RCA vs 3.5mm: What’s the Difference & Which Sounds Better?

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RCA and 3.5 mm connectors are among these numerous connectors that help you connect, transmit and enjoy audio. These connectors are used by many on a daily basis. However, most people have little to no knowledge about them. This article will shed light on these two connectors.

One question, however, that is asked many times is “between RCA and 3.5mm, which sounds better?”

There is no noticeable difference in sound quality between RCA and 3.5mm connectors. Both connectors output an unbalanced stereo audio signal. This means they are both susceptible to signal degradation and noise interference.

What is RCA?

RCA connectors are also known as phono connectors. They are a type of connector that is used to transmit audio and video signals. RCA is actually an old system for carrying audio signals. However, a lot of consumer A/V equipment still supports RCA connectors.

This type of connector is used to connect audio and video devices like stereos to speakers or decoders to televisions. RCA cables transmit analog signals.

I will speak briefly on the types of RCA cables available. However, you can read more on RCA connectors and cables from my previous article, where I compared  RCA and 1/4 inch connectors. You should definitely check it out if you want to learn more about RCA connectors.

Composite RCA Connector

A composite RCA connector is a type of RCA connector. This type of connector comes with three plugs or pins on them. These plugs are labeled red, white/black, and yellow. The red and white/black jacks transmit analog audio signals, while the yellow jack transmits analog composite video.

Component RCA Connector

Component RCA connectors are an advanced version of RCA connectors and can be used for high-definition TV connections. This is because they produce resolutions that are higher than composite RCA connectors and cables.

Component RCA cables and connectors have three video lines which are usually color-coded as red, green, and blue. 

Aside from the video lines, they also have two audio lines colored red and white/black. The red color-coded video and audio lines usually have an additional color to distinguish them from each other.

What Is a 3.5mm Connector?

A 3.5 mm connector is also known as a 1/8” connector or mini-jack. The 3.5 mm connector cable is very common. This is because it is used in most portable consumer electronics like smartphones, laptops, etc. And we are all probably familiar with it. It is used by lots of people around the world. 

A 3.5 mm connector is primarily designed for transmitting music. However, some 3.5 mm cables can be used for transmitting voice signals as well. I will talk about it later on in this article.

3.5mm TS Male Connector

3.5mm TS male connector is a two-conductor unbalanced mono cable. It does not support stereo sound and microphone functionality. This means you cannot use this cable to talk on calls. It does not have left and right channels in it as well.

3.5mm TS connector is designed to have only a Tip and a Sleeve. This connector allows audio signals to be transmitted in mono. The tip transmits the audio signal while the sleeve serves as a ground and return path.

3.5mm connectors work best when used in short cable applications. This is because the sleeve is susceptible to noise, so there is a lesser chance of distortion if the cable is short.

3.5mm TRS Male Connector

3.5 mm TRS connectors are similar to TRS ¼” connectors. These connectors are divided into three main parts: the tip, ring, and sleeve. 3.5 mm TRS connectors are a three-conductor version of 3.5mm connectors. In 3.5mm TRS connectors, the tip and the ring serve as the left and right channels, with the sleeve serving as the ground.

A 3.5mm TRS cable can transmit balanced mono signals and unbalanced stereo signals. It supports only stereo and not microphone functionality. What this means is, you can use this connector to listen to music but can’t speak through it.

3.5mm TRRS Male Cable

TRRS stands for Tip, Ring, Ring, and Sleeve. This connector is a four-conductor version of the 3.5mm connector. It is commonly used in smartphone connector applications. 3.5 mm TRRS connectors come with microphone functionality. This means they enable you to speak through your cable when you connect them to your smart device.

TRRS connectors are used for devices that come with TRRS ports. These devices that come with TRRS jacks include most smartphones, laptops, audio gadgets, gaming consoles, etc. It is used to provide stereo sound and composite analog video.

Is 3.5mm Sound Quality Better Than RCA?

No, 3.5 mm quality is not better than RCA. In fact, there is no difference in the quality of sound produced by RCA cables and that which is produced by 3.5 mm cables.

