While plenty of home theatres and audio systems around the country already rely on TOSLINK connections, TOSLINK is a standard some may not have come across before. We've put together a brief rundown below to get you up-to-speed on the strengths of TOSLINK in general, and show you where Avencore's new Platinum Series TOSLINK range could bring even more benefits to your setup.
So, what is TOSLINK?
TOSLINK is a fairly old format (read: 1983!) for transmitting digital audio over an optical fibre cable. Being from such a vintage, you might think that TOSLINK isn't up for today's challenges, but it does have a few special benefits that are still important today.
TOSLINK uses the S/PDIF format to handle uncompressed, two-channel audio with a staggering 192kHz of headroom and a data rate of up to 24 bits per sample. It also handles lossy surround sound formats like Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD. (It can't handle the uncompressed surround sound formats unfortunately). As a point of interest, S/PDIF signals also run through a digital coax cable, so if you see an RCA socket marked "Digital" on any of your equipment, you can get the same benefits of SPDIF by simply using a different cable.
But why would I use TOSLINK these days? Isn't HDMI better?
HDMI is without doubt a more capable and modern standard, but there are some drawbacks with HDMI that may mean it's not always the best option for you.
1. Your hardware doesn't support HDMI
If your hardware doesn't have any HDMI ports, you might think that you're left in the dark when it comes to high quality audio. HDMI is a relatively new standard, so in many cases older amplifiers and hi-fi gear (and even cheaper newer models) don't include HDMI. However, this doesn't mean you are necessarily stuck using analog cables to connect your equipment. You may have a TOSLINK connector without even realising it, simply because it's been around for so long and was the state-of-the-art for digital audio connections before HDMI.
The TOSLINK port is also so strange-looking compared to other connections that many people don't even know it's there. Take a look at the following photo of a TOSLINK socket. Weird, square and flat with a dust-flap. If this is on the back of your amp, congratulations! You'll be able to get crystal-clear multi-channel audio from any audio devices that are also TOSLINK compatible.
Older TVs and DVD players can often output decent video and audio, even without HDMI. For video, using component (YPbPr) cables can give you a solid 1080p signal (albeit analog). Combine that with TOSLINK and you still have the Full HD experience full with surround sound audio - without HDMI!
2. Your TV can't output anything other than TOSLINK.
We all know how tinny and bass-deprived most TV speakers sound. Often you'll want to hook your TV up to a hi-fi amp or a soundbar to get some decent-quality sound. However, most older TVs (and even a lot of newer TVs) don't have a headphone jack or an RCA-out. Often the only output you'll see is the weird-looking TOSLINK. If your soundbar or hi-fi gear has a TOSLINK input, you're good to go!
However, if the gear you're connecting to only has analog inputs, you'll also need a digital-to-analog converter (check out this product to do exactly that), but at least you'll be connecting your TV output to some decent speakers.
3. You've got a device that only outputs audio.
Not every home theatre device outputs video. And devices that ONLY output audio don't tend to include an HDMI port. Turntables and standalone CD players often include TOSLINK or S/PDIF COAX connectors for transmitting a full digital signal.
But the biggest still-relevant audio-only use of TOSLINK is on laptop computers and just about all of Apple's notebook and desktop range. If you have an iMac on your desk and want a quick and easy way to send digital audio straight to your amp, just plug in a TOSLINK connector (you'll need to convert one end to a 3.5mm mini-TOSLINK - but that's cheap and easy to do - check out this adapter).
What makes Avencore Platinum Series TOSLINK cables so special?
First, let's make one point clear: Because TOSLINK transmits a digital signal, you won't get "better audio quality" by spending more money on a short TOSLINK cable. A digital signal is either on or off, and a cheap cable will sound as good as an expensive one over short distances. What you're really paying for with a more expensive cable is better components, better workmanship and better audio clarity over longer lengths (where a cheaper cable might drop bits of data and give the odd pop or click).
Avencore provides a cable that's built to hit longer lengths without dropping out, and is less susceptible to damage from kinks or pulls. Nylon braiding makes is a good choice for installing inside a wall cavity, and the aluminium plug barrels are robust and hard-wearing. Combined, these features give you a rugged cable ready for regular use and abuse, backed by a 5-year warranty. It also doesn't hurt that they look darn good, and are a compliment to any home, office or light commerical installation
Browse the range here!