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Audio Cable vs Adapter — The Great Debate

You’ve probably found yourself in the situation of having a cable with one correct end, but not the other. Your choices at that point are between purchasing a brand new cable with the correct termination, or using an adapter that will conform the incorrect end to the connector type you require. Is there a correct answer to this everyday riddle?

The Case for Adapters

Adapter Pros

Passive audio adapters are convenient, versatile, and almost required for any gigging professional. They allow you to convert any cable with a certain connection type to another, meaning you don’t have to just rely on cables with two correct ends. Having one of every cable you could possibly need just isn’t practical, and if you’re a performer, chances are you are going to rely on a venue for some of your cabling. Maybe the venue only has XLR cables available, but you need a ¼ in connection. Having an XLRM or XLRF to ¼ in adapter can be a life-saver and solve that issue before it ever becomes a problem. Audio adapters are also inexpensive, making it easy to carry a full arsenal of solutions.

Have two cables you need to combine to make a longer run? Use a coupler or gender changer. Have a straight end but need a right angle? Use a right angle adapter. Job done, quick and easy.

Adapter Cons

Like anything else, the more connection points you introduce, the more failure points are possible. If an adapter goes bad or isn’t making a connection, it may take more time to troubleshoot where the issue is coming from, which is especially frustrating at a gig. With frequent use, adapters are more likely to stop working, or work intermittently. It’s not uncommon for people to cycle through many 3.5 mm to ¼ in headphone adapters when consistently being plugged and unplugged. You also add length to the connection, which in some cases could add stress to the input jack on the device you’re using.

Will You Lose Signal?

While it’s possible to experience some small kind of voltage loss by using passive adapters, to the human ear, you’d be hard pressed to notice them. Passive adapters are connection point to connection point, so they won’t introduce capacitance or interference by adding cable length.

The Case for Cables

Cable Pros

A pre-terminated audio cable is all you need when available. You don’t have to worry about putting stress on the input jack of any device, making the connection as compact and secure as possible. If a problem should arise, there are also less failure points to troubleshoot and diagnose quickly.

Cable Cons

If you experience a cable failure and must rely on a venue, you could find yourself out of luck. As stated earlier, it’s not always practical to have backups for each cable you need, and sometimes you might find the right connector ends, but the incorrect length.

Why Not Both Audio Cables and Adapters?

Audio cables and adapters have a necessary purpose to serve, both with advantages and disadvantages. When possible, it’s best to have the correct cable for any direct connection. If you’re a gigging professional who deals with many cables types, a small investment into passive adapters could be the difference between losing or saving a performance.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Always be sure to test your cables and adapters before gigging, which can be done quickly and easily with our CBT-500 Cable Tester. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches later.

To see all the cable types that Hosa offers, you can use our handy Cable Finder, or see all of Hosa’s audio adapter options here.

- Hosa
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