What Is an Optical Audio Connector?

Written by james goux
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What Is an Optical Audio Connector?
If you're using these cords, you may not be getting optimal sound. (jacks audio video image by robert mobley from Fotolia.com)

In order to take advantage of the great quality audio that is included on DVDs and Blu-ray discs, people need more than just a nice television. In fact, even if people are set up with a proper audio receiver and surround speakers, the source does not necessarily transfer the full quality to the receiver. In order for this to happen, people will need some sort of digital cord, such as an optical audio cord.


Optical cords, also called Toslink cords, are very different from the traditional RCA cables (which are usually identified by white and red rubberised material and a metallic plug). The RCA cables transfer information through analogue means, which is only an approximation of stereo sound. Optical cables on the other hand are digital, so they transfer the information in an undiluted form of 0s and 1s, which will always be interpreted the same way and are able to hold information for full surround.

Stereo and Surround

RCA cables can only hold the information for one speaker each; hence, two cables give two streams of information. A single optical cable can distribute the information for five, seven or even more speakers due to its faster rate of distribution and its digital nature. In order to do this, the cable distributes the information as pulsing light. Whether the light is off or on corresponds directly to the off and on of binary code.

Cost and Condition

Optical audio cables are more expensive than RCA cables, but some sort of digital cable is necessary to truly take advantage of surround sound. The quality of the audio does not change based on the amount people spend on an optical cable, the cords either will function correctly and distribute the exact information, or they will not work at all. Because of the technology involved, the cords cannot become crimped or loose in their jacks, or the signal will not function.


If a television has an optical cord plugged into it, this is usually with the intention of passing through an audio out (with another digital cable) to a surround receiver. Most TVs only have stereo speakers, and are not able to utilise this information on their own. In order to take advantage of this type of cable, and this type of information, people require a receiver device in order to translate the information into something usable by the speakers.


Most home surround systems are set up with six speakers, or 5.1 as most official documentation will refer to them. People plug these are into a central receiver, which represents one centre channel (near the TV). One speaker is to the left and one to the right, and one speaker on the back left and one on the back right. A subwoofer creates bass tones and vibrations. The optical cord has the ability to transfer the information for all of these speakers.

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