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Digital to RCA cable

How to Convert a Digital Optical Audio Cable to RCA

Digital to Analog Audio

At first glance, modern audio equipment may not seem compatible with older stereo systems. Newer devices such as CD players and gaming systems often use digital cables to transmit data to sound systems, whereas many older stereo systems use RCA inputs to connect to audio components. However, with some specialty equipment, users can connect almost any digital device to most analog stereo amplifiers or receivers. Many converters come with digital optical inputs and RCA outputs, making it easy to convert cables to RCA.

Understanding Digital vs. Analog

Digital and analog are two different types of data signals. Sound waves are analog, and analog recording involves turning sound waves into another physical medium such as grooves on a record or data on magnetic tapes. Analog cables transmit analog sound as electric signals. Digital sound is much different than analog sound. Digital recordings convert analog sound waves into 0s and 1s, resulting in signals that are similar to computer data.

Learning About the Supplies

Converting a digital optical audio cable to RCA is very easy to do and involves very few supplies. Simply connect both cables to a digital to analog converter (DAC) that includes inputs and outputs for both cable types.

Digital Optical Cables

As their name implies, digital optical cables transmit digital audio signals. They use optical fiber technology to feed high-end audio signals between a variety of different devices. Many people also call them TOSLINK cables.


Digital optical cables are very similar in appearance to coaxial cables, as they are thicker and have single pins at the ends. However, they have square connectors around the pins, which differentiate them from other kinds of cables. They come in limited lengths, but audio signals tend to degrade in longer cables.

Compatible Devices

Though originally designed for Toshiba CD players, digital optical connections quickly spread to a variety of devices. They are common on surround sound receivers, DVD players, newer gaming consoles, and computers.

RCA Cables

RCA cables, sometimes called phono cables, transmit analog audio signals. The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) developed this type of cable in the 1940s, and it still carries the company's name. Note that most phono jacks use RCA connections.

RCA cables have two plug connectors, which are usually color-coded. The red connector corresponds to the right audio channel, whereas the white or black cable corresponds to the left channel.

RCA cables have been on the market for decades. Many manufacturers began using them in the 1950s, and they were the standard audio cable throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Nearly all turntables use RCA jacks, as do many other vintage stereo components such as receivers, amplifiers, radio tuners, and tape players. Many modern devices such as CD players, DVD players, and gaming systems also include RCA output jacks.

Digital to Analog Converters

Although many modern audio components still have RCA outputs, some models only include digital outputs such as HDMI or digital optical jacks. Because digital optical cables transmit digital signals and RCA cables transmit analog signals, it is important to convert signals from digital devices to analog to connect devices using these two different connection systems.

There are several different low-cost digital to analog converter boxes available on the market; however, choose a converter with digital optical and RCA connections, as converters can come with several different connection options.

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