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Optical vs. Coaxial Digital Connections

by August 30, 2004

Q: Between optical and coaxial, which connection is going to give the better sound quality, and why?

A: " Better" is relative. In a harsh environment, optical may have advantages. By "harsh" I mean:

  1. Cable runs over 10ft
  2. Cable runs in close proximity to video and power cords emanating RF noise

In most cases, the above conditions would result in negligible impacts on the signal quality since the signal being transmitted (PCM or bitstream) is sampled at low frequencies (44-48KHz) and thus are more immune to noise impairments.

However, using optical cables can minimize the potential of the above mentioned problems and thus may help to reduce common mode noise. The only negative about using optical cables is the connection is not always as secure as a coax one, and can sometimes be compromised easily by moving components frequently. In addition, optical cables are usually more expensive than coax ones.

Bottom Line: Using optical cables for your digital connections may help minimize susceptibility of coupling RF noise into the line and reduce loss for long runs (10 feet or more). However, optical cables tend to be more costly and sensitive to abrupt external forces, which may potentially weaken the connection over time. In any event, either connection method should yield excellent and comparable results in most cases.


About the author:

Gene manages this organization, establishes relations with manufacturers and keeps Audioholics a well oiled machine. His goal is to educate about home theater and develop more standards in the industry to eliminate consumer confusion clouded by industry snake oil.

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