVs.



- HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface): It is a compact audio-visual interface to transfer uncompressed video and compressed/uncompressed audio data. It implements ‘EIA/CEA-861’ standards, which define specific video formats and waveforms to transfer compressed and uncompressed audio and auxiliary data. These cables were designed in 2002 and have been in use since 2003.


- RCA Connector: RCA cables are often color-coded: yellow for the composite video, red for the right channel, and white or black for the left channel of stereo audio. This type of cable is usually an RF coaxial designed in the early 1940s and is used to carry audio and visual signals. That’s why sometimes it’s also referred to as "A/V" jacks. It is used as a power connector, an RF connector, and also as a connector for loudspeakers.


- Coaxial Cable: This cable has an inner conductor and is surrounded by an insulating tubular layer that has a tubular conducting shield. Its design was patented in 1880. The dimensions of the cable are customized to give a specific continuous conductor layer which enables it to function precisely as a ‘radio frequency’ transmission medium.


- Cable Modem: It is a type of Network Bridge that gives bidirectional data transmission via radio frequency channels. They are used to deliver broadband internet access due to the range of high bandwidth of hybrid fiber coaxial channel (HFC) and (RFOG) networks.


- SCART: It is an associated 21-pin connector for connecting AV equipment. The official standard for SCART is CENELEC and is sometimes referred to as the IEC 9331-1 standard. It is designed to carry analog standard-definition content. Generally, it carries composite and ROB video, stereo, audio, and digital signals.


- F Connector: It was designed in the early 1950s and is used for terrestrial and satellite televisions, especially for television antennae. It has an impedance match of 75 Ohms and a bandwidth of up to several GHz. It is best used for domestic terrestrial cables anterior.


- XLR Connector: This connector is mainly used for stage lighting equipment, specifically for digital audio and lighting control for low-voltage supplies. The connector is circular and has 3 to 7 pins. Such connectors are available in two types: male and female connectors.


- HDMI Cable: It is used in store labeling specifications for HD TV sets. It can transfer Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS HD master audio that are in compressed form. HDMI 1.0 transfers blueray disks at full video quality.


- RCA Connector Cable: It allows transmission of one cable at a time, but its problem is that each signal requires its plug. This leads to a mess of cables. Another problem is that the inner signal is made before the ground signal and this produces a loud noise that may distort other equipment.


- Coaxial Cable: It is used for transmitting lower frequency signals and connecting radio transmitters and receivers to the antennas. It has an advantage over other conductors owing to its electromagnetic nature. It can therefore transmit signals with little interference and negligible loss of power.


To conclude, depending on the exact use, one should select between HDMI cables, coaxial cables, and cable modems as they are more advanced in signal transmission and involve less loss of power.