Choosing a Fiber optic audio cable – How does it differ from HDMI?

Did you know that the Fiber optic audio cable has been around for almost three decades? The optic audio cable was first introduced to the world by the name ‘TOSLINK’ by Toshiba to connect CD players to their receivers. This cable is meant to connect to the square-shaped port behind your computer. This port also has a red glow when you turn on the computer - it’s very hard to miss. 

How does a Fiber Optic Audio Cable Work?

Like all fiber optic cables‚ optic audio cable sends audio signals as pulses of light. When the digital signals enter the pipe‚ they are converted to light using the transmission module. At the end of the line‚ they are converted back to digital signals using the light reception module. The optic audio cable uses red light to transmit data. This red light is what you see when you look at the port while your computer is powered on.

If you weren’t living under a rock for the past decade or so‚ you probably noticed that Fiber optic cables are getting so much attention. Although Fiber optics is right in the limelight‚ optic audio cable is facing slow extinction. These cables are living on because they are still used in devices like soundbars. Newer TVs like the Apple TV 4K have completely got rid of the optic audio port for good. 

Fiber optic audio cable Vs. Other Digital Audio Cables

There are three types of digital audio cables. These are‚

  • Coaxial cable

  • Fiber optic audio cable

  • HDMI cable

HDMI and optic audio are both fairly inexpensive and better than the coaxial cable. Coaxial cable was the standard cable used to transmit digital audio signals back in the day. Coaxial connections are very rare in devices now‚ leaving the competition between HDMI and optic audio. 

HDMI is‚ of course‚ winning the battle because of its growth in popularity in the last decade. When looking at the latest market report by Technavio‚ HDMI is predicted to show a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5% by 2023. With the high demand for 4K TVs and the latest introduction of HDMI 2.1‚ HDMI is not backing down anytime soon.

There are some things the optic audio cable can’t do when compared to the HDMI. For example‚ HDMI can support newer high-resolution audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio. On top of it‚ HDMI can transfer both audio and video. It makes sense that the all-in-one HDMI is replacing the vintage optic audio cable. I mean‚ come on! It’s just much more convenient. 

Advantages of the Fiber optic audio cable over other audio cables

When it hit earth‚ HDMI may or may not have wiped out optic audio from the table. But it’s still here behind your computer waiting to be used. And you can use it to do things you cannot do with the HDMI.

  • You can find it in different electronic devices even today 

HDMI is a fairly new addition when compared to optic audio. Before HDMI‚ this nice‚ almost space-age optic audio port was added to every device. So‚ many older devices have this port and not the coveted HDMI port. Simply‚ you have the choice to either throw that old stereo out or to buy an optic audio cable to have it back in business. T

he optic audio port is available in almost every device even today including TVs‚ CD players‚ DVD players‚ portable MiniDisc players‚ and so on. So‚ you can connect your older device to a newer device and stream your audio without any problem. 

  • It’s easy to isolate audio

If you are taking the hard way to isolate audio from HDMI signals using decoders and adapters‚ this is the time to rethink your life. Did you know that you can isolate audio by connecting your source to your speakers (or whatever receiver you use) using the optic audio cable?

  • Less prone to lags and interference 

The optic audio cable is more stable than your usual copper-based wires like HDMI or coaxial cable. Why? Because optic audio is immune to noise that usually affects wires with a copper core. Noise is electromagnetic interference which interferes with the signal and can make it deplete over distance. 

  • Works better in some scenarios 

Since the fiber optic cable is made of plastic and glass‚ it doesn’t pick up any noise. That’s why devices like Soundbars still insist on using optic audio. Optic audio is also capable of transmitting signals with little to no loss over longer distances than HDMI or Coaxial cable.

  • Can help you deal with the Ground Loop issue 

If your devices are suffering from conditions like ground loop‚ optic audio cable is the medicine. Ground loop‚ as you know (or don’t) is the cause for the annoying hum in your speakers that is a result of electromagnetic interference. Does your home have more than one grounded electricity path? If yes‚ you are sure to be haunted by the ground loop. You could always look for the conniving second path and get rid of it. But‚ depending on where you live‚ this may not always be possible. What you can do is isolating the device with an optic audio cable. Because it’s plastic‚ it won’t be picking up the interference as your copper cable does.

Disadvantages of the Fiber optic audio cable


Optic audio too has its drawbacks. For instance‚ the cable uses plastic and glass which makes it brittle and inflexible. Optic audio also has lower bandwidth. But this won’t be affecting your experience.


So, what’s the catch? Why is optic audio not used as much as HDMI? The thing is‚ the optic audio cable was developed in a time when people didn’t have a use for it. When it finally had the chance‚ HDMI stole the show.

In the grand scheme of things‚ the fiber optic audio cable is an incredibly underutilized cable.

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