In the days before HDMI 2.1 led the digital-decoding landscape, there was the digital optical cable. Known as a TOSLINK cable in some A/V circles, the optical audio cable was pioneered by Toshiba in 1983. Capable of transferring uncompressed audio signals from stand-alone components to an A/V receiver, soundbar, and other types of home theater hardware, an optical cable is a one-and-done purchase you shouldn't skimp on. We've vetted through a plethora of different wire brands to bring you this list of the best optical audio cables.
KabelDirekt Optical Digital Audio Cable
Best optical audio cables for most people
- Fiber optic design
- Durable design
- Many length choices
- Longer models can get expensive
The KabelDirekt optical cable represents some of the best bang you can get for your buck. According to the company, the gold-plated connectors are corrosion-resistant (not that that matters much in terms of sound quality, but it may improve the life of the cable) and, because of the fiber-optic design, the cable itself won’t have to deal with any interference from radio (RFI) or electromagnetic (EMI) frequencies. The KabelDirekt PVC jacket is flexible and strong to protect the cable over time.
iVANKY Optical Audio Cable
Most rugged optical cables
- Nylon braided to durability
- Removal rubber caps
- Limited length options
For the price, iVANKY packs a number of solid features into its optical cable. It’s made of CL3-rated material, meaning it’s completely safe for in-wall installations. It also has a nylon braided jacket, intended to provide heat resistance as well as anti-friction and anti-corrosion protection. The iVANKY Optical Audio Cable also has removable rubber caps for each end in order to protect the tips from dust particles when they aren’t in use.
Cmple Toslink Digital Fiber Optical Cable
Well suited for longer distances
- Great pick for longer lengths
- Ultra-thin design
- Thinner casing might not be as resilient
For those home theater setups that require a longer run of optical cable, Cmple provides 100 feet of cable for one of the lowest prices currently on the market. The cable itself has gold-plated connectors, and it’s enveloped in tear-resistant PVC materials. Plus, Cmple markets the cable as ultra-thin and lightweight, positioning it as an unobtrusive addition to your room.
FosPower Toslink Digital Optical Cable
Cheapest but still great
- Braided nylon jacket
- Nylon braiding can make them less flexible for tight spaces.
While the FosPower Toslink Digital Optical Cable doesn’t have a set of features that make it vary widely from the rest of the cables on this list, it is priced quite competitively. The cable has gold-plated connectors, and although that matters little in terms of the sound quality, they do offer some anti-corrosion properties and, well, they look cool. The braided nylon mesh jacket makes these cables rugged better protected. It also comes in at a great price.
Fiber optics refers to transmitting data via carefully contained pulses of light. That's how the optical audio cables work, so they are generally considered under the fiber optic umbrella. That doesn't mean they're the same thing as cables responsible for fiber optic internet, of course.
The alternative for these kinds of connections is called a "coaxial" digital audio cable. Coaxial cables have a better bandwidth for carrying lots of data at once, but fiber cables are better at resisting interference and lightning faster. You can check your ports to see what type it, specifically, is designed to support.
A nylon braided jacket is a layer of protection that helps the cable resist cracking and tearing over time, especially when the cable is frequently moved or stepped on. It's not as necessary for audio cables, which tend to spend their time out of the way behind cabinets or shelves. But it's still a protective feature for those who want them, and for those working with A/V equipment that's frequently moved.
It refers to Toshiba Link, an early name for optical audio cables. The standard has evolved since then, but it's still a label used for high-quality home theater audio connections. You can safely assume that optical audio cables you find are naturally Toslink.
Audio cables allow for a dedicated audio connection instead of offering both audio and video. That can make them useful in more versatile setups, or connecting surround sound systems when HDMI ports are all otherwise engaged. However, HDMI is capable of carrying high-resolution audio for cinematic audio formats, so it tends to edge ahead as the best option if you're using a new HDMI format, like 2.0 or beyond.
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