Distortion

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Distortion is the alteration of the original shape (or other characteristic) of something. In communications and electronics it means the alteration of the waveform of an information-bearing signal, such as an audio signal representing sound or a video signal representing images, in an electronic device or communication channel.

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Distortion is usually unwanted, and so engineers strive to eliminate or minimize it. In some situations, however, distortion may be desirable. For example, in FM broadcasting and noise reduction systems like the Dolby system, an audio signal is deliberately distorted in ways that emphasize aspects of the signal that are subject to electrical noise, then it is symmetrically "undistorted" after passing through a noisy communication channel, reducing the noise in the signal. Distortion is also used as a musical effect, particularly with electric guitars.

The addition of noise or other outside signals (hum, interference) is not considered distortion, though the effects of quantization distortion are sometimes included in noise. Quality measures that reflect both noise and distortion include the signal-to-noise and distortion (SINAD) ratio and total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N).

Electronic signals

Graph of a waveform and some distorted versions of the same waveform Distorted waveforms square sine.svg
Graph of a waveform and some distorted versions of the same waveform

In telecommunication and signal processing, a noise-free system can be characterised by a transfer function, such that the output can be written as a function of the input as

When the transfer function comprises only a perfect gain constant A and perfect delay T

the output is undistorted. Distortion occurs when the transfer function F is more complicated than this. If F is a linear function, for instance a filter whose gain and/or delay varies with frequency, the signal suffers linear distortion. Linear distortion does not introduce new frequency components to a signal but does alter the balance of existing ones.

This diagram shows the behaviour of a signal (made up of a square wave followed by a sine wave) as it is passed through various distorting functions.

  1. The first trace (in black) shows the input. It also shows the output from a non-distorting transfer function (straight line).
  2. A high-pass filter (green trace) distorts the shape of a square wave by reducing its low frequency components. This is the cause of the "droop" seen on the top of the pulses. This "pulse distortion" can be very significant when a train of pulses must pass through an AC-coupled (high-pass filtered) amplifier. As the sine wave contains only one frequency, its shape is unaltered.
  3. A low-pass filter (blue trace) rounds the pulses by removing the high frequency components. All systems are low pass to some extent. Note that the phase of the sine wave is different for the lowpass and the highpass cases, due to the phase distortion of the filters.
  4. A slightly non-linear transfer function (purple), this one gently compresses the peaks of the sine wave, as may be typical of a tube audio amplifier. This generates small amounts of low order harmonics.
  5. A hard-clipping transfer function (red) generates high order harmonics. Parts of the transfer function are flat, which indicates that all information about the input signal has been lost in this region.

The transfer function of an ideal amplifier, with perfect gain and delay, is only an approximation. The true behavior of the system is usually different. Nonlinearities in the transfer function of an active device (such as vacuum tubes, transistors, and operational amplifiers) are a common source of non-linear distortion; in passive components (such as a coaxial cable or optical fiber), linear distortion can be caused by inhomogeneities, reflections, and so on in the propagation path.

Amplitude distortion

Amplitude distortion is distortion occurring in a system, subsystem, or device when the output amplitude is not a linear function of the input amplitude under specified conditions.

Harmonic distortion

Harmonic distortion adds overtones that are whole number multiples of a sound wave's frequencies. [1] Nonlinearities that give rise to amplitude distortion in audio systems are most often measured in terms of the harmonics (overtones) added to a pure sinewave fed to the system. Harmonic distortion may be expressed in terms of the relative strength of individual components, in decibels, or the root mean square of all harmonic components: Total harmonic distortion (THD), as a percentage. The level at which harmonic distortion becomes audible depends on the exact nature of the distortion. Different types of distortion (like crossover distortion) are more audible than others (like soft clipping) even if the THD measurements are identical. Harmonic distortion in radio frequency applications is rarely expressed as THD.

Frequency response distortion

Non-flat frequency response is a form of distortion that occurs when different frequencies are amplified by different amounts in a filter. For example, the non-uniform frequency response curve of AC-coupled cascade amplifier is an example of frequency distortion. In the audio case, this is mainly caused by room acoustics, poor loudspeakers and microphones, long loudspeaker cables in combination with frequency dependent loudspeaker impedance, etc.

