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Subwoofer Cable vs RCA | Which One is Better?


You don’t have to be an audiophile to set up and enjoy good music. But knowing basic things such as the different types of cables is important. With modern soundbars and wireless subwoofers, all you need is a good quality HDMI Cable. But in true surround sound audio, you will have multiple speakers and one or more subwoofers. You have to wire them properly to enjoy the audio. A common dilemma among first-time buyers is what type of cable to use for different speakers? What are the differences between Subwoofer Cable vs RCA Cable?

In this guide, let us focus on the subwoofer part of an audio setup. We will compare Subwoofer Cable vs RCA Cable. Finally, we will weigh in their pros and cons and find which cable is better.

A Brief Note on Subwoofer

Skar Audio Competition Subwoofers

One of the key aspects to reproducing movie theatre-like sound in a home theatre is the bass, or subwoofers to be specific. A Subwoofer is a loudspeaker that produces (or reproduces) low-frequency sound that we often call Bass. Speaking of frequency, a typical subwoofer has a frequency range of 20Hz to 200Hz.

In a traditional multichannel audio system, the subwoofer is a separate enclosure from the main speakers. Due to the non-directional characteristic of bass, we use only one subwoofer, usually under the TV or projector screen, in front of the audience.

There are different types of subwoofer technologies and designs but all of them come under Active or Passive Subwoofers. An active subwoofer has an integrated amplifier built into the enclosure. A passive one doesn’t have one.

The majority of modern subwoofers are active types. So, all you have to do is connect a cable between the AV receiver and the subwoofer, while the sub takes care of the power supply and amplification. Now the important question. Which cable to use?

What is an RCA Cable?

RCA Cable

Do you remember those red, white, and yellow cables that we used to connect DVD Players to TVs? These cables are actually RCA Cables. Technically, the connectors are RCA Connectors and due to these connectors, the cables got the name RCA Cables.

Radio Corporation of America created these connectors in the 1930s to connect phonograms (or gramophones) to radio receivers. Hence, you sometimes see / hear the name Phono Connector. The male connector (with a pin) is the RCA Plug and the female connector (with a hole) is the RCA Jack.

RCA Connectors are one of the oldest types that are still in use. The RCA Cable is a type of coaxial cable. It can carry a mono unbalanced signal. The signal can be analog video or audio.

In fact, the red, white, and yellow RCA Cables are commonly known as Composite Video RCA Cables. Here, the yellow cable carries the video signal while the red and white cables carry left and right channel audio signals.

Another popular application of RCA Cables is the Component Video. In this type, we use three cables red, green, and blue to carry three video signals (R, G, B respectively). Component Video has the capability to transmit higher resolution video.

While Composite Video maxes out at 480i NTSC or 567i PAL, the Component Video can transmit up to 1080P (or even higher).

Another important characteristic of RCA Cables is that they can carry both analog and digital signals. While the connector for analog and digital communication is the same, there is a significant difference in the actual cable itself. A common form of RCA Digital cable is the S/PDIF type with RCA Connector.

What is a Subwoofer Cable?

Technically, a Subwoofer Cable is another form of RCA Cable. It is designed specifically to carry low-frequency audio signals from the AV Receiver or Amplifier to a Subwoofer.

The connectors, both male and female of a Subwoofer Cable use RCA Type. If both regular RCA Cable and Subwoofer Cables use RCA Connectors, then what is the difference between them?

Now comes the interesting part. We know that the job of the subwoofer is to reproduce bass, which is essentially a low-frequency audio signal. The AV Receiver, with its built-in cross-over circuit, separates regular audio signals (vocal and instrumental) and low-frequency signals.

Main speakers receive the regular audio signals over RCA Cables (or any other audio cables). The subwoofer on the other hand receives the low-frequency signal. This means that the cable between the AV Receiver and the subwoofer must be capable of carrying this low-frequency signal without any issues.

The typical frequency that a subwoofer reproduces is between 20Hz and 200Hz. This is awfully close to the Mains AC Frequency (50Hz or 60Hz). If the cable doesn’t provide proper shielding, it causes interference with the AC Mains frequency and you get a ‘hum’ from the subwoofer.

