Optical Audio Cable: What Is It, Types, Optical Audio Cable Use

Optical Audio Cable

What is an Optical audio cable?

An optical audio cable is a way of transmitting high-quality audio signals between devices. It transmits signals in digital formats. When it comes to transmitting audio signals, there are many options that you can choose. One of these choices is using an optical cable. 

Advantages of using an optical audio cable

  • With an optical cable, you can use it to connect two devices. 
  • For this to work, one device needs to have an optical input on the source device, for example, your Tv. 
  • The other device needs to have an optical output; this should be the receiver device, for example, your amplifier. 
  • Most optical ports will have a cap that helps protect the port. 
  • Optical cables are available at different prices, varieties, lengths, and colors. 
  • When buying the optical cables, you need to know that the price does not determine how your audio will sound. However, you need to go for the quality instead of the costs. 
  • Optical audio cables are available in many markets, including e-commerce websites such as amazon. Make sure to always look at the reviews first before buying the cables. 
  • The length of the optical cables also matters a lot, depending on your needs. 
  • Make sure to get one with the right length, depending on use. 
  • An optical audio cable connected to an audio optical port; you will find this port on the back of your Television, your computer, media receivers, HDTVs, and more. 
  • Optical audio cables stand out when using them in home video or audio setups. 
digital optical audio cable

How do they work? 

Optical audio cables use fiber optic and light to transmit digital audio signals from one device to another. This audio standard has been available for a long time. Sometimes, those cables are called Toslink cables or Toshiba-Link. 

If your device has support for Toslink audio, you will notice a part labeled optical audio or Toslink or digital audio output on the backside. Toslink connections are beneficial, although most devices now use HDMI cables. HDMI cables are becoming a popular option since they can transmit audio and video signals. They also support higher resolutions such as DTS HD master audio, Dolby True HD, Dolby Atmos, and much more. On the other hand, Toslink is not able to support this problem. 

Uses of Optical Audio

Although, HDMI cables are replacing optical connections. Optical audio connections are still widely used to transmit digital audio signals. The Toslink connection can carry high-resolution audio on up to 7.1 channels—the audio quality between an HDMI cable and a Toslink cable without any notable differences. 

The following are some of the situations in which you can use the Toslink Cable: 

One common reason people use Toslink cables is using old audio devices. Most old audio devices make use of optical audio connections. These also give you high-quality audio resolution. In addition, most other devices such as game consoles, Blu-ray players, and other devices also use optical audio ports. 

Optical audio cables can also be helpful if you plan to separate audio signals and video signals. Other HDMI cables can transmit both video and audio through the same cable. On the other hand, the optical audio cable does not use the same cable to transmit video signals and audio signals. Therefore, if you want to separate the audio signal easily, you will use the optical audio cable.

Can optical audio be converted to Stereo Analog?

You should know that optical audio can be converted to stereo analog. It can be helpful if you do not have the right inputs on your amplifier. You will need to have a digital to analog RCA converter to do this. This device can accept the optical audio connection or the coaxial dugout audio. The output is the stereo analog.

The converter also contains a 3.5mm audio jack that helps you to connect your headphones. If you want to use an optical audio connection, the number of optical inputs on your device, such as an AV receiver or a soundbar, is very low. So instead, you can use an optical audio switch. When using an optical audio switch, you can easily connect three or more devices to your amplifier using an optical connection. 

fiber optical audio cable

What Does an Optical Digital Audio Cable do? 

An optical audio cable sends audio signals digitally from one device to another. Optical audio cables support different audio formats, including 5.1 Dolby digital and DTS audio. It also supports PCM stereo audio. 

However, there are formats that it does not support. For example, it does not support SACD, DVD A, DTS X, DTS HD master audio, Dolby True HD, and other high definition audio formats. 

The optical audio cable can only send audio, not video signals. You can use an HDMI signal if you want a connection that supports such formats and can send video signals. An HDMI cable allows you to send video and audio signals via one cable. 

If the HDMI connection is unavailable, you can use an optical audio connection. However, you will need a separate connection to transfer video signals. An optical audio connection is also very useful in most television sets, and to send audio, you are using a smart TV app.  

Maximum Length of a Digital Optical Audio Cable

A good length should be up to 5 meters for an optical cable. You can also use a cable that is more than 5 meters. However, you may end up having problems with interference. Therefore, if you plan to use a line for a long distance, you need a higher-quality cable. 

You also need to note that the equipment you are using impacts this. For example, some devices work better when using a long cable, while others do not.

Where is a digital optical cable used? 

As mentioned earlier, an optical cable transfers data such as audio or video between two devices. Therefore, they are used in many devices, as explained below. 

DVD Players: You can use a coaxial cable to transfer audio to another device like a receiver in a DVD player. You can also use an optical cable to connect the DVD player directly to your Tv if it has an optical port available. 

CD Players: For high-quality sound, you can also use an optical cable to connect your CD player to your receiver. It gives you high-quality sounds since there is good signal replication and less interference, therefore no data loss during the transmission.

Portable Devices: Optical cables can also be used in portable devices like the Sony MiniDisc player. You can use this to transfer data to another device.  

