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An analog 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 the continuous quantity is a representation of a sequence of discrete values 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, human speech, and other systems may also convey or be considered 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 condenser 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 (SNR). 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. 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.
Comparison to digital signals
The primary disadvantage of analog signals compared to digital transmission is that any system has noise – i.e., unwanted variation. As the signal is copied and re-copied, or transmitted over long distances, or electronically processed, the unavoidable noise introduced by each step in the signal path is additive, progressively degrading the signal-to-noise ratio, until in extreme cases the signal can be overwhelmed. This is called generation loss. Noise can show up as "hiss" and intermodulation distortion in audio signals, or "snow" in video signals. This degradation is impossible to recover, since there is no sure way to distinguish the noise from the signal; amplifying the signal to recover attenuated parts of the signal amplifies the noise (distortion/interference) as well. Digital signals can often be transmitted, stored and processed without introducing noise. Electrically, analog noise can be diminished by shielding, good connections and several cable types such as coaxial or twisted pair.
- Analog audio
- Analog device
- Analog signal processing
- Analog video
- Analog-to-digital converter
- Digital audio
- Digital video
- Magnetic tape
- Video tape