S/PDIF: Should You Stick with TOSLINK or RCA?

We compare RCA S/PDIF vs TOSLINK S/PDIF and highlight the advantages and drawbacks to each type of connection.
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Last updatedLast updated: September 14, 2021
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There are different types of audio connections available to interconnect your devices. The most common way is through cables. Today, we’ll be putting two types of cables against one another, namely, RCA S/PDIF vs TOSLINK.

These cables are able to provide the best audio experience. However, these two differ in the way they function. While S/PDIF is a digital coaxial cable, the TOSLINK serves as a digital optical cable.

This article will compare S/PDIF vs TOSLINK and enlist the properties and applications for each type of cable. This will help you make a decision on which audio cable best suits your needs.

What is S/PDIF?S/PDIF: Should You Stick with TOSLINK or RCA?

S/PDIF Trusted Source S/PDIF - Wikipedia S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) is a type of digital audio interconnect used in consumer audio equipment to output audio over reasonably short distances. The signal is transmitted over either a coaxial cable with RCA connectors or a fiber optic cable with TOSLINK connectors. S/PDIF interconnects components in home theaters and other digital high-fidelity systems. en.wikipedia.org or the Sony/Philips Digital Interconnect Format is a piece of audio equipment that is able to connect devices over a short distance. These digital coaxial cables are basically multi-core wires that are used to transport audio signals over devices. These cables are often coated and shielded in a way that prevents the loss of audio signals. This is done to ensure that high audio quality is achieved throughout the outputs.

In order to transport the signal, the S/PDIF usually makes use of RCA connectors. The S/PDIF is usually capable of carrying uncompressed audio over two channels. However, it cannot transform audio with high bandwidths.

Applications

S/PDIF wires are used commonly to connect your DVD player or computer to different types of speakers. It can also be used in home theatres and studio monitors to enhance sound quality while watching a movie. You will also see the use of S/PDIF wires while trying to connect two amplifiers together.

Hardware Specifications

Similar to the AES3 audio equipment, the S/PDIF comes with a bi-phase mark code modulation. Its audio bit depth can reach up to 20 bits or even 24 bits, in some cases. Using RCA connectors or TOSLINK, the S/PDIF is able to connect different devices with its 75-ohm cabling.

S/PDIF output level usually ranges between 0.5–0.6 volts. These wires can withstand a minimum input level from 0.2V and cover a maximum distance of 33 feet.

What is TOSLINK?

On the other hand, we have TOSLINK or the Toshiba Link. TOSLINK is used to connect audio over different devices using an optical fiber connecter system. The connector is able to carry audio signals from different devices to an AV receiver.

This AV receiver is then responsible for decoding the signal and producing audio output. TOSLINK is often known to support different kinds of media inputs. As useful as they might sound, TOSLINK connectors have different advantages as well as drawbacks as listed below:

S/PDIF: Should You Stick with TOSLINK or RCA?

Advantages

When it comes to TOSLINK cables, there are many advantages such as:

  • These cables are usually made of plastic, glass, or silica, making them light and thin enough to carry audio signals over places
  • TOSLINK cable is able to emit light as it transports audio signals between devices
  • The TOSLINK connector is able to prevent signal interferences such as the Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) or the Electromagnetic Interference (EMI). This ensures that there is no loss of audio signals and the audio quality maintains throughout. The audio signal does not weaken because of this. A strong audio signal is transported, even over longer distances. On the other hand, coaxial cables such as the S/PDIF are unable to prevent these interferences.
  • The TOSLINK optical cables are capable of handling 8 channels at 48 kHz or 4 channels at 96 kHz
  • TOSLINK cables offer high compatibility and can connect to all sorts of media that can include DVD players, video game consoles, and so on
  • TOSLINK connectors offer reliable performance
  • The connecters are easier to handle as compared to other audio connectors

Drawbacks

As great as a TOSLINK might sound, it comes with several drawbacks as well:

  • While they may be easy to handle, the TOSLINK connectors are fragile. Any kink or bend can reduce the functionality of the cables easily
  • With high attenuation of light, the range of TOSLINK cables is limited to 5-10 m

RCA vs TOSLINK S/PDIF Connectors

When comparing RCA connectors to S/PDIF connectors, you might see that while they may look similar, the two are quite different from one another. For example, one main difference between the two is that RCA is analog while the S/PDIF is a digital form of connection.

Now that we have seen the difference between RCA and S/PDIF connectors, lets compare TOSLINK vs S/PDIF connectors:

  • In S/PDIF vs TOSLINK sound quality is best offered by the TOSLINK connectors. Due to reduced interference, TOSLINK connectors are able to offer high-quality audio, improving your sound experience. You can get a TOSLINK cable like this one for an exceptional sound experience.
  • On the other hand, TOSLINK cables are fragile and not as reliable as S/PDIF cables. S/PDIF cables deliver reliable performance due to their coaxial nature.
  • The TOSLINK fiber optics allows for it to support a wide range of media formats, including videos. Due to fiber optics, the connectors can function even without electricity. The glass or plastic makeup of the wiring allows for efficient transfer of audio signals as well. On the other hand, the S/PDIF cables offer higher durability. These wires are not easy to break and can withstand any kind of external pressures.
  • In terms of application, TOSLINK connectors are well known for use in many home theaters. Since these connectors are capable of delivering high-quality audio, most people prefer them for entertainment purposes. TOSLINK cables are also used for gaming consoles as they have a good compatibility with the consoles. On the other hand, S/PDIF connectors are used to enhance the audio quality of DVD players, TV speakers, and so on.
  • While TOSLINK connectors may be fragile and more susceptible to damage, the S/PDIF wiring can be tough and challenging to handle. Since the wiring is hard, it can be difficult to bend at times causing a problem while setting it up at different places.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking to get one of these, it’s time to think about which one you should choose for your particular setup.

The answer to this question depends on your requirements and on what you seek through these cables. If you are looking for a high-quality audio option, then you should opt for TOSLINK connectors. These connectors transmit audio signals without any interference or loss, maintaining the audio quality. The connectors are also compatible with a wide range of devices, so you can find a lot of uses for them. However, the cable can be fragile and requires care while handling.

If you are someone who is looking for reliable and durable audio performance, then you should opt for S/PDIF connectors. These type of coaxial cables are made up of copper which means that they are less prone to any kind of damage. While these wires can be challenging or tough to handle, the wires are able to last you through long periods of time, without needing any replacement.

Now that you know the differences between S/PDIF vs TOSLINK, you can pick the one that suits your needs in the best way possible!

References

1.
S/PDIF - Wikipedia
S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) is a type of digital audio interconnect used in consumer audio equipment to output audio over reasonably short distances. The signal is transmitted over either a coaxial cable with RCA connectors or a fiber optic cable with TOSLINK connectors. S/PDIF interconnects components in home theaters and other digital high-fidelity systems.
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