Is Optical Audio Better Than A USB?

Optical audio interfaces and USB audio interfaces are the most common ways to connect a computer to an audio amplifier or software/hardware that plays back sound. The two types of interfaces have their own sets of pros and cons, but the question is which one should you put your money on?

As a general guide, Optical audio cables are preferred if you are using speakers, but USB audio interfaces are preferred for headphones. But the best of both worlds is of course an interface that has both optical and USB outputs.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the difference between optical connectors and USB connectors.

Audio gadgets today come with varying optical connectors or USB standard connectors, which are commonly known as Toslink and USB respectively.

However, it is important to note that the optical audio interface was not designed first; it was actually USB.

According to this patent by IBM, filed in 1996 – Optical Storage Device with Dual Ported Memories, “As disclosed in co-pending U.S. application Ser. No. 08/907,041 which is a file wrapper continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 08/547,215 filed Nov. 13, 1995, now abandoned, there is disclosed an optical storage device with dual-ported memories wherein the host computer I/0 bus and memory port are shared by the two memories in an interleaved fashion.”

Let’s first take a look at optical audio cables. Optical cables are digital connectors so they can only transmit data. This means that the only things to consider for this type of interface are how big or small your files are and what kind of sound quality you want.

Optical cables can transmit 4 different formats: S/PDIF, ADAT Lightpipe, TOSlink and I²S (consumer standard) – it’s important to remember that not all optical cables support the same formats. This means that it is important to check whether your device supports all of them before you buy an optical cable.

Last but not least, the USB standard can be used for more than just data transfer; it’s also possible to connect speakers (for example) to a computer using a USB port. There are 2 types of USB audio interfaces, ones with a USB host connector and ones with a USB device connector.

A USB host-type interface is used for sending sound to an external DAC, while the other type are used for connecting speakers or headphones directly. The only difference between the two types of interfaces is that the USB devices can be bus-powered, while the other type requires a separate power supply to function.

Although the USB standard is capable of providing enough power for a set of speakers, this is not always the case with USB audio interfaces that have a device connector. In these cases, you need to check your amplifier’s or speaker’s specs to make sure it has enough power output for the interface.

This is where the optical interface has a clear advantage. Optical cables are very cheap and they can be found in almost any electronics store. For this reason, a USB audio interface would always have to compete with an optical one when it comes to price.

In terms of sound quality, both interfaces claim the same frequency response of around 20Hz-20kHz or even slightly higher. This means that the two interfaces are equally good at transmitting sound, which no one can really test anyway.

You should also note that the USB standard doesn’t specify how low or high your interface’s latency must be, but it can go as low as 1ms to 64 samples. However, this is not always true for all USB interfaces, so it’s always better to check the specs before you buy one.

Is USB or Toslink better?

As USB and Toslink are used interchangeably, it is important to note that they are not the same.

The main difference between USB and Toslink comes down to how many channels can be transmitted. A Toslink interface is limited to transmitting 1-8 channels while a USB standard interface has support for up to 16 separate channels of sound, which theoretically means it has better sound quality than Toslink.

As a general guide, USB is better than Toslink. They both have the same frequency response and latency, but USB supports more channels. In all honesty, though, you probably won’t notice any difference in sound quality between a Toslink interface and a standard one.

Another major difference between the two interfaces is that USB has a higher data transfer rate, which means that there are less chances for data to get corrupted when you’re transferring music.

While Toslink can be used up to around 1ft, USB maximum distance very much depends on the device you are using it with.

For example, if the device you’re connecting to requires a lot of power, then your USB audio interface can connect as long as it’s within range. However, if it doesn’t need much power and has other alternatives to draw from, there is no limit on how far away your devices can be.

Is optical better than USB?

Both interfaces claim the same frequency response and transmission speed, which means that in theory, they should sound the same. The only thing that matters when it comes to choosing between USB and optical is whether or not your device supports both formats and how much you’re willing to pay for an interface.

