RCA Connectors

RCA Connectors

So much stress over the simplest of connectors

RCA cables are the simplest of analogue audio connectors in use since the earliest days of hi-fi stereo systems. RCA stands for Radio Corporation of America, which popularized the standard. But RCA jacks have also been called Phono jacks, composite jacks and CINCH/AV connectors.

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The basic RCA connector consists of a central male plug surrounded by a ring which acts as a ground for the connection. The ring is usually divided into segments for flexibility as not all RCA connectors fit perfectly; this flexibility allows a good, tight connection. The common RCA cable consists of a pair of these connectors intended for a stereo system to connect two channels of audio - one red and one white plug to distinguish between channels.

The RCA connector is popular with audio and video equipment but went into wide use in the days when tape recording equipment was using the jack plug or headphone jack. Today, the jack plugs have found a niche with the headphones and RCA is used for just about every other analogue audio and video connection.

Newer versions of the RCA cable configuration now consist of a third connector with a yellow plug. The yellow connector is physically the same as the red and white but intended for a composite video connection. These became popular with early VCRs but have since fallen out of favor as VCRs, and now especially DVD players, started using a different standard of analogue connection called S-Video. When connecting video to an HDTV there are many more video connection standards available.

When it comes to analogue interconnects between audio equipment there is a direct relation between the quality of the cable and the purity of the audio signal that can be passed through it. In short, cheap cables with no insulation and made from bad materials that have a tendency to break can ruin the acoustic qualities of your hi-fi system. Better quality cables will give your audio components a high-current connection and resulting improvements in acoustic quality - but only to a certain point.

There is a whole industry behind overemphasizing the quality of cables. Many people get suckered into buying very expensive cables made from exotic materials the manufacturer claims will make impossible improvements in audio fidelity. Such vendors prey upon the insecurity of many audiophiles - since the cables interconnect all of your audio equipment, it's easy to convince some that the cables themselves are a weak link in their system. Claims of unlocking your hi-fi system's true dynamic range potential is a seductive draw to anyone who may feel the least bit insecure about their audio hardware's configuration.

So what's the truth? Claims of superior sound coming from exotic connectors are simply a lot of pseudo-science and myth. Double-blind testing in lab environments has consistently proven that the quality of your cable interconnects has no bearing on the sound quality.

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