At a Glance
Optical audio cable with Toslink adapters.
More and more digital-music-related products use optical connections — instead of traditional analog ones — for sending audio. For example, if you want to get audio from Apple’s AirPort Express (or from the optical audio output of many recent computers) to Apple’s new iPod Hi-Fi, you’ll get higher quality audio by using an optical cable.
Optical cables are fairly easy to find nowadays, but there are two things that make finding the right cable a challenge. The first is the potential for overpaying: Although there are higher-end optical cables worth paying good money for, many electronics stores charge $30-$40 for their least expensive — and fairly low-quality — models. The other is connectors: There are two common types of optical audio connectors, miniplug (which looks like the familiar 1/8″ headphone connector) and Toslink (which is squarish in shape); although the signal carried by the cable is the same, you can’t connect a Toslink plug to a mini jack or a miniplug to a Toslink jack. So before shopping for a cable, you need to figure out which connector is used by your audio source and which is used by the component to which audio is being sent — and then go buy the appropriate cable.