A-level Physics (Advancing Physics)/Digitisation

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Digitisation of a signal is the process by which an analogue signal is converted to a digital signal.

Digitisation & Reconstruction[edit]

Let us consider the voltage output from a microphone. The signal which enters the microphone (sound) is an analogue signal - it can be any of a potentially infinite range of values, and may look something like this waveform (from an artificial (MIDI) piano):

Piano waveform analogue.svg

When the microphone converts this signal to an electrical signal, it samples the signal a number of times, and transmits the level of the signal at that point. The following diagram shows sample times (vertical black lines) and the transmitted signal (the red line):

Piano waveform analogue sampled.svg

When we wish to listen to the sound, the digital signal has to be reconstructed. The gaps between the samples are filled in, but, as you can see, the reconstructed signal is not the same as the original sound:

Piano waveform reconstructed.svg

Sampling Rate[edit]

The sampling rate when digitising an analogue signal is defined as the number of samples per. second, and is measured in Hertz (Hz), as it is a frequency. You can calculate the sampling rate using the formula:

The higher the sampling rate, the closer the reconstructed signal is to the original signal, but, unfortunately, we are limited by the bandwidth available. Theoretically, a sampling rate of twice the highest frequency of the original signal will result in a perfect reconstructed signal. In the example given above, the sampling rate is far too low, hence the loss of information.

Number of Levels[edit]

Another factor which may limit the quality of the reconstructed signal is the number of bits with which the signal is encoded. For example, if we use 3 bits per. sample, we only have 8 (23) levels, so, when sampling, we must take the nearest value represented by one of these levels. This leads to quantization errors - when a sample does not equal the value of the original signal at a given sample point.


1. Take samples for the signal below every 0.1ms, and then produce a reconstructed signal. How does it differ from the original?

Digitisation q1.svg

2. A signal is sampled for 5 seconds at a sampling rate of 20 kHz. How many samples were taken?

3. Most sounds created by human speech except for 'ss' and 'ff' have a maximum frequency of 4 kHz. What is a suitable sampling rate for a low-quality telephone?

4. Using a sampling rate of 20 kHz and 3 bits, sample the following signal, and then produce a reconstructed signal. What is the maximum frequency that can be perfectly reconstructed using this sampling rate?

Digitisation q2.svg

Worked Solutions