Often called Cannon Connectors, after the inventor of this format James H. Cannon, XLR cables and connectors are most commonly used in a three-pin format in the studio and have a range of uses. Being a three-pin connection, XLR cables are easily the most common form of balanced cables and can be used for running long audio cable runs to stage boxes, consoles and patch bays. They are also the most common form of cable used for microphones.
The TRS or Tip/Ring/Sleeve connector is the second most important connector in the home studio. Like the XLR, it offers a balanced audio signal and often takes the place of an XLR in patching between hardware. This is often confused as being a ‘stereo’ cable, but it is rarely used for such a purpose. TRS connectors are mostly used for mono signals that require a balanced connection when an XLR isn’t available.
The TS connector is what is often called a Mono Jack and looks much like the TRS, but it doesn’t have the Ring connection. Yes, it is a jack style connection and yes it is mono, but so too is the TRS in most applications. The TS, which is the common connection for guitars and similar instruments, is a mono cable. However, what distinguishes it from the TRS is not the number of channels it can carry, but the fact that it is an unbalance audio connection. This is why instrument cables are best kept to as short a length as possible; to reduce interference from the unbalance signal they carry.
Although MIDI data is transferred via USB more and more these days, there are still plenty of instances where it requires a classic 5-pin DIN connection that has been found on musical equipment since the early 80’s. This is not an audio connection and can sometimes be confused as one. Sure, there were some wild, boutique German Hi-Fi systems back in the 60’s and 70’s that implemented a DIN connection for audio, but that sort of behaviour was soon uprooted. DIN connectors are generally reserved for MIDI when found in the 5-pin format. This delivers MIDI information, not audio, and allows you to control instruments and audio devices through a series of control changes and note data that is sent through three of the five available pins in the cable.
Deriving its name from the Radio Corporation of America, the RCA cable has been a stalwart of audio-visual connectivity for some time. The common Red, White and Yellow terminations denote Right, Left and Video. Unfortunately, this is a very common connection format, but a very poor quality one simultaneously. RCA connectors are unbalanced and the cable is usually very poorly shielded. Due to this, it is best kept to short distances in the studio, or better still, avoided if other options present themselves.
This hard to pronounce jumble of letters stands for Sony Panasonic Digital Inter Face and is a digital audio format that has been widely accepted and used on audio interfaces and devices. Although generally delivered as a stereo signal on RCA connections, this does not share the disadvantages of analogue RCA connectivity and allows for high quality digital audio in limited channels.
This is the other most commonly found digital audio cable in a home studio and owes its heritage to the old Akai ADAT recorders of years gone past. The digital conversion in these devices allowed for up to eight channels of 16 bit/48kHz audio to be transferred through one cable, generally in an optical or light-pipe form. This is now commonly used for upping inputs on interfaces by added additional preamps, with the digital connection allowing for the clock on the preamps convertors to be slaved from the master clock on the interface.