5 Common Optical Audio Cable Problems

An optical audio, or toslink, connector.

Owning an optical audio cable, often referred to as Toslink cable since they were originally developed by Toshiba, can be a very good way of connecting components in your system, but it’s not always a perfect solution. An optical audio cable can be more prone to problems than a coaxial cable so you have to treat it carefully. Although it might look as sturdy as others, a Toslink cable is actually comprised of delicate wires and fibers.

1. Breakage

One of the most common problems with an optical audio cable is breakage. The breakage occurs inside the protective sheath and is not easily visible to the naked eye. If your cable stops working, there’s a very good chance that this will be the cause.

Unfortunately, the cable can be broken easily. The simple acts of bending it, twisting it, or even standing on it can cause irreparable damage. When this happens, there’s nothing you can do but buy a new cable.

2. Connections

Optical cables use a special connector when used with other components. It’s important that you insert these properly and that you don’t tighten them too much. They are much more sensitive than coaxial cables and you will need to apply less pressure. If the connector isn’t inserted correctly, the components will not connect; if the connection is over-tightened, it’s liable to break.

You also you need to be certain that you have the Toslink cable plugged into the correct connection. If there’s no sound, for instance, it may be plugged into the wrong connection.

This could be something as simple as connecting to an 'out' connection instead of an 'in' connection. You should be aware that 'digital out' and 'optical out' can be exactly the same thing as long as the special connector will fit.

3. Bending

If your audio set-up requires you to bend cables to follow the line of a wall, and your optical audio cable stops working, the bend has likely caused a break in the cable.

4. No Light

An optical audio cable should have a red light at each of the connectors when it’s in place and working correctly. If you don’t see the light at either of the ends, the cable isn’t connected properly, is broken, or you might just have a faulty cable. The light is an indicator of a problem, rather than being the problem itself, unless the connector on the component is broken.

5. Audio Source

Another common problem is that the audio source on the receiver might not be properly established. It will need to be set to either 'optical in' or 'digital in' in order to work properly.

Failure to do this, even though the connections might be perfectly good, will result in no sound. A similar thing can happen with computers if the correct audio source isn’t selected.

Common Optical Audio Cable Problems FAQ

How do you know if your optical cable is bad?

If you think you have an optical cable or audio optical cable that has gone bad, there are a few different tests you can run to check the cable.

If you notice crackling noises, distorted sound, or loss of sound, this is a good indication that your audio optical cable is going bad. To check it, connect one end of the cable to the television and another to a stereo system.

If the cable has a red light at both ends, the cable is working. Another way to check is to shine a laser pointer or flashlight at one end of the cable.

Hold the cable straight out and see if the light travels all the way through the cable to the other end. If it does not and the cord is perfectly straight and even, the cable is broken and must be replaced entirely.

How long do optical cables last?

Fiber optic cables that experience a normal amount of wear and tear and have no serious trauma that causes damage should last, on average, around 25 years before they need to be replaced. While copper wires break down and wear down over time, fiber optic cables are far more durable.

Can optical cables be repaired?

While copper wires can be cut and twisted back together again, fiber optic cables cannot. Damaged or broken fiber optic cables can be repaired, however.

To repair a fiber optic cable, first make sure it is not attached to anything.

Cut off the damaged section. You will need a wire stripper for this and the ends should be trimmed with a high-precision cleaver.

The wires can be spliced back together. However, this is a complicated process, as only fusion splicing and mechanical splicing work to join fiber optic wires back together again.

These splicing devices are small and easy to use, so it is possible to do this as a DIY project.

How do you clean an optical audio cable?

Fiber optic cables should not be cleaned with rubbing alcohol. To clean these cables, you need static dissipative solvent.

A small amount of solvent should be placed on a clean cloth and the cable can be lightly pulled across it. This is the best way to clean fiber optic cables.

Move in a straight line and do not perform this action on a hard surface.

Does optical cable affect sound quality?

Optical cables provide high sound quality, though there is some debate among audiophiles as to whether optical cables or HDMI cables produce better sound. Some swear by HDMI for sound quality, while others say that optical cables provide even better audio.