i bet i sold several hundred tape decks in the 70s whose owners took them home and hooked them up backwards. no damage then. i,m sure it is playing now?
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Probably and hopefully not. But it's a good idea to unplug everything, before changing interconnects, and speaker wire too. Some equipment has some voltage build-up on the chassis and the RCA outer shield ring, when it's plugged in and even turned off at times. I've seen them build up to over 50 volts at times. If you bump the RCA's center connector pin to this first, it can easily do damage.
The preamp and cd player were both powered at the time (ie, both were "on," but not otherwise in use).this has always been a BAD idea & always WILL be! Switch off all your electronics & change the cabling - don't try to take a short-cut - you will eventually pay the price & end up spending a lot money repairing the unit due to sheer negligence...
If your equipment runs fine (which I'm thinking it should) take this as a warning from your equipment & never repeat...
XLR is superior in that respect since it cannot get loose, be plugged into output instead of input and cannot be touched since exposed inputs are female with recessed pins.
Plugging and unplugging should be done always with everything switched off even if it doesn't make a difference - just to set good habits.