S/PDIF vs. Toslink: Which One Is Better?

SPDIF vs TOSLINK

The biggest difference between toslink and spdif is the type of connector that each uses. Toslink uses a rectangular connector, while spdif uses a round connector. The second difference is that toslink is capable of carrying a signal up to 10 meters, while spdif is only capable of carrying a signal up to 5 meters. Finally, toslink supports two-channel stereo audio, while spdif supports up to eight channels of surround sound.

Many people are confused regarding what’s the difference between TOSLINK and SPDIF. Thankfully, you’ve come to the right article if you want to know which is better or which is which, S/PDIF vs Toslink. They’re actually quite similar to each other, but manufactured by different companies—SPDIF is made by Sony and Philips while TOSLINK is made by Toshiba. Actually, it’s possible for SPDIF cables to be TOSLINK, but there are other times where they aren’t TOSLINK.

So what’s going on? When are SPDIF cables also TOSLINK and when are they not? This article will thankfully cover everything there is to know about these two digital audio connection types.

What is a TOSLINK Cable?

TOSLINK, which is short for Toshiba Link, is an optical fiber connection standard and cable type ostensibly developed by Toshiba. Its sole purpose is to pair up or link together audio devices as well as media players like Blu-ray Disc and DVD players to receivers and media cards for sound and video. As a fiber optic cable type, TOSLINK cables offer high-fidelity, high-quality sound results from any connection it facilitates.

Additionally, it’s the standard option when it comes to lossless audio transference and Surrounds Sound link-ups from media devices to sound equipment or audio outputs. Long story short, TOSLINK sends the digital audio stream from the input of the media source to the output of the audio equipment. They’re made to efficiently offer you the most dependable method of delivering high-quality audio in a direct fashion.

  • Pros: TOSLINK offers excellent compatibility, quality media transfer, and excellent performance that is highly reliable audio-wise. HDMI HD audio is technically better, but most people won’t hear the difference.
  • Cons: TOSLINK offers a limited length and fragile construction. As an optical cable, kinks and bends will destroy the cable that would normally not be as much of a problem with an ordinary copper wire audio cable.

 

What is an S/PDIF Cable?

You’re now aware of what TOSLINK is. What about SPDIF? SPDIF, also known as S/PDIF is a shortened acronym for the Sony/Philips Digital Interface. While Toshiba made a high-fidelity optical cable connection standard, Sony and Philips developed their own propriety cable standard and interface that sometimes makes use of optical cable technology that’s practically synonymous with TOSLINK at this point in time.

TOSLINK makes use of the SPDIF fiber-optic cable system. SPDIF cables can come with TOSLINK connectors, but it can also make use of RCA and coaxial cables as well, so that’s the reason why there are times when your SPDIF is a TOSLINK cable and other times when it’s not. SPDIF is also the optical connection standard to depend on when ensuring that input to output components deliver high-quality audio every time.

  • Pros: SPDIF has tough construction and excellent length. It’s highly compatible to a wide range of connection standards since it can be TOSLINK, RCA, or coaxial. Most standard connections depend on the SPDIF format as well.
  • Cons: Alas, due to the nature of fiber-optics, you get limited flexibility from the SPDIF cable when compared to ordinary copper cables. It’s less likely to suffer from breakage due to kinks and bends compared to the more fragile TOSLINK cable. It’s also more susceptible to interference.

 

TOSLINK vs. SPDIF – Head To Head Comparison

Let’s now talk about the Venn Diagram that is TOSLINK vs. SPDIF cables, particularly when it comes to properly compare them and explaining the times when they’re one and the same. SPDIF is the de facto cable standard for home theaters that use A/V or AV receivers. They also ensure that DTS and Dolby Surround System tech works because of their high-fidelity build compared to non-SPDIF TOSLINK cables that are more fragile and have a limited length.

