Electronics notes/Signal modulation

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⚠ This is for beginners and very much by a beginner / hobbyist

It's intended to get an intuitive overview for hobbyist needs. It may get you started, but to be able to do anything remotely clever, follow a proper course or read a good book.

Some basics and reference: Volts, amps, energy, power · batteries · resistors · transistors · fuses · diodes · capacitors · inductors and transformers · ground

Slightly less basic: amplifier notes · varistors · changing voltage · baluns · frequency generation · Transmission lines · skin effect

And some more applied stuff:

IO: Input and output pins · wired local IO · wired local-ish IO · ·  Various wireless · 802.11 (WiFi) · cell phone

Sensors: General sensor notes, voltage and current sensing · Knobs and dials · Pressure sensing · Temperature sensing · humidity sensing · Light sensing · Movement sensing · Capacitive sensing · Touch screen notes

Actuators: General actuator notes, circuit protection · Motors and servos · Solenoids

Noise stuff: Stray signals and noise · sound-related noise names · electronic non-coupled noise names · electronic coupled noise · ground loop · strategies to avoid coupled noise · Sampling, reproduction, and transmission distortions

Audio and video notes: See avnotes

Platform specific

Arduino and AVR notes · (Ethernet)
Microcontroller and computer platforms ··· ESP series notes · STM32 series notes

Less sorted: Ground · device voltage and impedance (+ audio-specific) · electricity and humans · Common terms, useful basics, soldering · landline phones · pulse modulation · signal reflection · Project boxes · resource metering · SDR · PLL · vacuum tubes · Multimeter notes Unsorted stuff

Some stuff I've messed with: Avrusb500v2 · GPS · Hilo GPRS · JY-MCU · DMX · Thermal printer ·

See also Category:Electronics.

Most broadly, pulse modulation refers to modulating or communicating or approximating a signal in a way involving pulse trains.

Note also that PAM resembles AM, PPM resembles PM, and PWM (moderately) resembles FM.

(Also, some of these parts run into analog and digital (passband) modulation, and for decent handling of said topics you're much better off on serious sites for those.)

Purposes and best uses are varied.

Side note: Pulse Code Modulation

Pulse-code modulation refers more widely to the idea of samples at at regular (uniform) intervals, and storing them as distinct values.

It that we're quantizing in time and amplitude, roughly how to store, and what it represents.

...and is not a reproduction technique, like most of this page. (reproduction was a separate thing even in the earliest development of these concepts)

Variants include:

Unqualified PCM usually means

quantization levels are linearly uniform (so ratiometric) with amplitude
...physical amplitude, so not with perceived loudness
used for sound, it means most of the bits are used on really quiet stuff (because human perception is logarithmic).
which is actually quite useful (for human consumption of audio)
also why 8-bit PCM is audibly not enough, and 16-bit is (for most things)
probably easiest raw format to deal with (particularly when storage/bandwidth are not an issue)
Directly used in Audio CDs (Red Book), in WAV files, and quite a few others.
Also used in some way or other in a number sound- or music-related electronics, although note that mu-law and a-law are seen in some older hardware

logarithmic PCM

Because of the nonlinear way we hear loudness, and given a fixed, limited bandwidth, people at different volume levels get similar signal-to-quantizing noise ratio - than linear PCM(verify)
since the original input and eventual reproduction is often LPCM (it's a choice most hardware makes), this is often used to effectively compand signal while in transmission/storage
implementations include μ-law (mu-law) and A-law
which historically implied 8-bit and often 8000Hz implementations, as used in early digital phone transmissions (see e.g. ITU-T G.711)
if storage is not a hard constraint (and harder than CPU use), then linear PCM is easier and log PCM is probably more work than it's worth
u-law and a-law are quoted as roughly comparable to the quality of 12-bit linear PCM (in what regard?(verify))
(even though technically 16-bit logarithmic still give better detail than linear 16-bit(verify), you generally don't need it)

Differential PCM

says that instead of storing the absolute values, we store the difference from the last, or to a (deterministically) predicted next value.
If the prediction is reasonable, we need to send fewer bits.
This is generally a smaller number, so allows a slight reduction in storage, but not much

ADPCM is Adaptive Differential PCM.

It takes the differential PCM output, and varies the amount of quantization of it over time.

This is a lossy format that allows you to tweak bandwidth/SNR on noisy / low bandwidth channels.

often 5-, 4-, or 3-bit

SB-ADPCM: ADPCM, but applied to distinct frequency sub-bands.

For example, G.722
splits into two bands (roughly 0Hz to 4kHz, and 4kHz to 8kHz), then applies ADPCM to each
This mainly so that you can spend bits differently, e.g. 48 of the 64 kbit/s on the lower sub-band that includes most voice energy, and 16 kbit/s on the rest. (G.722 actually has a few different target bitrates)

Even when storage/transmission is mu-law/A-law or ADPCM or some other codec, processing on endpoints is often LPCM, mostly because it's easier and faster to work with.

For context on companding: linear PCM is not clever about spreading quantization to where our (approximately logarithmic) perception hears it best. Companding basically rescales (in a reversible way) to reduce that issue.

The companding step is lossy, but since the signal to noise ratio is better than linear PCM in the same amount of bits, it provides quality improvements - and rather useful whenever you are bandwidth-limited.

Both μ-law and A-law are used in analog and digital telecommunication (in analog it was mostly for quality, in digital tranfer it was also handy for compression), in different countries.

The .au sound format uses μ-law.

See also:

See also:


Continuous wave modulation

Amplitude Modulation (AM)

Frequency Modulation (FM)

Phase Modulation (PM)

Related: Dimming practicalities

Pulse modulation

Pulse Amplitude Modulation (PAM)

Pulse Skip Modulation (PSM)

Pulse Position Modulation (PPM)

Pulse Density Modulation (PDM), Delta-Sigma modulation

Practical notes

PWM Types

PWM for average energy

Hardware PWM, software PWM, and inbetween

PWM or PDM as a simple DAC

Sound PWM

On PWM resolution

On PWM distortion

On PWM oversampling


On PWM filtering

PWM IC notes



Comparing PDM and PWM

Combining PWM or PDM outputs for bit depth

Modulating data to send: ASK, FSK, PSK