Do Optical Cords Go Bad?

By Robert David Orr / Last updated: Nov 10, 2021

Optical cords or cables, also known as TOSLINK cables (Toshiba Link) are used to transmit digital audio via pulses of light through these digital cables, and deliver stunning audio quality.

Optical cords do not degrade over time. Problems with fiber optic cords usually originate from issues related to being mishandled. This is because of delicate nature of the materials they’re constructed from. They’re made from high-grade plastic and glass fiber, and therefore can be delicate and easily damaged or broken. 

These cables are masterful at transmitting tons of data but can be a bit delicate. And when these cables break or are damaged by bending them too far they become unusable.

So if you’re having audio problems, it’s only natural to look at your cables first.

By the way – before we get too far along here, if you want to get more great ideas for your gaming room or home office and connect with other home office hackers to make your space the best join my free private Facebook group, Home Office Hacks here.

How do I know if my optical cable is bad?

If you’re having problems with your signal and you suspect your fiber optic cable is bad here’s how you can tell.

If you can’t see light coming through your cable as in this image below, then your cable is bad.

Keep in mind – the signal travels in one direction: from your source to your sound bar or other audio output. So this light will only be visible when it’s plugged in to the source.

What happens when an optical cable goes bad?

If you’re having problems with your audio then the first place to look will be your connections.

You should see a red indicator light on both ends of the cable when it’s properly connected.

If you’re having problems with your optical audio cable then you can experience a couple different types of problems:

First off, when your optical cable is damaged or incorrectly connected, you won’t get any sound.

Everything else about your setup could be working but the audio will be missing.

You could also experience loss of signal which could result in degraded audio quality.

Are optical cables reliable?

Optical cables are incredibly reliable and a great solution for your home audio needs. They’re able to transmit tremendous amounts of data digitally.

And once they’re properly connected and in place, they’ll continue to do their job flawlessly for years.

The technology is completely stable and reliable because it’s based on light transmitted through fiber optic cabling and can do a masterful job of transmitting your signal.

How can I test my optical audio cable?

Here’s a trick you can try that should work.

Carefully unplug your optical cord from your device on both ends and lay it out flat on a table.

Use a towel or a sheet to block out the ambient room light and cover one end of the cable enough so that you can put your head underneath it without a bunch of other light coming through.

On the other end shine a flashlight at the end of the cord.

If you see light passing through the optical cord, your cable is fine.

If you still have problems, but you’ve tested your optical cord and you can easily see light passing through, you could have a problem with something obscuring your connection on your devices, or worse, you could have a bad connector on your source.

You can use a can of compressed air that you can pick up cheap from Amazon to clear out any dust or debris from your devices.

If you do not see light passing through your optical cable, then there is a problem and your cable has been damaged in some way.

Common optical cable problems

Since there is no metal wire running through your fiber optic cable, troubleshooting issues can be challenging.

But there are some common challenges that we can work through to get to the source of the problem.

Here are 4 common problems with optical cables.

Loose connections

One of the quickest ways to tell if you’ve got a bad connection is a missing red indicator light.

Fiber optic cables are equipped with these indicator lights so you can easily tell whether or not things are connected properly or not.

If you don’t see the red light on the plug then your cable isn’t connected properly, or worse, it’s damaged or broken.

Broken fiber optic cable

Fiber optic cable is delicate. It’s not like copper wire that you can bend and crimp any way you like to fit into the available space.

If you try to run optical cord along a wall and bend it, odds are you’re going to break the internal fiber optic strands.

Fiber optic cable doesn’t just break when you bend it. It breaks when you pull too much tension on it too.

Optical cables cannot be cut either.

If you try to cut it to splice it or shorten it you’ll ruin it.

Dust or debris

If your optical connection ports have become obstructed by dust or debris, this could be causing you to think that your optical cable is bad.

The solution is to clean them with compressed air.

This will remove any obstructions that keep light from being able to pass through.

You can also gently wipe the ends of your optical cables with an alcohol swab with 91% isopropyl alcohol to make sure there aren’t any dirt or oil deposits that are adhering to your cord and obscuring the data feed.

Digital source problems

Something else you might want to check is your audio source. You will need to make sure that your devices are set to use the digital audio port. This could be labeled something like “optical input” or “digital input” in referring to your audio source.

Just like you cannot watch your cable box when your input is set to your Amazon FireStick, you can’t source audio unless the correct input is selected.

If you’ve got this set properly, and you’ve tested to ensure that your optical cable is working, it could be that your device has a bad connector.

If you’ve got a bad connector on your audio source all is not lost.

You can still use an HDMI cable which, in addition to delivering a high-quality video signal, also delivers high-quality audio as well.

Next Steps

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Robert David Orr

I'm an award-winning web designer & developer, creator, an all-around digital marketing guy and, most importantly when it comes to this site, a long-time veteran of the working from home life. My work from home life spans more than 10 years, and I've experimented with just about everything you can think of when it comes to getting the most out of my home office, how to work from home without going crazy, and found solutions to the numerous challenges that those of us who work from home run into in this life.

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