Surround Sound: A digital Opti al connection is used for most high-quality surround sound systems. They are mainly used to connect the subwoofers to the receiver for good-quality sound.

Game Consoles: Optical cables are helpful in-game consoles such as PlayStation. Here, you can connect your game console to your Television, and the audio/video will be transmitted from the console to your TV.

Which Is Better, an optical cable or HDMI cable? 

Choosing what to use between HDMI cables and optical cables is very easy and will depend on your uses. However, these cables will give you the same quality without any differences in sound quality. So it doesn’t matter what you choose to use, the quality will be the same. 

However, the HDMI cables have a higher advantage over the optical cable to support a lot of audio formats. However, both can support PCM stereo, 5 1 Dolby Digital, and DTS. In addition, HDMI supports more audio formats such as DTS X, Dolby Atmos, etc. 

Another advantage of HDMI is that it has ARC and HDMI eARC support. This allows you to send video and audio in both directions. Hence, you will not need to install so many cables. However, this does not mean that the optical connection will not produce good sounds. Quite the contrary, the sound you get will be as good as that of HDMI, only that you won’t be able to use some high-definition formats. 

Optical cables are primarily thin, requiring you to be very careful when handling them. Mishandling it can break the cable’s core and damage it. However, the design makes them very flexible for use in a home sound system.

Most digital optical cables are made from multi-mode plastic optical fiber materials. There are also other options that you can use to send digital audio signals. For example, you can use coaxial digital, a SPDIF connection just like optical. All these connections will give you the same resolution. 

What should I choose, coaxial vs. optical audio

Coaxial and optical audio are very similar connections. These are very popular in audio setup systems, transmitting digital audio signals. However, these two are very different. When choosing what to use, consider certain things. Both of these cables will give you the same resolution when you use the same formats for sound. 

Optical cables are a better choice when it comes to interference. It is because optical cables do not produce much interference. They also have a higher performance than that of the coaxial cables and will give you more outstanding dynamics.  

The coaxial cables are better for their construction and build quality. Some cables are made of braided material, while others are not braided. Both coaxial and optical cables support the same audio formats: PCM stereo, Dolby Digital, and DTS audio. However, coaxial cables are priced lower than optical audio cables when it comes to the price. 

Types of optical cables

Fiber is used to make optical cables and comes in different types; some optical cables are made from plastic optical fiber, while others are made from glass optical fibers. It depends on the use of the cable and its desired Bandwidth. For example, Toslink cables usually have a maximum length of 5 meters. However, some are high as 10 meters still have a reliable transmission. You will have to use a booster or a repeater for cables longer than this to deal with signal interferences. 

Mini Toslink: this is an optical fiber connector. It is smaller than the standard connector, mostly used in smaller audio equipment. However, its size is the same as the 3.5mm audio jack. 

What is the Bandwidth of optical cables? 

Optical cables have great Bandwidth; the Bandwidth is as high as 96kHz. Although it is not as high as HDMI cables, they can still have high resolution and audio formats. 

optical audio cable to aux

What to look for when choosing an optical audio cable

When choosing an optical cable, you don’t just select a cable because it interests you in how it looks. Instead, there are certain factors that you need to follow to make sure that you get the suitable cable that can fit all your needs. 

Build Quality: When you choose the cable, you must consider the construction quality of the cables. Most optical cables are fragile; therefore, this requires you to be extra careful when using these cables as they can easily be damaged. 

Length of the cables: Another factor to consider is the length of the cables. The length easily affects the signal; Optical cables can go long distances without experiencing much interference. But for longer than 10 meters, you may have to use repeaters or boosters to keep the signal more robust. 

Interference: With optical cables, you get less interference which is good as you won’t have many audio cuts. However, you should know that the cable length can also affect the signal. Therefore consider this factor before you buy the optical cables. 

Audio formats: Before you get an optical cable, know the kind of formats that you want to use. If you are looking for a cable that supports high-definition formats such as DTS X, Dolby TrueHD, and so on, then the optical cable is not the right choice. Because optical audio has a low bandwidth, it cannot support such lossless formats. On the other hand, other connections like HDMI and coaxial have a higher bandwidth to support the high-resolution formats. 

Price: Price is another factor that you can look at when considering getting the optical cable. Optical cables come at a very affordable price. Therefore, they will also be a good choice if you are on a tight budget. However, buying an expensive cable with low-quality audio is possible, so the quality should come first. 

Audio quality: This factor is significant to consider; choose a high bandwidth cable. Optical cables will give you a high definition quality, and the audio performance is excellent for audio quality. They also have good dynamics. 


An optical cable is used to transmit audio signals from one device to another digitally. It is a common option when it comes to audio equipment. It comes at very affordable price points with high-quality audio. 

When choosing an optical cable, certain factors to consider, such as the length, your equipment, intended use, and more. Optical cables are a great choice if you want to use them for long-distance communication or separate audio from your HDMI. 

Eddie Mcfarren

Eddie Is no stranger to technical writing after spending years in Networking, IT Infrastructure management, and online content marketing. He is an avid researcher, Software and apps dev tester who spends hours solving problems behind the scenes. Get in touch with him via social media and you can email him via contact@gawkygeek.com

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