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How to shop for audio cables

Audio cables connect your components together. They carry the audio signal from the outputs of your audio sources — including your TV — to the inputs on your A/V receiver, amplifier, powered speakers, sound bar, or other sound system. Using quality cables can help keep your audio free of interference and distortion.

Analog audio cables

Stereo (2-channel) and mono (single channel) analog audio cables come with different connectors, including XLR, RCA, and 3.5mm. You’ll need to get cables with connectors that are compatible with your audio components, or else use adapters. Higher-end cables typically use more robust wire, insulation, and connectors.

Stereo RCA and XLR audio cables often have a pair of connectors on each end. Some higher-end models work in pairs, using single connectors on separate cables to make the right and left stereo connections. Subwoofers use a single mono cable. 3.5mm aux cables use a single stereo connector.

Digital audio cables

Many TVs, streaming network music players, CD players, and other digital audio sources have optical or coaxial digital connections. You’ll use a digital audio cable to connect them to a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) or a receiver, sound bar, preamp, or other component that has a DAC built in.

The best coaxial cables feature shielding and insulation to deliver the cleanest audio signal. Optical digital cables carry signals as pulses of light rather than a stream of electrons, so they're virtually impervious to magnetic or electrical interference.

Adapters

Need to connect a CD player with analog stereo RCA output to a powered speaker with a 3.5mm aux input? There are adapters that let you convert pretty much any analog connection type to any other.

There are even adapters that split a signal, so you can do things like connect a single source to multiple amplifiers.

Cable management

Keeping your audio cables organized helps make your gear setup and maintenance easier. And you, your family, and friends will be less likely to trip over wires or pull them loose from their connections.

Cable labels and ties, low-voltage wall plates, cable-routing channels, and other simple, clever cable organization gear give your finished sound system a clean and tidy look.