This article aims to explain when people say "it's a JST connector", specifically related to video game hardware / electronics. We'll go over common models you will encounter on your modding journey, their pin spacing, and identify some products that use them.
What is a "JST" Anyway?
JST is actually a company and it stands for Japanese Solderless Technology. They have a huge portfolio of parts, maybe more than you might realize. Many engineers consider them a leader in plugs and connectors due to their vast market reach. They serve popular industries like automotive, home appliances, and industrial equipment. So when people say "it's a JST connector", they are saying something like "it's a Toyota". It identifies the make of the connector or plug they are referring to but give no hint at the model. There is no hint if it's a car or a truck, the color options, or it's other features.
What Kind of Models Are There?
There are a lot! To give an example of the options you have, you can hop on Digikey and look at their JST catalog to see what they offer. When searching within the category of "Rectangular Connectors, Male Pins" and filtering by "JST Sales America, Inc.", you wind up with 1,499 choices, at the time of this writing. Looking at how many series are offered (series is synonymous with model, like a Toyota Camry), there are 52 unique kinds. Though there are are only a handful that you will likely encounter when messing around with your controller. They are the NH, XH, and PH series.
It's important to note that each series will have an associated plug and receptacle. Each plug will also have a bunch of crimp sockets to choose from that vary in material and gauge. Each receptacle will vary in material as well, in addition to how its mounted on a PCB. For example, the same series type may be offered in THT (thru-hole technology) or SMT (surface mount technology). Both will share features such as a locking mechanism, how many pins, and the spacing of those pins, often referred to as the pitch. These are the common features to watch out for. Other features offered will be things like contact shape, pin rows, and termination type.
The NH series is easy to identify from the common ones you will likely encounter. You can find these as the "joystick output" port for Sanwa's JLF joystick. Specifically, it is located on the TPMA PCB, where the microswitches are soldered to. We use them on products such as the Shuriken JLF PCB and the Shuriken Korean PCB.
The most common mounting option for these are right angled. The locking mechanism for the NH is extremely sturdy, perfect for joystick abuse. The pitch is 2.5mm.
The XH series is a little harder to identify since it looks like many other connectors. They are very commonly used as a simple way to pass generic signals to and from a PCB. You will likely encounter them on a main control PCB for OEM controllers. They are also used extensively for those Zero Delay Boards. We use them on products such as the Super Fresh SOCD Cleaner and the Magicians SOCD Cleaner.
The most common mounting option for these are vertical. The locking mechanism for the XH is adequate but you'll notice that sometimes controller manufacturers like to glue them as a further way to protect from it getting unplugged. The pitch is 2.5mm.
The PH series is not as common as the other two models but they are used extensively on after market control boards and their accessories. They are likely as reliable as the JST XH but in smaller form factor, leaving a designer more room to fit more components on a single PCB. We currently use these in our Player LEDs PCB.
JST PH header mounted on a Player LEDs PCB.
The most common mounting option for these are right angled. The locking mechanism for the PH is similar to the XH. The pitch is 2.0mm.
Are These Common Models Inter-Compatible?
Well, kind of. The PH will not mate with a NH or XH part, but it is possible to mate a XH plug with a NH header. This is common practice in arcade controller modding. For example, if you look at the control board for a Mayflash F300, there is a five pin XH header that can be used with an associated cable. With the other end, it can plug into a Sanwa JLF since it uses a NH header.
Though notice that some features are lost when mating two different models. The friction lock feature is no longer functional but the thick pins of the NH seem to provide more than adequate friction. But this comes at a price! The NH pins are likely spreading the crimp sockets on the XH plug to the point where re-mating it to the appropriate XH header may cause intermittent connection issues. For a quick pinch of a mod, and due to the low cost of the cable, it's definitely an acceptable practice so long as you know the pitfalls. The video below shows this mod in more detail:
In summary, JST is a company that makes inter-connectable components and accessories. Now when someone says, "it uses a JST connector" you can now further ask "what series or model?". If they don't know, you can look at the datasheet from a list of the common ones you will encounter and know exactly which one you are dealing with for your particular mod.
If you think there is something missing or incorrect in this post, please let us know in the comments below and we will be happy to update it.