RCA Vs 3.5mm: What’s The Difference & Which Sounds Better? - Vita Audio

RCA Vs 3.5mm: What’s The Difference & Which Sounds Better?

Connectors are used in everyday life for a lot of different reasons, and some of the most widely used include RCA and 3.5 mm connectors. You probably have loads of these around your house and use them on a daily basis.

However, despite how often they are used, a lot of people actually know very little about RCA and 3.5 mm connectors. 

RCA Vs 3.5mm: What’s The Difference & Which Sounds Better?

It’s super important to know as much as possible about these connectors as when working with professional audio equipment and devices, it’s very easy for misinformation to spread.

To make your life easier and become more efficient with your work, here is everything you need to know about RCA and 3.5mm connectors.

We will be covering each type in turn and also compare the two together to see which has the better sound quality and could be the ideal connector for your audio work.

So, keep on reading to find out all the information you need about RCA and 3.5mm connectors! 

RCA Connectors

RCA connectors are some of the most widely used connectors to transmit both audio and video signals.

However, they are quite old and outdated but still feature in a lot of older equipment and devices, especially with consumer A/V equipment.

They were made by the company Radio Corporation of America, hence the initials RCA in the name of these connectors. 

They are unbalanced mono connectors which are used to connect audio and video devices like stereos and speakers, or even old camcorders to television screens.

In the field of audio, they are most likely to be seen connecting amplifiers with other devices. 

They are sometimes also known as phono connectors, and there are actually two different types: composite RCA cables, and component RCA cables. 

Composite RCA cables are the more commonly found of the two types of RCA connectors.

They are easily recognizable as they usually feature three independent connectors that are color coded with white (or sometimes black), red and yellow ends.

The red and white/black connectors are used to transmit audio signals while the yellow connector transmits composite video signals. 

The composite video signal is a heavily compressed signal that loses much of its resolution and clarity due to it being forced through a single cable. For this reason, the picture is degraded and suffers from a lot of radio frequency interference. 

On the other hand, component RCA connectors are a more advanced version that is used for high-definition television connections.

This is because component RCA cables come with three video lines instead of just one, and two for the audio. These connectors are also color coded with red, green, and blue for the video lines and black/white and red for the audio.

Because there are now more lines for the video signals, the images are not as compressed and appear on the screen far more clearly. 

This means that component RCA connectors are phasing out the composite RCA connectors as HD TV and other high definition viewing becomes more and more popular.

So, you are more likely to be working with component RCA connectors, but some devices or equipment might still use the older composite RCA connectors – so be familiar with both!

3.5mm Connectors

3.5mm Connectors

3.5mm connectors are also known by various names. Some people call them ⅛” connectors or min-jacks.

They are also the most commonly known type of connector as they are used by millions of people every day to connect to portable consumer devices and electronics like smartphones and laptops.

3.5mm connectors are used for transmitting audio. Primarily it transmits music, but sometimes it can be used for transmitting voice signals.

The difference in function comes due to the fact that there are actually three different types of 3.5mm connectors and each is slightly different in design and structure.

This makes each type more adept for transmitting certain types of audio. 

The first type is the 3.5mm TS male connector. It is a two conductor unbalanced mono cable that does not support stereo sound or microphones. This means that you can’t use 3.5mm TS male connectors to talk on phone or online calls. 

3.5mm TS male connectors are designed only with a tip and sleeve, meaning that it has a very basic design that only allows audio signals to be transmitted in mono.

They work best for short cable connections because the sleeve is susceptible to noise and interference, so the shorter the cable, the less likely your audio will be distorted and ruined by interference.

A later update on the 3.5mm TS male connector is the 3.5  TRS male connector. They are very similar but are instead designed with three different parts: the tip, ring, and sleeve.

Adding the ring allows for the TRS male connector to become a three conductor version of 3.5mm connectors. This means that they can transmit balanced mono signals as well as unbalanced stereo signals.

However, they do not support microphone functionality – so this type of connector is used for listening to music but not for speaking through. 

The final and more increasingly common type of 3.5mm connector is the 3.5mm TRRS male cable. The TRRS now stands for tip, ring, ring and sleeve because this type of connector is now a four conductor version of the 3.5mm connector.

The additional ring is what allows for microphone functionality, meaning that you can now speak through your cable and use it as a microphone.

The 3.5mm TRRS male cable is now the most commonly used type of connector for earphones and headphones to connect with smart devices.

So, most devices come with TRRS jacks and most earphones/headphones feature 3.5mm TRRS male cable connectors so you can input your earphones/headphones into devices like laptops and smartphones.

Then use them for microphones while doubling as earphones/headphones. The 3.5 TRRS male connectors are also capable of providing stereo sound and composite analog video signals. 

Go ahead and check the connector on your own earphones – it is most likely a 3.5mm TRRS male cable. 

Differences Between RCA Connectors And 3.5mm Connectors

So despite both types of connectors being widely used and popular all across the world, they both have very different functions. 

RCA is mostly used for home audio systems like televisions, so a majority of home audio equipment and devices come with RCA ports instead of 3.5mm.

This is because RCA connectors are used to carry both audio and visual signals, allowing for both picture and sound on television screens and monitors.  

3.5mm connectors are used for portable devices like smartphones and laptops and are used to carry audio signals. Although sometimes they can be used to carry video signals, they are most commonly used for transmitting audio signals only.

So, you will most likely find all kinds of 3.5mm connectors attached to earphones and headphones, with input jacks available on all kinds of devices including gaming controllers, smartphones and audio devices. 

The reason for this difference in function comes down to the number of cables and channels. RCA cables come with at least two channels for stereo signals, along with at least one for video signals.

3.5mm can carry stereo or mono signals depending on the type of 3.5mm cable it is. 

This difference in function also has an influence on the length and size of the cable. 3.5mm connectors are meant to be used for portable devices, thus they are designed to be small and easy to connect.

RCA cables are more permanently used and so they can afford to be larger and longer. 

Sound Quality – Which Is Better?

One of the largest misconceptions about RCA connectors and 3.5mm connectors is that a lot of people believe that one is better than the other when it comes to audio quality. 

This is not true – there is no difference in the sound quality between a 3.5mm connector and a RCA connector. Both are unbalanced connections, making them both susceptible to interference.

No matter which one you choose, your sound quality is likely to be affected by noise, meaning that you will not get a pure sound quality with either 3.5mm connectors and RCA connectors. 

You can still get great audio quality results with both, but one is not better than the other. Both RCA connectors and 3.5mm connectors emit the same quality of sound, making them equal. 

So, if anyone recommends using a RCA over a 3.5mm because they sound ‘better’, you now know that that is not true. 

The sound quality of a RCA connector and a 3.5mm connector are exactly the same.

However, they both do have other advantages over the other that may sway your opinion towards which type of connector to use. 

RCA connectors are very strong and secure so they are more durable and have longer longevity than 3.5mm connectors. It’s also more difficult to accidentally unplug a RCA connector from their female ports because they grip on so tightly. 

3.5mm connectors are a lot more flimsy and easy to accidentally unplug, but they are also far more portable and easy to carry around with you for different uses.

Need to plug your headphones into your phone instead of your laptop? No problem! 3.5mm gives you a variety of different audio usage as they are also compatible with a lot more modern devices than RCA connectors are. 

So while these are all factors to consider when choosing between a RCA connector or 3.5mm connector, sound quality should not be.

Both connectors have the same sound quality due to the fact that they are both unbalanced connectors. 

Conclusion

And that’s everything you need to know about RCA connectors and 3.5mm connectors. 

There are different types of connectors and each one is more adept for certain jobs. Overtime, you may see less and less composite RCA connectors and 3.5mm TS male connectors as technological advancements will leave them behind. 

However, you may come across these connectors on more retro equipment and devices during your audio work, so you will still need to be aware of them and what they do.

Now, you can work with any kind of connector with confidence, understanding them better and how they differ from one another all thanks to the handy guide above!

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy our post on ‘Line Out Vs Speaker Out: What’s The Difference‘.

Jacob Stable
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