Different types of cables with varying degrees of quality are used in the consumer electronics world to transmit audio and video signals between components.
Digital coaxial and RCA cables are two of the most common audio cables. In this article, we will be comparing digital coaxial vs RCA cables to help you determine which one best suits you.
Digital coaxial is the most common type of digital audio connection while RCA is the most common type of analog audio connection. Digital coaxial cables look like RCA coaxial cables with RCA connectors on each end, but they transmit digital audio data instead of analog signals. They are really pretty much the same except that the digital coaxial cables are made out of coax instead of side-by-side conductors, have better shielding, and are made out of better materials like a thicker solid-core conductor. This means digital coax cables will carry the signal farther with less attenuation and less electromagnetic interference.
Digital Coaxial Cables vs RCA Cables Comparison Table
|Feature||Digital Coaxial Cable||RCA Cable|
|Uses||To connect digital audio devices e.g. receiver and subwooferf||To connect analog and digital e.g TV and DVD player|
|Impedance||75 ohms||~50 ohms|
|Design||Thick shielded design with RCA connectors||Simple side-by-side conductor design with RCA connectors.|
Let’s explain in more detail.
What Are Digital Coaxial Cables and RCA Cables?
Before taking this deep dive into digital coaxial vs RCA, you need to understand that coax is simply a type of cable, like the old coaxial we used to use for cable TV.
RCA on the other hand is a type of plug/terminator/cable end. When you attach an RCA plug to a coax cable, you get a digital coax cable. when you attach RCA to the ends of side-by-side conductors, you get an RCA cable.
Let’s talk some more:
Digital Coaxial Cables: Digital coaxial cables are distinct thick, round-shaped wires with interior insulation layers that use RCA-type connectors.
They have one male RCA jack at each end, so they only have one connection. In general, they are rated at 75 ohms to transfer digital signals accurately.
Many people use them to connect their AV receiver to a subwoofer. In fact, subwoofer cables are actually digital coaxial cables. You can check out our comparison of subwoofer cables vs RCA cables. By the way, some people build digital coaxial cables by themselves by using coaxial cables with RCA connectors.
They are designed to transmit high-frequency electrical or digital signals. People typically use them to transmit audio and video signals.
RCA Cables: RCA cables look like digital coaxial cables, but they have two end connections.
In addition, they transmit analog and composite-video signals between cable receivers, televisions, satellites, and other devices. They typically have two or three color-coded connectors.
RCA Cable or Digital Coaxial Cable: Which one is the Better?
In the not-too-distant, almost every household used RCA cables to connect their TVs, DVD players, and other devices. We say lots of RCA cables were used during the 90s and early 2000s.
Today, some people still use RCA cables with their electronic devices. But the majority use it with old camcorders or other old devices.
Most users no longer rely on RCA cables to meet their entertainment needs when it comes to modern devices.
Digital Coaxial Cables
Unlike RCA cables, which are no longer very common, digital coaxial cables are currently experiencing their period of prime usage.
You can use these cables with almost any device. Many people use them for modern devices such as:
- Digital TVs
- Gaming consoles
Without a doubt, digital coaxial cables are more advanced when compared to RCA and are great for connecting modern devices. This is because digital coax cables are better shielded and have a guaranteed impedance of 75 ohms. They are also made of better core materials. This will certainly make a difference for professional use, however, for regular home use, we have found that you should be fine with any cable with RCA plugs really.
On the other hand, you could use a combination of cables. For example, make all your important cables digital coaxial like the large cable going between your pre and power amps or the one going from the tape out to my mixer. If you are a professional, you may want to stick with pro audio digital coax cables.
However, RCA cables are simple, cheap solutions when connecting older devices.
Reasons Digital Coaxial Cables are Better than RCA Cables?
Here are some of the factors that make digital coaxial cables better than RCA cables:
- Better Shielding: Digital coaxial cables use a braided metallic mesh which acts as a shield against electromagnetic interference. This means they can resist noise and static to a great extent. For example, this is important in preventing humming in your subwoofer. Of course, this does not apply if your subwoofer is humming with no input.
- 75 Ohm Impedance: Regardless of the cable length used, e.g 1M or 2M, the total impedance over the entire wire should be 75 ohms. This means that the total impedance of the cable and the connectors is expected to be 75 ohms over the entire intended bandwidth. This is very important in preventing signal attenuation. So why isn’t RCA cables 75 ohms all along the cable? Well, this is applied to coax cables because they are normally used in telecoms (for cable TV for example) which has a much wider bandwidth than audio for which RCA cables are used.
- More Durable: Digital coax cables are normally made from more durable materials including a thicker solid-core conductor.
