Noise (electronics)

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Analog display of random fluctuations in voltage in pink noise. Pink.noise.png
Analog display of random fluctuations in voltage in pink noise.

In electronics, noise is an unwanted disturbance in an electrical signal. [1] :5 Noise generated by electronic devices varies greatly as it is produced by several different effects.


In communication systems, noise is an error or undesired random disturbance of a useful information signal. The noise is a summation of unwanted or disturbing energy from natural and sometimes man-made sources. Noise is, however, typically distinguished from interference, [lower-alpha 1] for example in the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), signal-to-interference ratio (SIR) and signal-to-noise plus interference ratio (SNIR) measures. Noise is also typically distinguished from distortion, which is an unwanted systematic alteration of the signal waveform by the communication equipment, for example in signal-to-noise and distortion ratio (SINAD) and total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) measures.

While noise is generally unwanted, it can serve a useful purpose in some applications, such as random number generation or dither.

Noise types

Different types of noise are generated by different devices and different processes. Thermal noise is unavoidable at non-zero temperature (see fluctuation-dissipation theorem), while other types depend mostly on device type (such as shot noise, [1] [2] which needs a steep potential barrier) or manufacturing quality and semiconductor defects, such as conductance fluctuations, including 1/f noise.

Thermal noise

Johnson–Nyquist noise [1] (more often thermal noise) is unavoidable, and generated by the random thermal motion of charge carriers (usually electrons), inside an electrical conductor, which happens regardless of any applied voltage.

Thermal noise is approximately white, meaning that its power spectral density is nearly equal throughout the frequency spectrum. The amplitude of the signal has very nearly a Gaussian probability density function. A communication system affected by thermal noise is often modelled as an additive white Gaussian noise (AWGN) channel.

Shot noise

Shot noise in electronic devices results from unavoidable random statistical fluctuations of the electric current when the charge carriers (such as electrons) traverse a gap. If electrons flow across a barrier, then they have discrete arrival times. Those discrete arrivals exhibit shot noise. Typically, the barrier in a diode is used. [3] Shot noise is similar to the noise created by rain falling on a tin roof. The flow of rain may be relatively constant, but the individual raindrops arrive discretely.

The root-mean-square value of the shot noise current in is given by the Schottky formula.

where I is the DC current, q is the charge of an electron, and ΔB is the bandwidth in hertz. The Schottky formula assumes independent arrivals.

Vacuum tubes exhibit shot noise because the electrons randomly leave the cathode and arrive at the anode (plate). A tube may not exhibit the full shot noise effect: the presence of a space charge tends to smooth out the arrival times (and thus reduce the randomness of the current). Pentodes and screen-grid tetrodes exhibit more noise than triodes because the cathode current splits randomly between the screen grid and the anode.

Conductors and resistors typically do not exhibit shot noise because the electrons thermalize and move diffusively within the material; the electrons do not have discrete arrival times. Shot noise has been demonstrated in mesoscopic resistors when the size of the resistive element becomes shorter than the electron–phonon scattering length. [4]

Flicker noise

Flicker noise, also known as 1/f noise, is a signal or process with a frequency spectrum that falls off steadily into the higher frequencies, with a pink spectrum. It occurs in almost all electronic devices and results from a variety of effects.

Burst noise

Burst noise consists of sudden step-like transitions between two or more discrete voltage or current levels, as high as several hundred microvolts, at random and unpredictable times. Each shift in offset voltage or current lasts for several milliseconds to seconds. It is also known a popcorn noise for the popping or crackling sounds it produces in audio circuits.

Transit-time noise

If the time taken by the electrons to travel from emitter to collector in a transistor becomes comparable to the period of the signal being amplified, that is, at frequencies above VHF and beyond, the transit-time effect takes place and the noise input impedance of the transistor decreases. From the frequency at which this effect becomes significant, it increases with frequency and quickly dominates other sources of noise. [5]

Coupled noise

While noise may be generated in the electronic circuit itself, additional noise energy can be coupled into a circuit from the external environment, by inductive coupling or capacitive coupling, or through the antenna of a radio receiver.


Intermodulation noise
Caused when signals of different frequencies share the same non-linear medium.
Phenomenon in which a signal transmitted in one circuit or channel of a transmission system creates undesired interference onto a signal in another channel.
Modification or disruption of a signal travelling along a medium
Atmospheric noise
Also called static noise, it is caused by lightning discharges in thunderstorms and other electrical disturbances occurring in nature, such as corona discharge.
Industrial noise
Sources such as automobiles, aircraft, ignition electric motors and switching gear, High voltage wires and fluorescent lamps cause industrial noise. These noises are produced by the discharge present in all these operations.
Solar noise
Noise that originates from the Sun is called solar noise. Under normal conditions, there is approximately constant radiation from the Sun due to its high temperature, but solar storms can cause a variety of electrical disturbances. The intensity of solar noise varies over time in a solar cycle.
Cosmic noise
Distant stars generate noise called cosmic noise. While these stars are too far away to individually affect terrestrial communications systems, their large number leads to appreciable collective effects. Cosmic noise has been observed in a range from 8 MHz to 1.43 GHz, the latter frequency corresponding to the 21-cm hydrogen line. Apart from man-made noise, it is the strongest component over the range of about 20 to 120 MHz. Little cosmic noise below 20MHz penetrates the ionosphere, while its eventual disappearance at frequencies in excess of 1.5 GHz is probably governed by the mechanisms generating it and its absorption by hydrogen in interstellar space.[ citation needed ]


In many cases noise found on a signal in a circuit is unwanted. There are many different noise reduction techniques that can reduce the noise picked up by a circuit.

