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Know Your Connectors

Do you know the three main types of audio connectors?

You’ll encounter several types of connectors when hooking together audio equipment – let’s look at two of these today:

RCA Connectors

RCA phono connectors are the type found on most home stereo equipment and are physically smaller than the plug that goes into a guitar or keyboard.

RCA phono connectors are among the least expensive connectors and were very common in home-recording equipment manufactured in the mid 80s to the mid 90s.

By today’s standards, though, they are seldom used for serious audio connection. They are only appropriate for unbalanced applications and are virtually always used for high-impedance connections, such as those from consumer CD and DVD players, some computers, iPods and other music players.

Quarter-Inch Phone Connectors

Quarter-Inch phone connectors are the type found on regular cables for guitars or keyboards.

These connectors are commonly used on musical instruments and in live sound systems, at home and in professional recording studios.

Notice that a guitar cable has one tip and one sleeve on the connector. In guitar cables, the wire connected to the tip carries the actual musical signal.

The wire carrying the signal is called the hot wire or hot lead. The sleeve is connected to the braided shield that’s around the hot wire – the purpose of the shield is to diffuse outside interference, such as electro static interference and extraneous radio signals.

The Quarter-Inch for Headphones

The other type of ¼ -inch phone connector is the type found on stereo headphones.

This plug has one tip, one small ring (next to the tip) and a sleeve. These connectors are referred to as ¼-ince TRS (Tip-Ring-Sleeve).

In headphones, the tip and ring are for the left and right musical signals, and the sleeve is connected to the braided shield that surrounds the two hot wires.

-Bill Gibson

Next time Bill will look at the third connector – this is the one that most applies to your singing work – the XLR.