If you want an affordable, easy-to-install, heavily shielded, and high-capacity cable, then digital coaxial cables best suit you. But you may find RCA cable more beneficial if these are not your main priorities, and you want to minimize “humming.”
Coaxial cables are highly susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI), which is the leading cause of the humming effect.
Why are RCA Cables Better than Digital Coaxial Cables?
Price: RCA cables are common and cheap. You can find them in almost any home audio store for very affordable prices.
Main Features of Digital Coaxial Cable and RCA Cables
For video game, music, and movie lovers, choosing between the digital coaxial cable and RCA cable shouldn’t be too difficult. Both will do the job unless you have issues with interference, you may want to go with the digital coax.
If you need more reasons to choose digital coaxial cables or RCA cables, you can consider these features:
- Mode of signal transmission: Digital coaxial cables are used to transmit signals as computers do, with 1s and 0s. However, regular RCA cables are used to transmit voltages that represent audio or video. This means digital coaxial cables can manage a wide range of electrical frequencies more efficiently than basic cables, including the standard coaxial and RCAs.
- Audio Signals: Digital coaxial cables transmit video and audio signals. RCAs may not transmit both signals unless you use an additional plug.
- Shielding: Perhaps this is why digital coaxial cables stand out. They are better shielded than RCA cables. So, with the cables, the signals are properly protected from interference. RCA cables are not shielded and so they are susceptible to interference.
- Impedance and cable length: The constant impedance of digital cables (75 ohms) helps prevent signal attenuation, especially when running the cable over long lengths. RCA cables often have a lower impedance of 50 ohms that may vary along the cable as the cable increases in length.
What are the Common Types of Digital Coaxial and RCA Cables?
Digital Coaxial Cables
Digital coaxial cables are differentiated by their two connector standards. Here are the two most common:
S/PDIF digital coaxial cables are the most common, and they are designed to carry electrical signals between multiple components and devices. On these cables, the connection is typically made with an RCA connector.
These cables are not very common, but they are high-quality and transmit 110ohm digital signals. They are terminated with 3-pin XLR connectors.
Here are the two main types of RCA cables that you can consider:
- Composite video RCA cable: A composite RCA is the most common option. They come with red, yellow, and white wires. The white and red cables transmit sound, while the yellow one focuses on transmitting the video data. The composite video is analog. The signal typically consists of 480i NTSC/576i PAL standard definition. So, you cannot use it for high-definition analog or digital video signals.
- Component RCA cable: These are more complicated and are often used on HD TVs. They have three video lines colored red, green, and blue. These cables also have two audio lines, colored red and black or white. Due to their sophistication, they are capable of handling higher resolutions.
If needs be, you can always get a composite-to-component RCA converter to convert between these two types of cables.
Do Digital Cables Make a Difference?
No, digital cables don’t make much of a difference due to their construction.
The biggest measurable difference has to do with their length.
And even those differences don’t affect the output of the DAC.
Can I use a Regular RCA Cable for Digital Coaxial Audio Connection?
The answer to this question is a resounding, yes. Digital Coaxial Cable is backward compatible with Regular RCA Cables. S
o, you can use either one for a digital coaxial audio connection.
However, it’s not always recommended. This is because a traditional RCA cable isn’t shielded, nor does it have the bandwidth that coaxial cable provides.
Why is Coaxial Cable Highly Recommended Instead of RCA Cable?
A very good reason why Coaxial Cable trumps other types including popular ones like HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) and DVI (Digital Visual Interface), is because it has much higher bandwidth.
Bandwidth describes the range of frequencies within which signals can travel, measured conventionally in Hz or megahertz (MHz).
Higher frequency means more data transfer per second that’s possible through the cable.
The difference between coaxial and RCA cables is also quite significant as far as durability goes, with coax being much stronger!
In fact, it’s been reported by many professionals who work in these fields that a good quality coaxial cable can even outlive high-quality speaker wire.
This is due to its ability to resist degradation from heat over time which causes other types of wiring to break down.
Can I Use RCA Cable As Coaxial?
The RCA wiring makes use of the coax cable. RCA was designed to utilize coaxial cables as unmistakably indicated by the actual RCA connectors. Further, a core conductor connects to the conductor at the center of the coaxial cable simultaneously as the circular metallic ring contacts the secondary conductor on the external perimeter.
Digital coaxial cables and RCA cables are very similar except that digital coax is better-shielded and has a higher and constant impedance of 75 ohms. They are often used to transmit digital signals while common RCA cables are often used for analog signals.
In most cases, either will work for you except that you should go for digital coaxial cables if you have issues with interference and you are running the cable over long lengths.