To eliminate or minimize the signal distortion and AC Hum, manufacturers take extra steps to add additional insulating layers and also shielding. This protects the low-frequency bass signal from interference and noise. As a result, the subwoofer can reproduce a very clean bass.

Differences Between Subwoofer Cable vs RCA Cable

Let us quickly find the differences between RCA cable and subwoofer cable. The following is a comparison between Subwoofer Cable vs RCA Cable with respect to important parameters.

RCA Cable Subwoofer Cable
RCA Cable has RCA Connectors at both ends. Subwoofer Cable also has RCA Connectors at both ends.
Can carry both Audio and Video signals. It can carry only audio signals.
Audio RCA Cables can transmit all frequencies from the AV Receiver to the speakers. They are designed to typically carry low-frequency bass signals from AV Receiver to Subwoofer.
You can use a regular RCA Cable to transmit bass signals from source to subwoofer. Even though subwoofer cables can carry audio signals, they excel at transmitting low-frequency signals.
If you use a regular RCA Cable with a subwoofer, there is a possibility of noise and interference. Subwoofer Cables, despite having RCA Connectors, use additional insulation and shielding to minimize noise and interference.
The main problem with using RCA Cables for subwoofers is AC Hum. A good-quality subwoofer cable will not produce any AC Hum.
RCA Cables are very affordable and easy to find. Subwoofer cable is a little expensive.

Pros and Cons

RCA Cable

+ The main advantage of RCA Cables is they are very cheap.

+ You can easily find RCA Cables in all audio equipment shops and electronics stores.

+ RCA Cables are a very popular choice for transmitting analog audio (and video signals).

– Although they can carry all audio signals, RCA Cable might struggle to transmit bass audio. They don’t have any additional shielding or insulation.

– Even if you use RCA Cable for subwoofers, the length can be a limiting factor. The average length of RCA Cables is smaller than Subwoofer cables.

– Due to lower gauge wires (thinner wires), the power capabilities of RCA cables are less.

Subwoofer Cable

+ They are specially designed to carry low-frequency signals. But they still use the RCA Connectors.

+ High-quality Subwoofer Cables have additional insulation and shielding to reduce interference and noise.

+ It will be frustrating to hear AC Hum after spending hundreds of dollars on speakers and subwoofers. You can use a Subwoofer cable to eliminate this hum.

+ The gauge of the wire is usually large (thicker wires). Hence, they can carry significant power to the subwoofer.

– They are slightly more expensive than normal RCA Cables.

– You can save a lot of money if regular RCA Cables do the job.

Which Cable is Better? Subwoofer or RCA

Now that we have seen the basic differences between RCA and Subwoofer cables, the important question is which cable to choose?

The connection between AV Receiver and subwoofer is using RCA Connectors. You can test the quality of sound with regular RCA Cables. If you don’t find any noise, hum, or buzzing sound, then chances are you don’t have to upgrade the cable.

But if you hear any distortion of hum, then you have to invest in a good quality subwoofer cable. Their extra insulation and shielding provide excellent audio transmission without noise or interference.

Check for all the specifications of both your audio devices (AV Receiver, Subwoofer, etc.) as well as the Subwoofer Cable.

The impedance of the cable plays an important role in clean transmission. Regular RCA Cables might not have the correct impedance values to match with the subwoofer. But subwoofer cables are made for this purpose. So, the chance of impedance mismatch is very less.

Conclusion

RCA Cables are one of the most common and popular cables for audio as well as video transmission. Subwoofer Cables, on the other hand, are a type of RCA Cable with some important tweaks and upgrades. You can use a regular RCA Cable to connect AV Receiver and Subwoofer. But due to its poor insulation and shielding, they carry noise and have interference.

Subwoofer cables have the advantage of extra insulation later and ground shielding. This eliminates the annoying AC Hum from subwoofers and other noise.

In this guide, we saw the basics of RCA Cables and Subwoofer Cables. We compared Subwoofer Cable vs RCA Cables and listed the differences between them.

Finally, we looked at whether RCA Cable is sufficient for connecting the subwoofer or if you need a special subwoofer cable.



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