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Stereo Analog Audio: RCA Plug and Cables Explained

Stereo Analog Audio - RCA Plug and Cables Explained

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The red & white stereo RCA plug is a standard audio input and output port. But, when should you use it? Find out in this guide to the stereo analog RCA cable.

Stereo analog RCA audio inputs and outputs are found on most audio-visual devices and can be a great way of connecting the sound in your audio system.

They use what is known as an RCA plug – also known as a phono connection.

However, just because they are a common connection type, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should use them to connect your audio.

This article looks at the standard RCA cable and plug, suggests when you should use it, and highlights ways of converting it to other AV connection types.

What Does an Analog Stereo Audio RCA Connection Look Like?

An analog audio connection for a stereo RCA plug looks like this:

Close up of stereo analog RCA connection

It will usually be labeled as an input or an output.

Outputs send the audio from one device to another, while inputs receive audio from somewhere else.

The connection you have on your device depends on what the device is for.

For example, a DVD player or cable TV box often has a stereo RCA output for sending the content audio to a separate sound system.

Whereas an amplifier would usually have a stereo RCA input for receiving stereo audio from the DVD player or cable TV box.

The RCA connectors are usually colored white for the left channel and red for the right channel.

What Does a Stereo Analog Audio RCA Cable Look Like?

Stereo RCA audio cables look like this:

Analog Stereo Audio RCA Cable

They have two RCA connectors at each end – one each for the left and right channels.

The convention is to color the right channel red and the left channel white. However, this is just to help you wire your equipment together.

It doesn’t matter if you switch this around – just ensure the cable connects to the same color port at each end.

You may also come across this a cable like this that isn’t colored red and white.

That’s OK; they will still be marked left and right – and they can still be used for this connection type. Just make sure to connect both ends to the correct left/right jacks on your devices.

An RCA plug is also commonly known as a phono plug or connector. So if you hear that term, it means the same thing.

These cables can also be used for analog multichannel audio.

What Does a Stereo Analog Audio Connection Do?

A stereo analog audio connection sends 2-channel analog audio signals between devices.

It supports stereo analog audio only, although it can also be used for single-channel mono audio, where you need just one connection.

When Should You Use 2-Channel Analog Audio?

An analog stereo audio connection still comes with most audio-visual devices. However, in many cases, you will not need to use it.

If your device has an HDMI port, optical digital audio or coaxial digital audio connection, this will usually be the best way to send the audio between your devices.

These types of digital connections support stereo and multichannel audio.

However, if these are unavailable, stereo audio RCA cables are reliable for sending sound between devices.

You will often find this type of connection paired with a video input or output connection which you will use to send the audio for the video signal.

For instance, a composite video signal connection can only send video information, so it will usually have stereo analog audio connectors next to it, which will pass the audio for the composite picture.

You will need to connect both the video and audio connectors to hear the picture and sound.

An example of this is pictured below:

Composite video connection with stereo analog audio outputs

Can You Convert Stereo RCA to HDMI?

You can convert stereo audio RCA to HDMI with the correct adapter.

Converting from RCA to HDMI can be required for playing video and audio signals from old AV devices that only have RCA outputs.

For example, you might have old family videos on VHS tapes that you want to watch on a modern TV.

Most new TVs don’t have RCA inputs, so you need a way to connect the RCA outputs of your old VHS player to the HDMI input of your television.

To do that, you will need an RCA to HDMI converter like this:

Popular RCA to HDMI Converter
RCA to HDMI Adapter
What Is It: An adapter for converting composite video and stereo audio RCA analog output to an HDMI input.
Pros:
  • For compatible game consoles VHS players, DVD players and cable boxes
  • Converts to 720p or 1080p digital video
  • 1 meter RCA and HDMI cables at either end
  • Supports PAL, NTSC & SECAM video
Cons:
  • For RCA to HDMI only - not bi-directional
BUY AT AMAZON

On this converter, you should connect the male RCA connectors to the three RCA outputs on your player. The yellow cable is for composite video, while the red and white wires are for stereo left and right analog audio.

Then, the HDMI connector at the other end goes into a spare HDMI input on your TV. You will also need to wire the supplied power cable to a nearby 5V power connection.

If you only want to convert stereo analog audio, you need to connect the white and red cables only. You could then connect this to a suitable amplifier or soundbar.

This particular device converts analog composite video to 60Hz 720p or 1080p video, and the stereo analog audio will also pass through to the TV via HDMI.

Please note that this converter is for RCA to HDMI transmission only.

You must be clear about which way you wish to convert the signals, or you may buy the wrong device, which won’t work.

Converting HDMI to RCA Stereo Audio

If you need to convert the other way, from HDMI to RCA, then you will need a different converter, like this:

Popular HDMI to RCA Adpater
HDMI to RCA Converter
What Is It: An adapter for sending an HDMI output signal into a device with analog RCA inputs.
Pros:
  • For Apple TV, Roku, FireStick, Blu-ray and DVD players
  • Connect any 4080i to 1080p HDMI output to a PAL or NTSC analog input
  • 1 meter cables at both ends
Cons:
  • Power required
  • For HDMI to RCA conversion only - not RCA to HDMI
BUY AT AMAZON

This device will convert the HDMI signal to separate composite video and stereo audio connections.

If you don’t want a converter that comes with the cables, you can buy a model that is a simple converter box.

In that case, you will need to provide your own cables and just wire them into the box and your AV devices.

Another solution is to buy an HDMI audio extractor box that will split the video and audio signal, allowing you to connect the stereo RCA output into a separate amplifier or soundbar.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does RCA Stand For in Cables?

RCA stands for Radio Corporation of America, which developed the audio-visual connector and cable in the 1940s.

Is an RCA Connector Only Used For Audio Signals?

An RCA connector is used for sending several different audio-visual signals. The most common use is for connecting stereo left and right analog audio, but the RCA connector is also used for composite and component video and coaxial digital audio connectors.

Are RCA and HDMI the Same?

RCA and HDMI are two different ways of sending audio and video signals. HDMI is a digital connection for transmitting video and audio through a single cable, while RCA connections are mainly used for stereo analog audio or analog video signals. Although RCA is also used for a coaxial digital audio connection.

What Do RCA Cables Connect To?

RCA cables are used for connecting to RCA inputs and outputs. The most common example is a stereo RCA cable sending 2-channel analog audio between devices – like from a CD player to an amplifier.

Are RCA and AV Cables the Same?

RCA cables are a type of AV cable used for transmitting video and audio signals between RCA input and output connections. While an RCA cable can be called an AV cable, there are several more types of AV cables like HDMI, optical and S-Video.

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Stereo Analog Audio Explained

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About Home Cinema Guide

Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has worked as a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment. You can find out more here.

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