RCA connector

RCA connector
RCA connector
RCA Plugs for composite video (yellow) and stereo audio (white and red)
Type RF coaxial connector
Designer Unknown, but from Radio Corporation of America
Designed Early 1940s
Diameter 0.354 in (0.90 cm) (outer, typical)
Cable Coaxial
Passband Typically 0-100 MHz

An RCA connector, sometimes called a phono connector or cinch connector, is a type of electrical connector commonly used to carry audio and video signals. The name "RCA" derives from the Radio Corporation of America, which introduced the design by the early 1940s to allow mono phonograph players to be connected to amplifiers.

They began to replace the older TRS connectors (also called jack plugs) for many other applications in the audio world when component high fidelity systems started becoming popular in the 1950s. However, mini TRS connectors (3.5 mm jacks) and sub-miniature (2.5 mm) jacks are predominant in personal stereo systems.

The connection's plug is called an RCA plug or phono plug, for "phonograph". The name "phono plug" is sometimes confused with a "phone plug" which refers to anything from a TRS connector plug to a British phone plug to an RJ14 registered jack plug.



RCA sockets, or jacks, here used for YPbPr video output.

In the most normal usage, cables have a standard plug on each end, consisting of a central male connector, surrounded by a ring. The ring is often segmented for flexibility. Devices mount the socket (female jack), consisting of a central hole with a ring of metal around it. The ring is slightly smaller in diameter and longer than the ring on the plug, allowing the plug's ring to fit tightly over it. The jack has a small area between the outer and inner rings which is filled with an insulator, typically plastic (very early versions, or those made for use as RF connectors used ceramic).

As with many other connectors, the RCA has been adopted for other uses than originally intended, including as a power connector, an RF connector, and as a connector for loudspeaker cables. Its use as a connector for composite video signals is extremely common, but provides poor impedance matching. RCA connectors and cable are also commonly used to carry S/PDIF-formatted digital audio, with plugs colored orange to differentiate them from other typical connections.

Connections are made by pushing the cable's plug into the female jack on the device. The signal-carrying pin protrudes from the plug, and often comes into contact with the socket before the grounded rings meet, resulting in loud hum or buzz if the audio components are powered while making connections. Continuous noise can occur if the plug partially falls out of the jack, breaking ground connection but not the signal. Some variants of the plug, especially cheaper versions, also give very poor grip and contact between the ground sheaths due to their lack of flexibility.

They are often color-coded, yellow for composite video, red for the right channel, and white or black for the left channel of stereo audio. This trio (or pair) of jacks can be found on the back of almost all audio and video equipment. At least one set is usually found on the front panel of modern TV sets, to facilitate connection of camcorders (through 3.5mm Jack to 3 RCA, also called Mini RCA or miniature jack plug leads), digital cameras, and video gaming consoles. Although nearly all audio-visual connectors, including audio, composite and component video, and S/PDIF audio can use identical 75 Ω cables, sales of special-purpose cables for each use have proliferated. Varying cable quality means that a cheap line-level audio cable might not successfully transfer component video or digital audio signals due to impedance mismatch and poor shielding quality (causing signal-to-noise ratio to be too low). Cables should meet the S/PDIF specification as defined by the international standard IEC 60958-3 for assured performance.

The male plug has a center pin which is 3.175 mm (1/8 inch) in diameter, and is surrounded by an outer shell which is 8.25 mm (1/3 inch) in diameter.


"Bullet plug" variation. Notice the hollow center conductor and the single pin point for the return signal.

One problem with the RCA connector is that, when connecting the male into the female, the inner 'hot' (signal) connection is made before the 'cold' (screening) connection has been guaranteed. This often produces a loud buzz, and could possibly harm some equipment if it has not been switched off beforehand. Another problem with the RCA connectors is that each signal requires its own plug. Even the simple case of attaching a cassette deck may need four of them, two for stereo input and two for stereo output. In any common setup this quickly leads to a mess of cables and confusion in how to connect them, which is made worse if one considers more complex signals like component video (a total of three for video and two for analog audio or one for digital coaxial audio).

There have been attempts to introduce combined audio/video connectors for direct signals but in the analog realm none of these have ever become universal, except in Europe where the SCART connector is very successful.[1] For a time the 5-pin DIN connector was popular for bi-directional stereo connection between A/V equipment, but it has been entirely displaced on modern consumer devices. Though RF modulators inherently transmit combined A/V signals in video applications, they depend on broadcast television systems and RF connectors which are not universal worldwide; RF signals are also generally inferior to direct signals due to protocol conversion and the RF limitations of the three major analog TV systems (NTSC, PAL and SECAM).

