Toslink optical connections have become the standard for DVD players and are also on satellite boxes. Unfortunately, some older receivers may only have one Toslink input jack. Suppose also that you might want to feed the Toslink optical output of a player to a second receiver in another room.
Enter the Toslink optical switcher. There are several on the market, and the one we chose for this article is the Sound Professionals switcher (# SP-OPT-SW) with wireless remote control. It has four Toslink optical inputs on the rear panel, and has two Toslink output jacks, so you can feed the output to more than one receiver if you like.
The unit is powered by a 9 Volt wall wart (included) and has a wireless remote control that is powered by a lithium watch battery (included). The remote is only a few inches in length. Power on and input selection can also be performed by pushing buttons on the switcher.
We wanted to see how the unit performed with long Toslink cables, so we had Brad Marcus, of BetterCables.com make us two 5 meter Toslink cables. They are very well constructed, so I was certain that any issues that arose would be due to length and not cable quality.
I connected the Toslink optical output of a Toshiba DVD player to one input on the switcher, using a 1 meter Toslink cable, and the Toslink optical output of a Zenith satellite box to a second input using one of the 5 meter cables. One output of the switcher was then connected to a Toslink optical input on our Theta Casablanca II using a second 5 meter cable. So, the total length between the satellite box and the Theta Casablanca was 10 meters (33 feet), passing through the switcher.
How it Performed
I was pleasantly surprised to find that 33 feet of Toslink cable worked just fine. In fact, it sounded much, much better than the stereo analog coaxial cable that I was using from the satellite box before, even though some of what comes through the satellite Toslink TV programming is just stereo, decoded as Pro Logic, just as is the stereo analog signal. Note that I had both the satellite box and DVD player connected to the same Toslink input (the DVD input) on the Theta, via the switcher, even though I have multiple Toslink inputs on the Theta. I did this for two reasons. One was to test the switcher as a solution to only having one Toslink input on a processor. Secondly, I have all my favorite configuration settings on the DVD Toslink input. So, if I watch DVDs, I set the switcher to input 1, and for satellite High Definition programming with Dolby Digital sound, I set the switcher to input 2. For NTSC programs, I have the stereo analog outputs of the satellite box connected to the analog jacks for the "Sat" input on the Theta (NTSC satellite channels, such as CNN, don't broadcast a Dolby Digital signal).
The remote control worked OK too, although the CR 2025 battery that came with it was D.O.A. I had to get another one at the local drug store. In any case, I will most likely use the push buttons on the front panel when I watch movies vs. the satellite box, rather than hunting around for the remote.
Additional advantages of Toslink are that there are no impedance issues at inputs and outputs to deal with, and more importantly, you have one less possibility of a ground loop problem showing up. This could really be an issue if you feed receivers in different rooms with electrical connections such as digital coax. That is why Toslink is such a good choice for this use. This particular switcher is active, meaning that it repeats the optical signal. This is probably one reason it works for long cables when the switcher is in the middle. There are also mechanical switchers, but I don't know how well they would work for 33 feet of total length.
Although glass optical cables can transmit signals for miles, the optical cables used in consumer electronics have plastic fibers. I am not sure all Toslink cables would work in such long distance situations, so you should buy good quality ones for such use and try them out before you put them inside walls.
One caveat: Don't go looking for trouble by using cables that are much longer than you need to reach the components. I used 5 meter cables as an experiment to see if there was a problem with long cables. In practice, I will replace them with ones that are a lot shorter. You can calculate the needed length by using some twine that extends from the component to the switcher, and then ordering that length from a company that makes them custom lengths.
If you don't have enough Toslink jacks on your receiver, or if you want to add digital connections to a receiver in another room, this product solves the problem. It is very inexpensive and switches optical digital signals in a quality manner.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. -