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Surround Sound Transfer
Early surround systems (Dolby surround and Dolby Pro-Logic) could be transferred between components by the same RCA cables that carried the left and right audio signal but with the advent of digital 5.1 channel surround came the need for a more complex system of signal transfer. The following are the different ways that the surround signal is transferred between components.

Overview:
Generally, there is a digital signal source such as a DVD player, DAD player or laser disc player. Some of these players have a built in decoder and will have analog 5.1 channel outputs. If there's no built in decoder, the digital source will offer a fiber optic and/or a coaxial digital output.

5.1 Channel via RCA Cables:
This type of signal transfer is the most low tech but requires more cables to transfer the 6 channels of audio. It simply uses 6 RCA type cables/connectors. This type of connection is generally used to transfer the signal from a component with a 5.1 channel (Dolby Digital or DTS) surround sound decoder to a receiver, preamp or multi-channel amplifer.

As a refresher, the 5.1 channels are:

  • Left front
  • Center
  • Right front
  • Left (rear) surround
  • Right (rear) surround
  • Subwoofer

    Digital Signal Transfer:
    The raw digital data can be transferred from a DVD player or other digital source via 2 different single cable connectors. They are the optical and the coaxial cables.

    Coaxial Digital:
    This type of cable uses a connector like a common RCA cable but the insulator of the cable itself has much lower capacitance than a common RCA cable. The lower capacitance cable is needed due to the higher frequencies of the digital signal (compared to audio). This type of cable is probably a little more durable than a fiber optic cable but may cause a hum to be induced into the audio. This hum would be a ground loop and would likely only be a problem if several other pieces of audio were connected in the system.

    Optical Digital:
    This type of connector uses a fiber optic cable to transfer data between components. It is probably less robust than the coaxial cable but is not going to cause any ground loops because there is no ground connection involved.

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