All About Signal-to-Noise Ratio

Signal-to-noise ratio is a term that refers to the measurement of the level of an audio signal as compared to the level of noise that is present in that signal. Signal-to-noise ratio specifications are important sound level measurements used in describing the capabilities and qualities of many electronic sound components.

For example, amplifiers, CD/DVD players, tape decks, receivers and other electronic audio components frequently list signal-to-noise ratio specifications to help users understand how clear or noise free signals produced by these components will be.

Expressing the Signal-to-Noise Ratio

Just as its name implies, the signal-to-noise ratio is a direct comparison, or ratio, of the level of the signal to the amount of noise expressed in decibels. The abbreviation 'S/N Ratio' is commonly used to represent the term signal-to-noise ratio and the measurement is usually expressed in decibels (or dB).

In regards to the signal-to-noise ratio, a larger number means a better specification. For example, an audio component that has a signal-to-noise ratio of 105 dB produces an audio signal that is 105 dB higher than the level of noise created by the component. Therefore, a device with a 105 dB signal-to-noise noise ratio specification would produce less signal noise than a component that is rated only 90 dB.

Why You Should Care about the Signal-to-Noise Ratio

All electronic audio devices create some level of noise in audio signals. However, it is important to keep the noise in the signal as low as possible in order to produce accurate and clear sound. In short, the lower the signal-to-noise ratio a component produces, the better the aural quality audio or music that you will hear.

Generally speaking, analog audio components (i.e. amplifiers, tape decks and record players) usually have a much lower signal-to-noise ratio than digital audio components. Digital components, such as CD players, DVD players and DAT machines do a much better job of reducing noise in the signal. For example, an average quality stereo tape deck will usually have a signal-to-noise ratio of about 60 dB to 70 dB. On the other hand, even inexpensive CD players usually produce a signal-to-noise ratio of 100 dB or higher.

S/N Ratio is Only Part of the Equation

Although a high signal-to-noise ratio is an important part of creating accurate and high quality sound, it is not the only factor in the equation. Other important measurements (such as frequency response, distortion levels and speaker efficiency) are also very important factors that will determine the final output quality of sound on your stereo system.

How to Improve Signal-to-Noise Ratio in Your System

In many cases, you can improve the signal-to-noise ratio specification measurements of your stereo system with a few minor upgrades. Rather than going out and buying expensive new components, improve the signal-to-noise ratio spec for your system by using higher quality connection cables. Generally speaking, using a thicker cable with a better conductor or connector was result in less noise in signals due to cross talk between electronic components. Also, keeping the length of connection cables in your stereo at a minimum will also help reduce the noise created in your audio system.

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