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Audio Optical Cable Goes Bad: How To Know & How To Fix

Audio Optical Cable Goes Bad: How To Know & How To Fix

Audio cables are essential for delivering audio signals from a media device to external speakers or headphones. Hence, you need high-quality cables with good performance.

Optical audio (TOSLINK) cables rank high among non-HDMI audio connectors. They transmit audio as light signals instead of electrical signals, providing a clear and noise-free transmission.

Optical cables are often metal-free, so they don’t rust over time. However, these cables can still go bad from physical impacts like mishandling and poor storage. 

The question is, “How can you tell if your optical cable is bad?”

This article explores the symptoms and possible causes of a bad audio optical cable. If you’re also looking to fix or maintain yours, keep reading!

How To Know When an Audio Optical Cable Goes Bad (Symptoms)

Except for visible breakage, it’s hard to tell when a cable is bad. Hence, you should also learn to identify the non-visible signs that indicate it’s going bad. 

If you can recognize its faults, you’re one step closer to fixing the issue. Below are symptoms of damage to look out for.

a hand holding the optical connector

1. Loss of sound quality/signal

A loss of sound quality is the first sign that an audio optical cable has gone bad. The transmitted audio may become distorted, with crackling noises, dropouts, or intermittent sounds. 

Your audio device (external speaker or soundbar) may also remain silent, showing a complete loss of audio signals. All these point to a low-quality, broken, or damaged cable.

2. Loose connections

Optical audio connectors include the cable’s plug and the Optical ports on your devices. If either connector is damaged, you may notice that your connection will become loose—the plug won’t fit snugly into the port. 

Loose connections cause poor contact and signal loss, ultimately affecting audio quality.

3. Physical damage

Due to their production and jacket quality, some optical cables are fragile. Physical impacts like foot traffic and twisting can cause the cable to break. 

Look out for physical signs of damage, like fraying or breakage along the length of the cable. These can affect or completely hinder the cable’s performance. 

4. No red indicator light

Optical cables transmit data through light signals, so the plugs on both ends of the cable often have a red indicator light. When the red lights are on, it means the cable is connected properly.

If you have plugged in the cable properly, but the red light does not turn on at either end, it’s a sign that the cable is damaged or faulty.

Possible Mishandlings and Optical Cable Problems

Optical cables are vulnerable to impact forces like twisting, pulling, and crushing, which can alter their fiber component and affect audio transmission.

Now that you recognize signs of damage in optical cables, it’s time to learn what practices cause them harm. 

an optical connector right above an optical port of the soundbar

1. Improper plugging and unplugging

There is a technique for plugging and unplugging optical audio cables. It’s a simple, straightforward process. You can damage or break the connectors by doing any of the following:

  • Pulling on or wiggling the cable too hard.
  • Using only one hand to grasp the connector while unplugging. You should use one hand to hold the device firmly, and the other to unplug the optical cable.
  • Trying to plug in the cable without following its hexagon shape and aligning the connectors. You may damage the tip of the plug during the struggle and make it loose.

2. Poor storage

Twisting an optical audio cable into tight coils can break or fray the sheath. It can even break the optical fiber at the core of the cable.

Don’t store optical cables in places with unfavorable conditions like direct sunlight, excessive humidity, or cold. If their plugs are exposed, moisture and contaminants can enter and reach the core of the cable. 

3. Dirty connectors

If there’s dust and debris on the optical audio connectors, the mating force will embed the particles onto the connectors, causing scratches and pits. This affects contact, disrupts transmission, and reduces signal quality.

How To Use and Reserve Your Optical Cable Properly

To prevent problems with audio-optical cables, it is vital to use and store them properly. Below are some useful tips:

  • Always handle the cable gently. Don’t twist or bend it at sharp angles.
  • Don’t pull on the cable at any point. To unplug, simply grasp the connector and pull it straight out of your device.
  • Keep the cable’s connectors clean by replacing the plastic tips before storage. When necessary, clean the optical ports with a soft cloth. 
  • When it’s not in use, keep the cable in a loose coil and store it in a dry, UV-protected area (i.e., a room or box).


While HDMI is the current favorite connector for AV signals, optical audio cables are an excellent option if you want to transmit digital audio separately. Optical audio technology is from the 1980s, so it is still compatible with older media devices.  

One significant advantage of optical cables is that they are immune to electromagnetic interference. However, they aren’t immune to physical interference and damage. 

Physical force, improper connection, and poor storage practices can spoil your optical cable. We advise you to inspect it regularly and employ the preventive maintenance tips outlined in the article above.

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