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Americans spend $8.5 billion every year on speakers and much more than that on audio equipment for the home and on the move.
That means that all of us can benefit from knowing about the different audio connection options, how they work and what they can do for us.
It makes it easier to know that you’re spending your money on the right things and while it might seem confusing and intimidating at first, there aren’t as many different connectors as you might think.
Everyone’s seen a headphone jack before.
It’s the little plug that comes off a headphone’s cable and fits into a slot on the audio device.
The most common size of this jack is 3.5mm but there are a bunch of other sizes from ¼” down to 2.5mm (yes, they switch from Imperial to metric too, just to be confusing).
You just need to make sure you have the right size plug for the slot (or an adapter that allows a “wrong size” to fit).
You also want to be aware of TRS/TRRS (“T” for tip, “R” for ring, and “S” for sleeve). This layout matters for audio playback and you should check to see which you need.
You should also be aware that Apple’s TRRS connectors are unique and you need a “Made for iPhone” headset for their devices.
USB-C is the latest iteration of the Universal Serial Bus and, in theory, it plugs into nearly any digital device and allows for fast transfer of data between the two devices.
In reality, not every device supports USB-C and even when they do, some USB-C devices just won’t play nice (we’ve all tried USB headphones that work fine on one device but not on another).
And as the USB connection is often used for charging, if you want to both listen to music and charge the device you may need a dongle to do so.
MMCX stands for “micro-miniature coaxial” which is a very small connector that can fit easily into earbuds, though the resulting earbuds are not budget items.
They’re super hard to make but they make it very easy to switch cables without throwing out the rest of the earphone which makes them ideal for use in studios.
Everyone’s heard of Bluetooth because it’s the de facto wireless standard and every smartphone, laptop, wireless headset, etc. uses it.
It’s a very easy thing to use and set up nowadays but we would note – wired beats wireless if you care about the quality of your audio.
This is why it’s most commonly found in consumer audio equipment rather than professional equipment.
XLR cables aren’t all that common except for use with microphones (and pro-grade mics at that), they come with pins used in the fitted plugs and slots
The most common layout is the XLR-3 which has three pins but there are alternatives which have more pins.
We’d note that for the vast majority of home users, you simply don’t need XLR equipment and you can get an excellent mic that delivers solid audio quality that hooks up easily via USB-C.
Banana clips have a funny that’s derived from the spring connection inside the clip that makes certain that it grips solidly when slid into slots.
They’re used in setting up speaker systems because they allow you to join bits of wire together seamlessly and thus, avoid having large spools of wire cluttering up the floor or the sideboards.
The “banana” join means that they provide superb audio transmission between these bits of wire so that you don’t lose any sound quality while keeping the wiring neat and tidy.
If you intend to use wired speakers, banana clips are a must have item.
If you’ve ever held three connectors, one red, one white and one yellow (or black) that you were going to stick into a piece of audio equipment (and before 4K ultra-high definition equipment, that was pretty much all audio equipment) then you’ve seen an RCA connector.
The red cable is used for the right channel, the white for the left, and the yellow (or black) is used for transmitting a video signal.
One nice thing about these connectors is that the plugs tend to be color coded too, so setting them up is super easy.
HDMI ARC is short for “High Definition Multimedia Interface Audio Return Channel” and while that probably sounds overwhelmingly complicated, it’s actually quite simple.
HDMI is a video transmission connector and cable. ARC on the end just means that it allows for audio to be delivered by the same cable.
This cuts down on the number of cables and connectors and it’s really handy when you want your audio and video in perfect sync, like when console gaming or watching the latest movie release.
There’s absolutely no doubt that when you first get into building a home audio system that the number of different connectors can seem overwhelming.
The good news is, however, that there are really only 8 different connections and they’re quite simple to get a handle on (particularly as most of us will never need things like XLR).
So, don’t panic! You can enjoy top-quality audio wherever you want without getting bogged down in the details of audio connections.