Phase distortion

This form of distortion mostly occurs due to electrical reactance. Here, all the components of the input signal are not amplified with the same phase shift, hence making some parts of the output signal out of phase with the rest of the output.

Group delay distortion

Can be found only in dispersive media. In a waveguide, phase velocity varies with frequency. In a filter, group delay tends to peak near the cut-off frequency, resulting in pulse distortion. When analog long distance trunks were commonplace, for example in 12 channel carrier, group delay distortion had to be corrected in repeaters.

Correction of distortion

As the system output is given by y(t) = F(x(t)), then if the inverse function F−1 can be found, and used intentionally to distort either the input or the output of the system, then the distortion is corrected.

An example of a similar correction is where LP/vinyl recordings or FM audio transmissions are deliberately pre-emphasised by a linear filter, the reproducing system applies an inverse filter to make the overall system undistorted.

Correction is not possible if the inverse does not exist—for instance if the transfer function has flat spots (the inverse would map multiple input points to a single output point). This produces an uncorrectable loss of information. Such a situation can occur when an amplifier is overdriven—causing clipping or slew rate distortion when, for a moment, the amplifier characteristics alone and not the input signal determine the output.

Cancellation of even-order harmonic distortion

Many symmetrical electronic circuits reduce the magnitude of even harmonics generated by the non-linearities of the amplifier's components, by combining two signals from opposite halves of the circuit where distortion components that are roughly the same magnitude but out of phase. Examples include push-pull amplifiers and long-tailed pairs.

Teletypewriter or modem signaling

In binary signaling such as FSK, distortion is the shifting of the significant instants of the signal pulses from their proper positions relative to the beginning of the start pulse. The magnitude of the distortion is expressed in percent of an ideal unit pulse length. This is sometimes called 'bias' distortion.

Telegraphic distortion is a similar older problem, distorting the ratio between "mark" and "space" intervals.

Distortion in art

In the art world, a distortion is any change made by an artist to the size, shape or visual character of a form to express an idea, convey a feeling or enhance visual impact. Often referred to as "abstraction," examples of distortion include "The Weeping Woman" by Picasso and "The Adoration of the Shepherds" by El Greco.

Audio distortion

A graph of a waveform and the distorted version of the same waveform Distortion waveform.svg
A graph of a waveform and the distorted version of the same waveform

In this context, distortion refers to any kind of deformation of an output waveform compared to its input, usually clipping, harmonic distortion, or intermodulation distortion (mixing phenomena) caused by non-linear behavior of electronic components and power supply limitations. [2] Terms for specific types of nonlinear audio distortion include: crossover distortion, slew-Induced Distortion (SID) and transient intermodulation (TIM).

Distortion in music is often intentionally used as an effect when applied to an electric guitar signal in styles of rock music such as heavy metal and punk rock (see also overdrive and distortion synthesis). Other forms of audio distortion that may be referred to are non-flat frequency response, compression, modulation, aliasing, quantization noise, wow and flutter from analog media such as vinyl records and magnetic tape. The human ear cannot hear phase distortion, except that it may affect the stereo imaging. (See also: Audio system measurements.)

In most fields, distortion is characterized as unwanted change to a signal.

Optics

In optics, image/optical distortion is a divergence from rectilinear projection caused by a change in magnification with increasing distance from the optical axis of an optical system.

Map projections

In cartography, a distortion is the misrepresentation of the area or shape of a feature. The Mercator projection, for example, distorts by exaggerating the size of regions at high latitude.

See also

Related Research Articles

Amplifier electronic circuit or component or device that increases the level of incoming audio signal (includes pre-amplifiers and power amplifiers)

An amplifier, electronic amplifier or (informally) amp is an electronic device that can increase the power of a signal. It is a two-port electronic circuit that uses electric power from a power supply to increase the amplitude of a signal applied to its input terminals, producing a proportionally greater amplitude signal at its output. The amount of amplification provided by an amplifier is measured by its gain: the ratio of output voltage, current, or power to input. An amplifier is a circuit that has a power gain greater than one.

