There are many types of cables and adapters involved in the audio industry such as XLR, MIDI, RCA, T(R)S, BNC, S/PDIF, USB, FIRE-WIRE, ADAT, the list goes on. Understanding the differences, uses and advantages of each type of cable and adapter will optimize recording and processing quality as well as protect you signal from radio frequency interruption and typical wear-and-tear.
Using the mixing console as the primary hub, branching out to the audio interface is DVI jacks. These cables are for high-volume signal processing and come in various forms.
The cables that are installed for the patch bay are female T(R)S connections. The abbreviation stands for Tip, Ring, Sleeve indicating the sections of the connector head itself. Other similar cables are referred to as simply TS, which stand for Tip, Sleeve indicating once again the sections on the connector head. TRS cables are for stereo signal processing while TS cables are designed for mono signal processing. TS and TRS cables come in many sizes such as, most commonly in professional audio, ¼”, 1/8” and least commonly, 1/16”. ¼” cables are used for guitars, amplifiers, pedals, outboard gear, and patch bays to name a few.
Microphones use XLR connections that are wired to the input section of the channel strips located on the console. Live performance mixers have XLR or TS inputs located visibly on the mixer interface that can be used as either XLR or TS connectors.
XLR cables are low-impedance, meaning, they are not very prone to interference from radio frequency or other unwanted interference as they have a shield materiel wrapping the cable throughout. This shield not only acts as a guard against interference but it is also utilized as a third wire for the grounding component of the circuit.
MIDI cables are used separately from the console and interface strictly between outboard MIDI instruments themselves such as synthesizers, drum machines, samplers and other devices. The instruments will then produce an output where TS cables are used for analog equipment. USB cables are also used on this “side” of the audio system where digital messages may be transferred, transmitted and transcribed amongst digital hardware and instruments while MIDI cables carry instrument information and messages for triggering sounds.
Depending on the type of signal being processed, analog or digital, there are benefits and take-backs for both sides. Technological updates are happening all the time, revolutionizing processing and signal transfer. New technologies such as ADAT light pipe uses light to transmit signal as it is non-susceptible to radio frequency interference while providing a clean signal. TOSLINK Optical is another form of light signal transfer.
RCA cables are typically referred to as a sub-standard format of audio processing. Cables such as XLR and TRS cabling are far cleaner for professional audio and RCA cables are mere reserve-backups.