DC & Audio Connector Basics

While many connectors carry power in addition to data, some connectors are used specifically to provide power connections to devices. These vary widely by application and size, but we will only focus on some of the most common ones here.

While many connectors carry power in addition to data, some connectors are used specifically to provide power connections to devices. These vary widely by application and size, but we will only focus on some of the most common ones here.

Barrel Connectors

Barrel connectors are typically found on low-cost consumer electronics which can be plugged into wall power via bulky AC wall adaptors. Wall adaptors are widely available, in a variety of power ratings and voltages, making barrel connectors a common means for connecting power to small projects.

DC Connector

The female barrel connector, or “jack”, can be purchased in several varieties: PCB mounted (surface mount or through hole), cable mount, or panel mount. Some of these connectors will have an additional contact that allows the application to detect whether a power supply is plugged into the barrel jack or not, thus allowing the device to bypass batteries and save battery life when running on external power.

Female barrel connector. When no plug is inserted, the “insertion detection” pin will be shorted to the “sleeve” pin.

The male barrel connector, or “plug”, is usually only found in a wire termination variety, although there are multiple methods of attaching the plug to the end of the wire. It’s also possible to get plugs that come pre-attached to a cable.

Unattached male barrel plug, for attachment to any power supply. Note that the sleeve connection is designed to be crimped onto the wire for extra strain relief.

Barrel connectors provide only two connections, frequently referred to as “pin” or “tip” and “sleeve”. When ordering, there are three differentiating characteristics of a barrel connection- inner diameter (the diameter of the pin inside the jack), outer diameter (the diameter of the sleeve on the outside of the plug), and polarity (whether the sleeve voltage is higher or lower than the tip voltage).

Sleeve diameter is most commonly either 5.5mm or 3.5mm.

DC Connector

Pin diameter is contingent upon sleeve diameter; a 5.5mm sleeve will have either a 2.5mm or 2.1mm pin. Unfortunately, this means that a plug designed for a 2.5mm pin will fit in a 2.1mm jack, but that the connection will be, at best, intermittent. 3.5mm sleeve plugs usually mate to a jack with a 1.3mm pin.

Polarity is the final aspect to consider; most often, the sleeve will be considered 0V and the tip will be a positive voltage relative to the sleeve. Many devices will have a small diagram indicating the polarity expected by the device; care should be taken to adhere to this, as an improper power supply may damage the device.

Plugs of both sleeve sizes are usually 9.5mm long, but longer and shorter ones do exist. All BITUO products use a negative 5.5mm sleeve and a positive 2.1mm pin; we recommend sticking to that standard where possible, as it seems to be the most common flavor found in the wild.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *