An analog or analogue signal is any continuous signal for which the time varying feature (variable) of the signal is a representation of some other time varying quantity, i.e., analogous to another time varying signal. For example, in an analog audio signal, the instantaneous voltage of the signal varies continuously with the pressure of the sound waves. It differs from a digital signal, in which a continuous quantity is represented by a discrete function which can only take on one of a finite number of values. The term analog signal usually refers to electrical signals; however, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, and other systems may also convey analog signals.
An analog signal uses some property of the medium to convey the signal's information. For example, an aneroid barometer uses rotary position as the signal to convey pressure information. In an electrical signal, the voltage, current, or frequency of the signal may be varied to represent the information.
Any information may be conveyed by an analog signal; often such a signal is a measured response to changes in physical phenomena, such as sound, light, temperature, position, or pressure. The physical variable is converted to an analog signal by a transducer. For example, in sound recording, fluctuations in air pressure (that is to say, sound) strike the diaphragm of a microphone which induces corresponding fluctuations in the current produced by a coil in an electromagnetic microphone, or the voltage produced by a condensor microphone. The voltage or the current is said to be an "analog" of the sound.
An analog signal has a theoretically infinite resolution. In practice an analog signal is subject to electronic noise and distortion introduced by communication channels and signal processing operations, which can progressively degrade the signal-to-noise ratio. In contrast, digital signals have a finite resolution. Converting an analog signal to digital form introduces a constant low-level noise called quantization noise into the signal which determines the noise floor, but once in digital form the signal can in general be processed or transmitted without introducing additional noise or distortion. Therefore as analog signal processing systems become more complex, they may ultimately degrade signal resolution to such an extent that their performance is surpassed by digital systems. This explains the widespread use of digital signals in preference to analog in modern technology. In analog systems, it is difficult to detect when such degradation occurs. However, in digital systems, degradation can not only be detected but corrected as well.
Famous quotes containing the word signal:
“By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes,
By night thy silent signal lamps to swing.”
—Walt Whitman (18191892)