The Dictionary to your Headphone Cables & Connectors

by Rishikesh Kisla September 29, 2017


When has there been a time when technology hasn't appeased to some or baffled the others. As there is advancement in technology, audio products like headphones, earphones, DAPs, DAC/Amps, HiFi systems are progressing towards the age of technological nirvana as well.

Most of us get confused by the technical jargon used by experts or enthusiasts. When it come to headphones, there aren't many complicated terminologies but let us somehow clear the air to understand the different kinds of cables and connectors used for audio purposes.



 The Optical cable is made up of a glass and fibre tube inside that reflects the signals received from one end to the other with minimal loss. These cables help in extreme fast transmission. They are the most widely used for connecting high grade audio products and also for blazing fast internet connections.



The most commonly used and easily available cables are made of copper and plastic or rubber covering. Copper being a good conductor is used in every cable(literally). The cable you see in budget or in the box earphones or even the copy earphones sold on the roadsides all have copper cables. We define them as regular.  



Tangle-free flat

These trendy looking cables are being used on every lifestyle headphone ranging from nothing to a lot. They are basically regular copper or incase of high-end products kevlar cables pressed flat in design. This disables the cable from getting tangled or create a mess which will take you forever to untangle(you certainly remember those times). These tangle-free Flat cables come on numerous budget and popular headphones. A popular example is the Jays A-Jays in-ears.


Shielded twisted pair and OFC

 As simple as they sound, the shielded twisted pair are two cables twisted around each other like a braid. They are individually shielded internally and externally using plastic cladding. OFC(Oxygen free copper) is a metal and plastic shielding used in a cable to prevent them from getting corroded or avoid rusting. These technologies are used on all high-end and medium budget headphones. Ever seen the JH Audio or Noble Audio IEMs, they feature twisted shielded OFC cables.



These triple shielded cable are most commonly used on AV communication cables. They come with a copper core cable covered with insulator and an additional fabric cable on which there's a plastic cover. The copper cable used is high density cable giving nearly no loss. When talking audio, these cables are mostly used to connect AV hubs to the TV or HiFi speakers. Audiophiles use these cables to connect their Amplifiers to their DACs. 



These high-grade durable cables have high density metal cores with 5 shields to protect it. They are rugged and durable. Plastic shielding with fabric braiding with another fabric cover. These re-inforced cables are tested under tough conditions to prove their tensile strength. Most commonly used on premium and lifestyle products. The V-MODA headphones come with kevlar cables.


Fabric braided or hybrid

This category comprises many new technologies and different materials used to make cable conduction better and tougher protection. Many such hybrid methods are used to create better cables. Some products feature kevlar plus fabric braided cables. High-end IEMs and Headphones feature hybrid cables. 






3.5 mm

Well, the term 3.5 mm is now audible everywhere and is understood even by the layman using a earphone without a care. This is the standard audio connector pin used on literally everything from mobiles to audio players to audio systems. It comes with 2 bands (if you've noticed) that act as positive and negative. Earphones having an in-line mic use another band on the pin. This is curated using OMTP to enable mic switching and selection when required. Generally, made of rough copper or cheap malleable metal, gold plated pins are used for better connectivity and durability. 

6.35 mm(TRS)

This type of connection existed long before the 3.5 mm came into use on consumer electronics. Known as the general professional connecting pin, musicians even call it jack to connect their instruments. This TRS connector acts as a balanced and mono connector as and when used on professional mixers or amplifiers. Audiophile and Professional Studio headphones come with a 6.35mm jack or a 6.35 mm adapter.  



A step ahead of TRS, this is the most professional connection. Microphones and Audio systems sport this pin. A positive negative and ground (3-pins) are present for a perfect connection. The XLR always acts as a balanced connection. On headphones, these are present on the Audeze and Beyerdynamic Professional cans.



Mini-XLR are exactly as they sound. A smaller version of the XLR. Many earphones and headphones feature a mini-XLR connection to give a balanced output when connected to professional setups or even normal audio players. There are cables having mini-XLR on one end while there's a 6.35mm on the other side. Some headphones and Amplifiers even feature a 4-pin mini-XLR. An evident example of mini-XLR on headphones are AKG professional cans. 





Invented and used by Apple, this connection is present only on Apple computers and iPhones. It is a dual-sided four pin connector that works at optimum speed and faster than a normal audio or USB cable. The Audeze Sine and iSine headphones come with a lightning connector to be used with an iPhone.  





Well, you've definitely noticed this somewhere around your Television or DVD player. RCA pins come in a pair of 2 or 3. Two for right and left audio channels, while the 3 one is for composite video. RCA is most commonly used to link two audio systems. They are even used in headphone amplifiers and DACs. 



USB and micro-USB


USB is the most popular and trusted digital connection. Universal Serial Bus(USB) is a digital method of data transmission that is used on computers and mobiles. They can't actually carry audio but they carry data in digital form. Micro-USB is used on smaller devices like mobiles and tablet computers. A DAC need to be connected using a USB cable as it converts the digital to analog. There are many USB versions and types varying in speed and compatibility, some of them being USB 2, USB 3, type B, type C micro.  


2.5 mm


2.5 mm balanced pins are something that most people don't know of. That's because they are used on high fidelity audio players or portable headphone amplifiers. This pin features 4 bands that carry audio to each channel. The Astell&Kern DAPs have a 2.5 mm jack. 




Optical 3.5mm


This is basically a mini optical connection. Optical transmission is the fastest segue of digital transmission. These 3.5 mm sized mini Optical pins are used on audio boxes, Studio DACs and prfofessional audio mixers. They are present on some DACs to give the best possible digital transmission.






TOSLINK is the standard optical cable pin that is a combination of Optical and RCA. They are mostly used in between high grade audio and video devices to match their clock performance of data rate. Not that commonly used in headphones or DACs and DAPs due to it's size and cost. 





The Firewire existed on Apple Macs and Windows Workstations as the high grade professional digital connections. Firewire 400 and Firewire 800 were connectivity technologies that had higher data speed than USB-2. But then came USB-3 and since then the use of firewire has declined. 





These are some of the Professional cables and connectors used for audio and headphone related purposes. While most people dont bother knowing more than about a 3.5mm pin, People were surprised when Apple decided to drop the standard audio connector. There's definitely a reason why. It's better to have a digital connection. But nonetheless, your earphones performance won't be affected much by not using a 3.5 mm jack. There's a lot more to learn if you're ready to do that. Tell us more if you know any other audio connections realting to headphones.

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Rishikesh Kisla
Rishikesh Kisla

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