RCA and banana plugs are two of the widely used audio cables out there. But what’s the difference between the two, and when do you choose one over the other?
After some hours of research, I’ve put together everything I learned about the differences and similarities between RCA and banana plugs in this article. If this is something you’re interested in learning about, then let’s jump straight into it.
What is RCA?
RCA connectors are audio connectors used to transmit video and audio signals from one device to another. They can also be referred to as phono connectors. RCA cables were very popular in the 80s through to the early 2000s.
They are primarily used to connect audio and video devices like tape recorders, VCRs, decoders to televisions, and stereos to speakers. A lot of vintage amplifiers and receivers come with RCA connectors.
In the professional audio domain, you can find RCA ports on analog mixers, audio interfaces, combo amps, active PA speakers, and more.
Nowadays, most devices use HDMI cables instead of RCA. Thus, RCA is not as popular as it used to be. However, lots of A/V equipment still come with RCA ports.
RCA connectors are available in male and female components. Male RCA components are known as RCA plugs, while the female part is the RCA jack.
Let’s take a look at the two main types of RCA cables you’ll come across. That is composite RCA cable and component RCA cable.
Composite RCA Cables
A composite RCA cable has three plugs. This means the signal which is transmitted by composite RCA cables goes through three different channels. One of these is a video channel, while the remaining two are audio channels.
Composite RCA cables are color-coded as well. These plugs are color-coded as red, white (or black), and yellow.
The red plug represents the right audio channel, with the white (or black) serving as the left channel. The yellow plug also carries the composite video signal. This composite video signal is non-digital.
Component RCA Cables
Component RCA cables are more advanced than composite RCA cables, and they are not as common as composite RCA cables. They output high-resolution videos. Thus, they are used for High Definition televisions.
Component RCA cables consist of two audio lines and three video lines. The three video lines are color-coded as blue, red, and green. Its audio lines are color-coded as red and white (or black).
What Is A Banana Plug?
Banana plugs are male connectors that are designed for fitting into banana sockets. They get their name from the shape of their pin.
A banana plug is fixed onto speaker cables. Thus, they are primarily used to connect power amplifiers and speakers that come with traditional binding posts. These plugs are fixed to speaker cables by screwing, soldering, or by crimping.
Most banana plugs have beautiful aesthetics and a unique cylindrical pin feature. A banana plug is made from brass. This brass is then coated with either gold or nickel to prevent corrosion from occurring. The coating also ensures smoother connections.
Banana plugs were introduced to solve the problem of using bare speaker wires for connecting amplifiers to speakers. This was because bare speaker connectors are unreliable.
The introduction of banana plugs prevents speaker cables from being exposed and preserves sound quality as well. It has also made it easy for you to connect your speaker cables to your amplifier.
Standard-Sized Banana Plug
Standard-sized banana plugs are 4mm in size. This size has been widely accepted in all parts of Europe as the standard size for banana plugs. Thus, every standard banana plug is compatible with any 4mm banana socket or jack.
Mini Banana Plug
Mini-sized banana plugs are designed to be smaller than the standard-sized banana plugs I have talked about. These mini banana plugs can be either 2mm or 1mm in size. The 1mm-sized mini banana plug is usually referred to as a pin plug.
However, most mini-sized banana plugs have a size of 2mm. If you are unsure about the size of your mini banana plug, you can consult your manufacturer’s product sheet for clarification.
Is Banana Plug the Same as RCA?
Banana plug is not the same as RCA. This is because RCA connectors are primarily used to transmit line-level audio signals. On the other hand, banana plugs are mainly used to transmit speaker-level signals, usually from an amp to a speaker.
RCA is designed to carry line-level signals. Line-level signals are relatively weak signals with a much lower current. Therefore, RCA is designed to transmit weak signals.
On the other hand, banana plugs are designed to carry speaker-level signals. For those who don’t know what a speaker-level signal is, this is an amplified audio signal meant to drive speakers.
Speaker-level signals carry a current that is higher than that which is carried by line-level signals. And banana plugs are used primarily to transmit speaker-level signals from a power amplifier to a speaker.
Difference Between RCA and Banana Plug
Upon critical observation, it’s easy to identify that RCA connectors and the banana plugs look different.
RCA plugs are shorter than banana plugs. Banana plugs are designed to carry amplified and high-level signals. They are meant for transmitting speaker-level signals. That is why banana plugs are used for making speaker cables.
On the other hand, RCA cables are ideal for low-level connections. RCA is designed to carry line-level signals. It does not carry speaker-level signals. Due to this, RCA is primarily used to connect decoders and VCRs to televisions.
Also, standard RCA cables can carry both audio and video signals. Depending on the type of RCA cable, an RCA has two channels for carrying audio signals while the rest of the channels carry video signals.
However, this is not the case with banana plugs. Banana plugs are designed purely for carrying audio signals. They are not used to transmit video signals.
Similarities Between RCA and Banana Plug
When you take a critical look at RCA and banana plugs, you can clearly tell that they do not have much in common.
The only similarity between RCA and banana plugs is the fact that they both transmit audio signals. However, you should bear in mind that they do not transmit the same type of audio signal.
Can You Connect RCA to Banana Plug?
You can connect an RCA to a banana plug with the help of an RCA to Banana plug adapter. This adapter will serve as a link between your RCA and your banana plug.
To connect RCA to a banana plug, you can simply get a stereo RCA L/R Phono to Speaker banana plug adapter. This adapter has an RCA jack at one end and banana connectors at the other end.
Thus, it helps you transform your banana plug into an RCA jack. Setting up this adapter is very easy to do, and the cables are color-coded as well for polarity identification.
With this simple RCA to Banana Plug adapter (on Amazon) you should be able to easily connect an RCA port to a banana plug port. And the price won’t break the bank.
RCA to banana plug adapters is designed to serve as a multi-purpose hook-up gear for speakers, audio receivers, and amplifiers. Thus, it enables amplifiers and speakers with banana outputs to be connected using an RCA cable.
Benefits Of Banana Plugs Over RCA
Banana plugs are of higher build quality than RCA plugs. As I mentioned earlier, banana plugs are made of brass that has been coated with gold or nickel. They are thick and solid as well. Thus, banana plugs are strong and do not bend or break as easily as RCA plugs.
Also, the coating on banana plugs prevents corrosion from taking place. It ensures that banana plugs last for years without any signs of rust or corrosion. The gold or nickel coating also makes it difficult for dirt to settle in the plugs.
This ensures that you get the best conductivity from your wires as well. Therefore, banana plugs give you high-quality connections which can last for years.
Finally, due to the high build quality of banana plugs, they can carry high amounts of current without getting damaged. RCA connectors are not ideal for carrying high amounts of currents.
That is why banana plugs are used to carry speaker-level signals while RCA carries line-level signals.
Benefits Of RCA Over Banana Plugs
RCA connectors provide you with a stronger and more secure connection than banana plugs. Thus, RCA connectors are ideal for permanent connections.
This is because RCA plugs grip the female ports they are inserted into firmly. Due to this, they do not get removed accidentally.
Also, RCA enables you to transmit video signals. Unfortunately, banana plugs do not provide you with that option. Therefore, you can connect your camcorders, decoders, etc., with RCA to your television or projector.
RCAs are primarily used to transmit audio and video signals. They transmit line-level signals. This makes RCA ideal for connecting A/V devices like decoders to televisions or stereos to speakers.
Banana plugs are audio connectors that are fixed onto speaker cables. They transmit speaker-level signals. Unlike RCAs, banana plugs can transmit only audio signals.