  1. Faraday cage – A Faraday cage enclosing a circuit can be used to isolate the circuit from external noise sources. A faraday cage cannot address noise sources that originate in the circuit itself or those carried in on its inputs, including the power supply.
  2. Capacitive coupling – Capacitive coupling allows an AC signal from one part of the circuit to be picked up in another part through the interaction of electric fields. Where coupling is unintended, the effects can be addressed through improved circuit layout and grounding.
  3. Ground loops – When grounding a circuit, it is important to avoid ground loops. Ground loops occur when there is a voltage difference between two ground connections. A good way to fix this is to bring all the ground wires to the same potential in a ground bus.
  4. Shielding cables – A shielded cable can be thought of as a Faraday cage for wiring and can protect the wires from unwanted noise in a sensitive circuit. The shield must be grounded to be effective. Grounding the shield at only one end can avoid a ground loop on the shield.
  5. Twisted pair wiring – Twisting wires in a circuit will reduce electromagnetic noise. Twisting the wires decreases the loop size in which a magnetic field can run through to produce a current between the wires. Small loops may exist between wires twisted together, but the magnetic field going through these loops induces a current flowing in opposite directions in alternate loops on each wire and so there is no net noise current.
  6. Notch filters – Notch filters or band-rejection filters are useful for eliminating a specific noise frequency. For example, power lines within a building run at 50 or 60 Hz line frequency. A sensitive circuit will pick up this frequency as noise. A notch filter tuned to the line frequency can remove the noise.


The noise level in an electronic system is typically measured as an electrical power N in watts or dBm, a root mean square (RMS) voltage (identical to the noise standard deviation) in volts, dBμV or a mean squared error (MSE) in volts squared. Examples of electrical noise-level measurement units are dBu, dBm0, dBrn, dBrnC, and dBrn(f1f2), dBrn(144-line). Noise may also be characterized by its probability distribution and noise spectral density N0(f) in watts per hertz.

A noise signal is typically considered as a linear addition to a useful information signal. Typical signal quality measures involving noise are signal-to-noise ratio (SNR or S/N), signal-to-quantization noise ratio (SQNR) in analog-to-digital conversion and compression, peak signal-to-noise ratio (PSNR) in image and video coding and noise figure in cascaded amplifiers. In a carrier-modulated passband analogue communication system, a certain carrier-to-noise ratio (CNR) at the radio receiver input would result in a certain signal-to-noise ratio in the detected message signal. In a digital communications system, a certain Eb/N0 (normalized signal-to-noise ratio) would result in a certain bit error rate. Telecommunication systems strive to increase the ratio of signal level to noise level in order to effectively transfer data. Noise in telecommunication systems is a product of both internal and external sources to the system.

Noise is a random process, characterized by stochastic properties such as its variance, distribution, and spectral density. The spectral distribution of noise can vary with frequency, so its power density is measured in watts per hertz (W/Hz). Since the power in a resistive element is proportional to the square of the voltage across it, noise voltage (density) can be described by taking the square root of the noise power density, resulting in volts per root hertz (). Integrated circuit devices, such as operational amplifiers commonly quote equivalent input noise level in these terms (at room temperature).


If the noise source is correlated with the signal, such as in the case of quantisation error, the intentional introduction of additional noise, called dither, can reduce overall noise in the bandwidth of interest. This technique allows retrieval of signals below the nominal detection threshold of an instrument. This is an example of stochastic resonance.

See also


  1. E.g. crosstalk, deliberate jamming or other unwanted electromagnetic interference from specific transmitters

Related Research Articles

Amplifier Electronic device

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.

Electromagnetic compatibility

Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) is the ability of electrical equipment and systems to function acceptably in their electromagnetic environment, by limiting the unintentional generation, propagation and reception of electromagnetic energy which may cause unwanted effects such as electromagnetic interference (EMI) or even physical damage in operational equipment. The goal of EMC is the correct operation of different equipment in a common electromagnetic environment. It is also the name given to the associated branch of electrical engineering.

Inductive coupling

In electrical engineering, two conductors are said to be inductively coupled or magnetically coupled when they are configured such that a change in current through one wire induces a voltage across the ends of the other wire through electromagnetic induction. A changing current through the first wire creates a changing magnetic field around it by Ampere's circuital law. The changing magnetic field induces an electromotive force in the second wire by Faraday's law of induction. The amount of inductive coupling between two conductors is measured by their mutual inductance.

Shot noise

Shot noise or Poisson noise is a type of noise which can be modeled by a Poisson process. In electronics shot noise originates from the discrete nature of electric charge. Shot noise also occurs in photon counting in optical devices, where shot noise is associated with the particle nature of light.

