Most people use digital audio for multichannel movie soundtracks. Learn why you might want to use analog 5.1 RCA surround sound connections.
RCA surround sound connections can be a good way to connect to your home theater speakers if you don’t have digital HDMI or optical options.
They take the basic connection type of our old friend, the analog stereo connection, but use it to power 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound.
This article looks at analog RCA surround sound connections in detail and explains when you would use them.
What Does a Multichannel RCA Connection Look Like?
RCA surround sound connectors on the back of your device will look something like this.
This would be typical on something like a Blu-ray or DVD player – although not all players will have these.
There are six RCA jacks for each of the 5.1 surround sound connections.
Front left/right, center, surround left/right and subwoofer.
On some devices, you may find more connections than this. This would be for speaker layouts with more channels – like 6.1 or 7.1 configurations.
In the example above, there are two extra connections on the right for a separate analog stereo audio output.
What Does a Surround Sound RCA Cable Look Like?
You don’t really need a special cable for connecting to a device with an analog multichannel output. You just use standard analog RCA to RCA cables.
For instance, you could use three stereo RCA interconnect cables to make the connections – or six individual ones.
Just make sure you connect the same jacks together between the player (output) and the amplifier (input) – front right output to the front right input, center output to the center input, front left output to the front left input etc.
Otherwise, you’ll get yourself in a right mess.
What Does a Surround Sound RCA Connection Do?
It is used for transmitting multichannel analog audio signals, for example, a surround soundtrack on a DVD or Blu-ray.
It does not support digital audio signals.
When Should You Use RCA Surround Sound Connections?
In most cases, if you wanted to send multichannel audio to an AV receiver or amplifier, you would use a digital audio connection such as an HDMI connector, optical digital audio or coaxial digital audio.
However, it may be that your DVD/Blu-ray player – or your amplifier – doesn’t have any digital audio connections.
In this case, you could still hear surround sound in your room if your player and amplifier both had analog multi-channel jacks.
Also, in some circumstances, you may need to use analog multi-channel outputs from a DVD/Blu-ray player in order to hear some types of multi-channel audio such as SACD, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.
If your AV receiver doesn’t decode a format like Dolby TrueHD, for example, you could let your player decode the audio first and send the uncompressed audio via the analog outputs.
With more devices having digital audio connections, it is becoming less common to find audio-visual components with an analog multichannel output.
However, the presence of this type of connection can lengthen the lifespan of older devices by removing the reliance on digital connections.
Whilst a digital audio connection has many good things going for it, the copy-protection that is present in some of these digital audio signals isn’t one of them!
This is where analog multi-channel devices can come into their own.
As long as your DVD/Blu-ray player can decode the digital audio onboard, then you can hear this audio from the analog outputs without worrying about having a compatible digital amplifier.
You just make an analog connection using the ports shown above.
This can enable you to hear SACD, DVD-A, DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks without spending extra money upgrading all your equipment.
About The Author
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has been 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.