Amplitude distortion is distortion occurring in a system, subsystem, or device when the output amplitude is not a linear function of the input amplitude under specified conditions.

In telecommunications, a third-order intercept point (IP3) is a specific figure of merit associated with the more general third-order intermodulation (TOI) distortion, which is a measure for weakly nonlinear systems and devices, for example receivers, linear amplifiers and mixers. It is based on the idea that the device nonlinearity can be modeled using a low-order polynomial, derived by means of Taylor series expansion. The third-order intercept point relates nonlinear products caused by the third-order nonlinear term to the linearly amplified signal, in contrast to the second-order intercept point that uses second-order terms. (IP3) is the generally accepted unambiguous term for the third-order intercept point, although one occasionally sees the use of TOI for this figure-of-merit; such use is considered as incorrect by experts in the field.

The total harmonic distortion (THD) is a measurement of the harmonic distortion present in a signal and is defined as the ratio of the sum of the powers of all harmonic components to the power of the fundamental frequency. Distortion factor, a closely related term, is sometimes used as a synonym.

Digital-to-analog converter device that converts a digital signal into an analog signal

In electronics, a digital-to-analog converter is a system that converts a digital signal into an analog signal. An analog-to-digital converter (ADC) performs the reverse function.

Power inverter electronic device or circuitry that changes direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC)

A power inverter, or inverter, is a power electronic device or circuitry that changes direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC).

Nonlinear distortion is a term used to describe the phenomenon of a non-linear relationship between the "input" and "output" signals of - for example - an electronic device.

Frequency response is the quantitative measure of the output spectrum of a system or device in response to a stimulus, and is used to characterize the dynamics of the system. It is a measure of magnitude and phase of the output as a function of frequency, in comparison to the input. In simplest terms, if a sine wave is injected into a system at a given frequency, a linear system will respond at that same frequency with a certain magnitude and a certain phase angle relative to the input. Also for a linear system, doubling the amplitude of the input will double the amplitude of the output. In addition, if the system is time-invariant, then the frequency response also will not vary with time. Thus for LTI systems, the frequency response can be seen as applying the system's transfer function to a purely imaginary number argument representing the frequency of the sinusoidal excitation.

Audio system measurements are made for several purposes. Designers take measurements so that they can specify the performance of a piece of equipment. Maintenance engineers make them to ensure equipment is still working to specification, or to ensure that the cumulative defects of an audio path are within limits considered acceptable. Some aspects of measurement and specification relate only to intended usage. Audio system measurements often accommodate psychoacoustic principles to measure the system in a way that relates to human hearing.

Intermodulation non-linear effect in amplitude modulation

Intermodulation (IM) or intermodulation distortion (IMD) is the amplitude modulation of signals containing two or more different frequencies, caused by nonlinearities or time variance in a system. The intermodulation between frequency components will form additional components at frequencies that are not just at harmonic frequencies of either, like harmonic distortion, but also at the sum and difference frequencies of the original frequencies and at sums and differences of multiples of those frequencies.

Voltage-controlled oscillator electronic oscillator whose oscillation frequency is controlled by a voltage input

A voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) is an electronic oscillator whose oscillation frequency is controlled by a voltage input. The applied input voltage determines the instantaneous oscillation frequency. Consequently, a VCO can be used for frequency modulation (FM) or phase modulation (PM) by applying a modulating signal to the control input. A VCO is also an integral part of a phase-locked loop.

Linear electronic oscillator circuits, which generate a sinusoidal output signal, are composed of an amplifier and a frequency selective element, a filter. A linear oscillator circuit which uses an RC network, a combination of resistors and capacitors, for its frequency selective part is called an RC oscillator.

Function generator piece of electronic test equipment or software used to generate different types of electrical waveforms over a wide range of frequencies

A function generator is usually a piece of electronic test equipment or software used to generate different types of electrical waveforms over a wide range of frequencies. Some of the most common waveforms produced by the function generator are the sine wave, square wave, triangular wave and sawtooth shapes. These waveforms can be either repetitive or single-shot. Integrated circuits used to generate waveforms may also be described as function generator ICs.

