How RCA Y Adapters Work

Written by richard asmus
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How RCA Y Adapters Work
RCA cables connect various components of home entertainment systems. (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Technically speaking, an RCA "Y" adaptor has three legs that only make physical connections. One type either joins two signals together or splits one signal. Another type separates two connections from a three contact connector into two separate connections. However some manufacturers produce "Y" adaptors that appear to convert signals from one format to another. Usually these don't work.

RCA Cables

An RCA connector fits on coaxial cables that have a centre conductor surrounded by a shield for protection. The centre conductor carries the signal and the shield provides its ground or return path. The centre pin of an RCA connector is about a twelfth of an inch in diameter and pushes into an RCA socket. The outer ring has slits to provide spring pressure to hold it onto the outer collar of the socket. RCA cables carry analogue audio and video signals below 100MHz in frequency between the components of home entertainment systems.

Splitters and Combiners

An RCA splitter or combiner uses a Y adaptor with RCA male plugs and female jacks, and makes a physical connection from two RCA cables to a single RCA jack. One with two male plugs and a female jack joins the signals from two RCA outputs to connect to a single cable, and one with two female jacks and one male plug splits a signal to go in two directions. Both work by connecting all three centre conductors together and all outer shields together. An RCA Y splitter or combiner has no internal electronic parts.

Headphone Y Cables

Another type of RCA Y adaptor has a standard or mini headphone "tip, ring, sleeve" connector on one leg and female RCA jacks on two other legs. The "tip" of the headphone jack connects to the centre conductor of the red RCA jack for right audio on one of the legs, and the "ring" connects to the centre conductor on the white RCA jack on the other leg. The sleeve connects to the outer shield of both RCA jacks. It connects the audio output of a headphone jack to the input of any device that accepts audio signals.

"Y" Adapters

Some manufacturers produce Y adaptors with multi-pin HDMI, DVI or VGA connectors on one end and two or more coaxial cables attached to various pins, with RCA connectors on the other ends. These may appear to split the signals of the original connector into various other formats. But these adaptors only make physical connections and don't change the format of the original video signal. They sometimes produce a video picture of questionable quality, but usually don't work at all. To change complex video formats to those that use RCA connectors, you need electronic converters, not just physical connections.

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