3.5 mm and RCA cables are both primarily unbalanced connections. This means both cables can be susceptible to noise and interference. Hence, it is hard to rate one over the other. If both connectors are of good quality, you will be able to achieve great results with either of them without noticing any variation in the quality of sound produced.

Differences Between RCA and 3.5mm

RCA is usually used in most home audio systems. This is because the majority of these home audio equipment come with RCA ports and not 3.5mm. On the other hand, 3.5mm cables are used in most portable devices since they come with 3.5mm ports. Let’s take a look at some attributes that distinguish RCA from 3.5 mm connectors and cables.

Type of ApplicationMay transmit both audio and video signals.Are purely meant for audio signals.
Number of Audio ChannelsAll RCA cables have two channels for transmitting stereo signalsMay carry stereo or mono signal depending on the type of 3.5mm cable,
Cable SizeRCA cables are relatively larger than 3.5mm cablesSmaller than RCA cables and are meant for portable devices.
Differences between RCA and 3.5mm

Can You Connect RCA to a 3.5mm Port?

Yes, you can connect an RCA audio source to a 3.5 mm port. You can connect an RCA cable into a 3.5 mm port using a 3.5mm male jack to a dual RCA plug audio adapter.

There are actually three different types of RCA to 3.55mm adapters available today. The first option has an RCA female and a 3.55mm male plug. You can pick one of these up on Amazon for about 5 bucks.

The next type has RCA male plugs and a 3.5mm female connector. And you can also pick these up on Amazon for about 5 bucks.

The last option has RCA male plugs on one end and a 3.5mm male plug on the other end. And this is actually the most popular option available today. And I own a couple of these myself that I use for various purposes. Pick this up on Amazon for about 7 bucks.

This adapter allows you to connect your smartphone, tablets, or portable music device to a stereo receiver, speaker, or other RCA-enabled device.

Does RCA to 3.5mm Reduce Quality of Sound?

Yes, RCA to 3.5 mm cables and adapter reduces the quality of sound. However, this reduction in sound quality is very little and cannot be easily noticed or detected. RCA to 3.5 mm connections transmit audio signals seamlessly whiles ensuring reliability and reduced signal loss.

An RCA to 3.5mm cable and adapters are very useful. They help you connect the output of your portable device like a mobile phone to your home audio system. RCA to 3.5 mm cables and adapters also enable you to connect your portable devices to all other RCA-enabled devices like projectors.

Benefits of RCA over 3.5mm

RCA connectors provide a more secure and stronger connection than 3.5mm connectors, especially when they are new. These connectors come with cables that are made with larger gauges than cables used for 3.5mm. This makes RCA connectors stronger than 3.5 mm connectors. Also, RCA plugs grip their female ports much firmly than 3.5mm connectors do. This prevents accidental removal in the event of a trip or fall.

RCA cables are built very well. They are very flexible and can be easily handled without risk of damage. Both male and female RCA cables are very robust and have a low failure rate. They last longer than 3.5mm cables, which are known to break very often. 3.5mm cables are relatively weaker than RCA cables and can be easily worn out. This can lead to distortions in the audio or even failure of the cable.

Benefits of 3.5mm Over RCA

The advantage of 3.5mm connectors is their portability. 3.5 mm cables are very portable as compared to RCA. These 3.5mm cables are handy and can be easily carried or moved about. This is why 3.5 mm cables are commonly used in headphones and portable music players.

Also, 3.5 mm cables are compatible with most modern devices. The majority of the current everyday devices like laptops, smartphones, etc. come with 3.5 mm ports. This means, having a 3.5 mm cable at hand gives you the option of using these devices for your listening needs or for calls.


In summary, RCA and 3.5mm connectors are two of the most useful audio connectors available. 3.5 mm connectors are widely used in portable devices because of their size. They are commonly used for connecting to smartphones, portable music player headphones as well as for connecting MP3 players to car stereos. RCA connectors are used to connect audio and video devices like stereos to speakers or decoders to televisions.