In electronics, a frequency multiplier is an electronic circuit that generates an output signal whose output frequency is a harmonic (multiple) of its input frequency. Frequency multipliers consist of a nonlinear circuit that distorts the input signal and consequently generates harmonics of the input signal. A subsequent bandpass filter selects the desired harmonic frequency and removes the unwanted fundamental and other harmonics from the output.

In control systems theory, the describing function (DF) method, developed by Nikolay Mitrofanovich Krylov and Nikolay Bogoliubov in the 1930s, and extended by Ralph Kochenburger is an approximate procedure for analyzing certain nonlinear control problems. It is based on quasi-linearization, which is the approximation of the non-linear system under investigation by a linear time-invariant (LTI) transfer function that depends on the amplitude of the input waveform. By definition, a transfer function of a true LTI system cannot depend on the amplitude of the input function because an LTI system is linear. Thus, this dependence on amplitude generates a family of linear systems that are combined in an attempt to capture salient features of the non-linear system behavior. The describing function is one of the few widely applicable methods for designing nonlinear systems, and is very widely used as a standard mathematical tool for analyzing limit cycles in closed-loop controllers, such as industrial process controls, servomechanisms, and electronic oscillators.

Gain compression

Gain compression is a reduction in "differential" or "slope" gain caused by nonlinearity of the transfer function of the amplifying device. This nonlinearity may be caused by heat due to power dissipation or by overdriving the active device beyond its linear region. It is a large-signal phenomenon of circuits.

Distortion (music) form of audio signal processing giving "fuzzy" sound

Distortion and overdrive are forms of audio signal processing used to alter the sound of amplified electric musical instruments, usually by increasing their gain, producing a "fuzzy", "growling", or "gritty" tone. Distortion is most commonly used with the electric guitar, but may also be used with other electric instruments such as bass guitar, electric piano, and Hammond organ. Guitarists playing electric blues originally obtained an overdriven sound by turning up their vacuum tube-powered guitar amplifiers to high volumes, which caused the signal to distort. While overdriven tube amps are still used to obtain overdrive, especially in genres like blues and rockabilly, a number of other ways to produce distortion have been developed since the 1960s, such as distortion effect pedals. The growling tone of a distorted electric guitar is a key part of many genres, including blues and many rock music genres, notably hard rock, punk rock, hardcore punk, acid rock, and heavy metal music, while the use of distorted bass has been essential in a genre of hip hop music and alternative hip hop known as "SoundCloud rap".

A total harmonic distortion analyzer calculates the total harmonic content of a sinewave with some distortion, expressed as total harmonic distortion (THD). A typical application is to determine the THD of an amplifier by using a very-low-distortion sinewave input and examining the output. The figure measured will include noise, and any contribution from imperfect filtering out of the fundamental frequency. Harmonic-by-harmonic measurement, without wideband noise, can be measured by a more complex wave analyser.

Audio analyzer

An Audio Analyzer is a test and measurement instrument used to objectively quantify the audio performance of electronic and electro-acoustical devices. Audio quality metrics cover a wide variety of parameters, including level, gain, noise, harmonic and intermodulation distortion, frequency response, relative phase of signals, interchannel crosstalk, and more. In addition, many manufacturers have requirements for behavior and connectivity of audio devices that require specific tests and confirmations.

Power amplifier classes are, in electronics, letter symbols applied to different power amplifier types. The class gives a broad indication of an amplifer's characteristics and performance. The classes are related to the time period that the active amplifier device is passing current, expressed as a fraction of the period of a signal waveform applied to the input. A class A amplifier is conducting through all the period of the signal; Class B only for one-half the input period, class C for much less than half the input period. A Class D amplifier operates its output device in a switching manner; the fraction of the time that the device is conducting is adjusted so a pulse width modulation output is obtained from the stage.

References

  1. Moscal, Tony (1994). Sound Check: The Basics of Sound and Sound Systems. Hal Leonard. p. 55. ISBN   9780793535590.
  2. Audio Electronics by John Linsley Hood; page 162

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates  public domain material from the General Services Administration document "Federal Standard 1037C" (in support of MIL-STD-188 ).