This is an index of articles relating to electronics and electricity or natural electricity and things that run on electricity and things that use or conduct electricity.

Isolation transformer

An isolation transformer is a transformer used to transfer electrical power from a source of alternating current (AC) power to some equipment or device while isolating the powered device from the power source, usually for safety reasons. Isolation transformers provide galvanic isolation; no conductive path is present between source and load. This isolation is used to protect against electric shock, to suppress electrical noise in sensitive devices, or to transfer power between two circuits which must not be connected. A transformer sold for isolation is often built with special insulation between primary and secondary, and is specified to withstand a high voltage between windings.

Noise floor Level of background noise in a signal

In signal theory, the noise floor is the measure of the signal created from the sum of all the noise sources and unwanted signals within a measurement system, where noise is defined as any signal other than the one being monitored.

In an electrical system, a ground loop or earth loop occurs when two points of a circuit are intended to have the same ground reference potential but instead have a different potential between them. This can be caused, for example, in a signal circuit referenced to ground, if enough current is flowing in the ground to produce a voltage drop and cause two ground points to be at different potentials.

Analogue electronics are electronic systems with a continuously variable signal, in contrast to digital electronics where signals usually take only two levels. The term "analogue" describes the proportional relationship between a signal and a voltage or current that represents the signal. The word analogue is derived from the Greek word ανάλογος (analogos) meaning "proportional".

Electronic component

An electronic component is any basic discrete device or physical entity in an electronic system used to affect electrons or their associated fields. Electronic components are mostly industrial products, available in a singular form and are not to be confused with electrical elements, which are conceptual abstractions representing idealized electronic components.

Image noise

Image noise is random variation of brightness or color information in images, and is usually an aspect of electronic noise. It can be produced by the image sensor and circuitry of a scanner or digital camera. Image noise can also originate in film grain and in the unavoidable shot noise of an ideal photon detector. Image noise is an undesirable by-product of image capture that obscures the desired information.

This is an alphabetical list of articles pertaining specifically to electrical and electronics engineering. For a thematic list, please see List of electrical engineering topics. For a broad overview of engineering, see List of engineering topics. For biographies, see List of engineers.

Radio noise

In radio reception, radio noise is unwanted random radio frequency electrical signals, fluctuating voltages, always present in a radio receiver in addition to the desired radio signal. Radio noise near in frequency to the radio signal being received interferes with it in the receiver's circuits. Radio noise is a combination of natural electromagnetic atmospheric noise created by electrical processes in the atmosphere like lightning, manmade radio frequency interference (RFI) from other electrical devices picked up by the receiver's antenna, and thermal noise present in the receiver input circuits, caused by the random thermal motion of molecules. The level of noise determines the maximum sensitivity and reception range of a radio receiver; if no noise were picked up with radio signals, even weak transmissions could be received at virtually any distance by making a radio receiver that was sensitive enough. With noise present, if a radio source is so weak and far away that the radio signal in the receiver has a lower amplitude than the average noise, the noise will drown out the signal. The level of noise in a communications circuit is measured by the signal-to-noise ratio (S/N), the ratio of the average amplitude of the signal voltage to the average amplitude of the noise voltage. When this ratio is below one the noise is greater than the signal, requiring special processing to recover the information.

In electronics, motorboating is a type of low frequency parasitic oscillation that sometimes occurs in audio and radio equipment and often manifests itself as a sound similar to an idling motorboat engine, a "put-put-put", in audio output from speakers or earphones. It is a problem encountered particularly in radio transceivers and older vacuum tube audio systems, guitar amplifiers, PA systems and is caused by some type of unwanted feedback in the circuit. The amplifying devices in audio and radio equipment are vulnerable to a variety of feedback problems, which can cause distinctive noise in the output. The term motorboating is applied to oscillations whose frequency is below the range of hearing, from 1 to 10 hertz, so the individual oscillations are heard as pulses. Sometimes the oscillations can even be seen visually as the woofer cones in speakers slowly moving in and out.

Transformer types Types of electrical transformer

A variety of types of electrical transformer are made for different purposes. Despite their design differences, the various types employ the same basic principle as discovered in 1831 by Michael Faraday, and share several key functional parts.

Common-mode signal is the voltage common to both input terminals of an electrical device. In telecommunication, the common-mode signal on a transmission line is also known as longitudinal voltage.

Sheath current filter

Sheath current filters are electronic components that can prevent noise signals travelling in the sheath of sheathed cables, which can cause interference. Using sheath current filters, ground loops causing mains hum and high frequency common-mode signals can be prevented.

Noise generator

A noise generator is a circuit that produces electrical noise. Noise generators are used to test signals for measuring noise figure, frequency response, and other parameters. Noise generators are also used for generating random numbers.

In signal processing, noise is a general term for unwanted modifications that a signal may suffer during capture, storage, transmission, processing, or conversion.

Most of the terms listed in Wikipedia glossaries are already defined and explained within Wikipedia itself. However, glossaries like this one are useful for looking up, comparing and reviewing large numbers of terms together. You can help enhance this page by adding new terms or writing definitions for existing ones.


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