Part of the Electronics glossary:

The Nyquist Theorem, also known as the sampling theorem, is a principle that engineers follow in the digitization of analog signals. For analog-to-digital conversion (ADC) to result in a faithful reproduction of the signal, slices, called samples, of the analog waveform must be taken frequently. The number of samples per second is called the sampling rate or sampling frequency.

Any analog signal consists of components at various frequencies. The simplest case is the sine wave, in which all the signal energy is concentrated at one frequency. In practice, analog signals usually have complex waveforms, with components at many frequencies. The highest frequency component in an analog signal determines the bandwidth of that signal. The higher the frequency, the greater the bandwidth, if all other factors are held constant.

Suppose the highest frequency component, in hertz, for a given analog signal is fmax. According to the Nyquist Theorem, the sampling rate must be at least 2fmax, or twice the highest analog frequency component. The sampling in an analog-to-digital converter is actuated by a pulse generator (clock). If the sampling rate is less than 2fmax, some of the highest frequency components in the analog input signal will not be correctly represented in the digitized output. When such a digital signal is converted back to analog form by a digital-to-analog converter, false frequency components appear that were not in the original analog signal. This undesirable condition is a form of distortion called aliasing.

This was last updated in September 2005
Contributor(s): Davin Matsuda
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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