  • Father of Optical Audio Connection: The true debate here isn’t SPDIF vs. TOSLINK. Rather, it’s a debate between SPDIF RCA vs. SPDIF coaxial vs. SPDIF TOSLINK since TOSLINK is a subset of what’s probably the Father of Optical Audio Connection developed in tandem by both Sony and Philips. Up until now, even with the dawn of HDMI cables being used for HD audio connections, it’s still a viable high-end audio format most AV receivers depend on.
  • TOSLINK is a Type of SPDIF Connector: Long story short, TOSLINK is SPDIF even though SPDIF could be or not be TOSLINK. To be more specific, TOSLINK is an S/PDIF connector type instead of a separate cable type or connection system. In regards to why TOSLINK cables are “shorter” and “more fragile” than SPDIF cables, that point of comparison is more of why SPDIF cables with TOSLINK connectors tend to be shorter and more fragile than SPDIF cables with RCA or coaxial connectors.
  • TOSLINK vs. RCA with Coaxial: Although TOSLINK has its advantages over RCA and coaxial SPDIF cables, they’re also better than TOSLINK in certain aspects. They perform well enough even though they’re more susceptible to interference and they make use of thicker cables to prevent said interference and TOSLINK fragility, leading to longer yet inflexible connections you can’t bend around from corner to corner. For the purposes of this article, let’s compare the coaxial SPDIF cable with the RCA connector vs. the TOSLINK SPDIF.
  • The Appearance of TOSLINK vs. (RCA) SPDIF: Although they’re both SPDIF, they look different. TOSLINK is a fiber optic cable that makes use of glass/plastic material for amazing data transfer that’s much clearer than previous analog or primitive digital cable standards. It’s more reliable and it works without electricity. It specifically uses light pulses to represent the data, which proves to be the most efficient method of transferring audio. RCA connector SPDIF, on the other hand, makes use of copper.
  • Copper vs. Fiber Optics: SPDIF of the RCA connector type has inflexible copper versus the more fragile fiber optics of SPDIF TOSLINK. The shorter yet clearer TOSLINK connectors are perfect for devices that are nearer to each other, like in a home entertainment center setting. It supports a wide array of media formats as well as audio and certain video types with its TOSLINK type connector (the standard SPDIF square connector) versus the rounded RCA “phono” connector with the metal tip.
  • The Challenge of Handling RCA: Although many people might be turned off by the fragility of the TOSLINK cable and connector, thinking a tougher copper RCA SPDIF cable is the way to go, hold that thought. RCA copper cables are more challenging to handle when dealing with certain circumstances, like bending it around corners. On the other hand, it’s also “hardier” or tougher at times, because with flexibility comes fragility. Sure, a TOSLINK cable is as flexible as rope or string. However, there is a flexion point where the cable could break.
  • SPDIF RCA Durability vs. TOSLINK Fragility: The thickness of an RCA cable makes it more durable or long-lasting when push comes to shove. The thinner TOSLINK cable is simpler to handle but easier to break. Watch out for excessive bending, accidental pulls, and kinks that could hamper or break the cable signal altogether. Regardless, bot cables carry compressed audio from one component to another vs. the uncompressed purer audio possible with HD sound traveling on an HDMI or DisplayPort cable.
  • How They Fare in Terms of Application: Sure, uncompressed audio is best delivered on the dual A/V cable known as HDMI cables, but TOSLINK in particular and SPDIF cables, in general, persist to this day because they’re capable of delivering high-end audio as well as surround sound too for BD or DVD players. This is why they’re still being used in many home theaters along with the components that receive them. Sometimes, all you need is an HDMI adapter or none at all since SPDIF ports and TOSLINK connectors still exist in much modern entertainment equipment, from gaming consoles to HDTV cable boxes as well as computers.
  • Specific Applications of TOSLINK vs. (Coaxial) SPDIF: TOSLINK cables and coaxial SPDIF cables are used for different purposes in the modern 21st Century home entertainment environment. For instance, TOSLINK is what you depend on for linking sound equipment with Dolby Digital Decoders. It’s also used for linking PCs or Macs to AV receivers or consoles due to their super-fast delivery with nearly zero interference issues. On the other hand, in the case of SPDIF with coaxial copper cables and RCA connectors, it’s more about liking DVD players and BD players to receivers such as TVs and speakers.
  • TOSLINK Delivers Quality while SPDIF (RCA) Delivers Reliability: Despite its shorter length and fragility, TOSLINK by Toshiba gets around in the audio market warts and all because of its end results. It delivers a slightly better experience overall compared to its coaxial and RCA counterparts, especially if you can safeguard its fragility or use it in situations where cable lengthiness isn’t as big of an issue. With it, you’ll get superior audio quality, overall efficiency, reliability, and ease of use.

Toslink:

  • Good for longer runs due to the fiber optic cable used
  • No interference from other electronics because it uses light instead of electrical signals
  • More expensive than SPDIF

SPDIF:

  • Inexpensive compared to Toslink
  • Can be run using a standard copper cable, which is easier to find/replace if damaged
  • More susceptible to interference from other electronics because it uses electrical signals instead of light

SPDIF vs. TOSLINK – Which One Should You Choose?

Now that you’re aware of the differences and similarities of SPDIF and TOSLINK, which one should you use in which situation or circumstance? Long story short, TOSLINK is a fiber-optic connector type under the SPDIF umbrella that has cables that are more fragile and shorter than other SPDIF types that are longer, stiffer, and thicker. It’s less a debate of TOSLINK vs. SPDIF and more of a debate of TOSLINK vs. RCA connector or TOSLINK vs. coaxial cable connectors that the SPDIF usually comes with.

References:

  1. SPDIF“, Wikipedia, Retrieved October 24, 2020
  2. TOSLINK“, Wikipedia, Retrieved October 24, 2020
  3. Toslink vs Optical “, FindDiffer.com,  Retrieved October 24, 2020
  4. Is ‘SPDIF’ and ‘Optical’ the Same Thing?“, Head-Fi.org, Aug 23, 2009
  5. Gary Altunian, “Coaxial vs. Optical Digital Audio Cables“, Lifewire.com, January 6, 2020
  6. The Difference Between SPDIF and Optical“, GearSlutz.com, Retrieved October 24, 2020
  7. SPDIF vs TOSLINK: What is The Difference Between Them?“, Purdy Lounge, Retrieved October 24, 2020


Author: James Core

I write dozens of helpful informational articles based on topics that I have identified again and again throughout my research and work experience. I am here to help you find the right CABLE AND CONVERTER for your needs.

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