If you want a cheap option, then go with an optical interface; if you want better sound quality and reliability, then go with USB.

So which should you choose? Well, if your device only accepts one of the two formats then it’s always better to get an interface that supports that format. If both formats are supported then check whether or not your device needs more power than the standard USB port can provide.


Optical cables are easier to use and they’re good enough for most users. So unless you’re looking for more features than just sending sound to your speakers, an optical cable would be a wiser choice than a USB audio interface. However, if you’re looking for features such as low latency and the ability to use a separate power supply, USB is probably better than optical. But you should also be aware that optical audio peripherals can go bad.

Having a fantastic personal music experience is ideal for anybody who enjoys spending time alone listening to music. Several factors go into creating that place, and each is critical to the entire experience. Headphones, Digital-Analog-Converters, amplifiers, as well as the source, are all important, but does it matter which cable transmits the music, whether it’s USB audio or optical audio?

This is an interesting issue for anyone who wears headphones. When choosing between optical audio and USB, it’s critical to choose the one that will provide the highest level of signal protection while still providing excellent sound quality. SO, is optical audio better than USB?

When it comes to audio transmission, both USB and optical connections perform quite well. Digital signals may be sent from the sources to the Digital-Analog-Converter using one of these two types of cables. Audio performance, on the other hand, is much superior when using optical connections rather than USB. In a range of systems. For example, when utilizing optical audio connections, the sound is not susceptible to electromagnetic interference, which is desirable.

Furthermore, the lengths of their cables are often longer than the lengths of USB cables. They are also capable of supporting 5.1 channels. Consequently, to determine if the optical cable is preferable to USB, let’s examine each of the interfaces in further depth.

Optical Audio

For the optical output of your system’s soundcard to be used the sound source is first routed for processing on the sound processor. Here, the audio stream is resampled and then the sound drivers deliver it to the receiver. The absence of electromagnetic interference, on the other hand, eliminates the possibility of distortion in your audio.

The advantages of using optical audio are as follows:

  • This signal is not susceptible to electrical or radio interference
  • Unlike USB, there is a greater possibility of cable length.
  • It is capable of supporting up to 5.1 channels.


  • Not every DAC, amplifier, or computer has this feature.
  • Signal interruption is possible if the wire is bent too much.

USB Audio

USB Audio is handled as a distinct source from the onboard audio. This means that the data will not be changed in any way and arrive to the DAC in the same format as it was provided to the sound drivers, which is most probably the same bitstream as your source. One of the most significant advantages of utilizing optical audio cable is that it is made of robust material and is not easily damaged. When opposed to other types of audio, the USB audio cables is not prone to bending.

The advantages of utilizing a USB audio are as follows:

  • USB is a very ubiquitous interface, and also several digital and analog converters, as well as computers, allow you to use it.
  • It is not fragile


  • The maximum length is shorter

The differences between optical audio and USB audio

Light is used to transmit digital data from one point to another through optical links. USB, on the other hand, does not require any light to transmit digital data. Therefore, when it comes to speed, optical cables are far quicker than USB connections since they utilize light instead of electricity.

Furthermore, distance is not a concern, however, for most audio systems, USB is also not a significant issue.

Aspects of optical cable handling that are more sensitive than those of USB cables include handling the ends with care to ensure that the light does not have any cracks or imperfections on its surface, which might hinder the signals from reaching the target receiver.

When it comes to digital signals, they are all digital signals; the usage of optical via USB would be dependent on the technology available – The majority of television screens, sound bars, as well as high-end equipment make use of optical connections because of the size of the connection. USB is more often associated with computers.


Both USB and optical audio will operate effectively, but optical offers several significant advantages over USB that bring it into the first position. Being able to work in the music industry without being influenced by electromagnetic interference is a significant benefit. Make sure to choose a high-quality cable for any connection since this will avoid difficulties from emerging that might result in a reduction in sound quality.

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