When working with or listening to sound and music, knowing your cables is all but essential. If your playback device is the heart of the system, then cables are the veins, and if the quality of the audio you are pumping around your setup isn’t up to scratch, then you may very well be left feeling thoroughly unsatisfied with your listening experience.
Whether you are a first-timer on your journey to becoming a cable connoisseur or are looking to brush up your wealth of audio knowledge, then stick with us as we get you up to speed on the component cable and what it is all about.
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What are Component Cables?
With advances in modern technology, it’s no surprise that component cables may be a foreign entity to some. If you are unsure quite what these cables are, and the multiple connections look daunting, then fear not as they are actually simpler than they look.
Component cables are the highest quality option for analog video connection, with other analog connections such as RCA falling short. Component cables typically contain five separate connections, color-coded red, green, and blue, with an extra red and white pair of cables.
The three RGB cables are used for video output, with two cables for color, and one for the brightness of the image. The red and white cable pair – the two we are specifically concerned with today – are used to transmit stereo audio. The two cables each carry one signal corresponding to left and right, which are then output to your speakers to create a stereo image.
So for audio applications, only the red and white cables are necessary, however, most component cables have all five bundled by default.
What’s the Difference Between RCA and Component Cables?
RCA cables (named after the Radio Corporation of America) are another solution for audiovisual transmission. These cables – also known as composite cables, operate in much the same way as component cables, however, instead of the five individual cables, the RCA comes bearing only three.
These three cables are also color-coded red, white, and yellow respectively. The yellow cable exists in lieu of the three RGB cables offered on a component cable, transmitting instead a composite video (hence the name).
While convenient when setting up, the three-cable component cable video solution is in many ways far superior. Composite video does not support high-definition qualities, offering only 480i, or 576i, compared to components 1080p. Along with no high definition, this format does not support progressive scan either, meaning the video framerate is much slower than its component counterpart.
But video aside, how does it compare to audio? Well, the red and white cable included alongside that yellow composite video is identical to the two offered with a component cable. They are both analog coax cables (more on which later) and offer the exact same quality audio. With that in mind, if you are using your cables only for audio, then you will see no difference in RCA vs component.
Are Component Cables Still used?
Modern times have seen a steep decline in the use of component cables. While alongside RCA, these multicolored connections were packaged as standard on every TV and speaker set in years gone by, increasingly tech manufacturers are choosing to occlude these ports in new products.
Why is there such a sharp decline in usage (and general awareness) of this once top-of-the-line audiovisual solution? The main culprit is the ceaseless quest for higher quality
For the longest of times, analog was the option for those of us wanting to blast our favorite show or album out of our TV set and speakers, with component cables offering the highest quality. However, with increasing demands for quality came along newer and better audio and visual connections.
In the TV department, HDMI came along and blew component cables out of the water both in quality and convenience. With one simple connection, and boasting up to 4k resolution, component cables 1080p start to look measly in comparison – and HDMI is an obvious upgrade.
Unfortunately, things in the audio department don’t look much better for the stereo component cables. These 1-pin cables are an unbalanced audio connection, and as such the balanced XLR cable has become the standard for audiophiles in the market for audio cables.
Unlike their unbalanced counterparts, the balanced XLR connection offers better quality, stronger signal, and reduced noise – all of which ingredients that contribute to an overall heightened audio experience.
So, while component cables are still in circulation, and you can certainly find connectors for them on modern devices, they are increasingly becoming defunct, and as technology carries on increasing in quality, one can assume the component will eventually become a relic of a bygone era.
Are Component Cables Good for Audio?
Of course, not everybody is able to go out and buy the highest-end XLR cables, and if you are worrying that component cables might not cut it when it comes to audio then fear not. These cables are actually two 750-ohm coaxial cables, which are more than adequate for high-quality audio.
Not to be confused with their digital counterpart, component cables are analog coax, which transmits data through streams of electricity. This in itself is enough to assuage some audiophiles, who believe that analog technology is purer than the binary operating digital alternative.
It is in fact the very artifacts that make XLRs a more popular product in the modern day, that sound aficionados seek out in analog coax, and who can blame them? Supporting audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, analog coaxial cables can transmit high-quality audio with ease.
At the end of the day, there are pros and cons to any cable, and while some seek the strongest and most pristine audio experience, there is something to be said for the warmth and character of an analog experience. Therefore, if all you have to hand are a pair of component cables, then they are well worth plugging in and giving a test run – you very well might like what you hear!
To cut a long story short – yes you can use component cables for audio, and people have been for many years. There are advantages, and there are disadvantages to doing so, and a cursory glance over any forum will reveal a heated debate between digital audio enthusiasts, and analog purists fighting tooth and nail to keep the medium alive.
But playing music is just one side of the coin, and if you want to get your hands dirty in the relics of audio productions past (and present!) then we highly recommend our article ‘5 Microphones that Famous Singers use (Old and New)’.