Nearly all modern TV sets, VCRs, and DVD players sold in Europe have SCART connectors,[1] though sometimes supplemented by RCA and/or RF connectors and there are also SCART-RCA adapters.[2] Outside Europe, separate RCA connectors are usually used[citation needed], supplemented by RF connectors for backward compatibility and simplicity; though mini-DIN connectors are sometimes used for S-Video connections, composite video, component video, and analog audio (mono or stereo) all use RCA connectors unless RF is used. In the digital realm, however, combined A/V connectors are gaining ground; HDMI is commonly being used today, and DisplayPort is a potential competitor to HDMI.

For audio signals, an RCA connection is called unbalanced, and a true balanced connection is generally preferred in certain applications because it allows for the use of long cables while reducing susceptibility to external noise.


The back of an RCA AM radio from the 1940s with RCA connector for adding a turntable. Tag around connector reads "An inexpensive RCA Victor record player will make a fine Victrola of this radio. Plug here."

The word phono in phono connector is an abbreviation of the word phonograph, because this connector was originally created to allow the connection of a phonograph turntable to a radio receiver, utilizing the radio as an amplifier. This setup was present in most radios manufactured in the 1930s onward by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), who later marketed a special turntable for 45 RPM records, the model 9JY.[3]

Phono input

A "phono input" is a set of input jacks, usually RCA jacks, located on the rear panel of a preamp, mixer or amplifier, especially on early radio sets, to which a phonograph or turntable is attached. Modern styli (phonograph needles) and phono cartridges give a very low level output signal of the order of a few millivolts which the circuitry amplifies and equalizes.

Phonograph recordings are made with high frequencies boosted and the low frequencies attenuated: during playback the frequency response changes are reversed. This reduces background noise, including clicks or pops, and also conserves the amount of physical space needed for each groove, by reducing the size of the larger low-frequency undulations. This is accomplished in the amplifier with a phono input that incorporates standardized RIAA equalization circuitry.

In the 1980s, the phono input was widely available on consumer stereo equipment—even some larger boomboxes had them. By the 2000s only very sophisticated and expensive stereo receivers retained the phono input, since most users were expected to use digital music formats such as CD or satellite radio. Some newer low-cost turntables include built-in amplifiers to produce line-level (one volt) outputs; devices are available that perform this conversion for use with computers; or older amplifiers or radio receivers can be used. Nearly all DJ mixers have two or more phono inputs, together with two or more one-volt line inputs that also use RCA connectors.

This "phono input" designed for the millivolt signal from an unamplified turntable should not be confused with the modern standard one-volt line input and output that also uses RCA connectors and is found on video cameras, recorders and similar modern equipment.

Color coding in consumer equipment

Plugs and sockets on consumer equipment are conventionally color-coded to aid correct connections. The standard[4] colors for the various signals are shown below; however, beyond 7.1 audio, there are no standardized colors as of yet[citation needed].

In stereo audio applications there are combinations of either Black+Red,Grey+Red or White+Red RCA connectors; in both cases, Red denotes Right. White or Purple may also be replaced by Black. This is however not true in tape recorder applications with four connectors cables where white is always left channel recording and black or sometimes blue is always left channel playback. Four connector tape recorder cables is mainly used in adaptors between RCA connectors and 5-pin DIN connectors.

While these are the standard colors found on commercially made products, same-colored cables may also be used. For example, a red cable may be used instead of a yellow one, as there is no other difference between them. There are generally two kinds of cables, for video (composite, component YPbPr and RGB) and digital audio 75 ohm impedance coax cable is recommended, for analog audio high impedance cable is recommended. Using high impedance cable for video and digital audio signals degrades signal quality, more noticeable with longer cables and with higher video resolutions. Using a 75 ohm impedance coax cable for analog audio is usually technically not a problem (but those cables are usually more expensive than high impedance cables)

Composite analog video Composite Yellow   
Analog audio Left/Mono (record if 4 connector tape cable) White   
Right (record if 4 connector tape cable) Red   
Left tape play if 4 connector tape cable Black   
Right tape play if 4 connector tape cable Yellow   
Center Green   
Left surround Blue   
Right surround Gray   
Left back surround Brown   
Right back surround Tan   
Subwoofer Purple   
Digital audio S/PDIF Orange   
Component analog video (YPbPr) Y Green   
PB Blue   
PR Red   
Component analog video/VGA (RGB/HV) R Red   
G Green   
B Blue   
H(Horizontal sync)/S(Composite Sync) Yellow   
V(Vertical sync) White   

See also


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