noise, any signal that does not convey useful information. Electrical noise consists of electrical currents or voltages that interfere with the operation of electronic systems. Electrical noise limits the sensitivity of radio receiving systems and, when present at high enough levels, may cause false outputs from digital circuits. In radio receivers it is important that the noise produced by amplifiers, especially early-stage amplifiers, be kept as low as possible. The signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio is an important factor when evaluating much electronic equipment. Random noise originates when a current flows through a conductor that has resistance and is above absolute zero in temperature. It also arises in electron tubes and semiconductor devices, as well as from atmospheric disturbances and radiation from space (see static). Nonrandom noise originates from the operation of other systems, e.g., automotive ignition systems, and from interfering signals. Noise also affects optical detection systems where light is treated by the particle, or quantum, theory. The output voltage of an optical detector is proportional to the intensity of the incident light. The noise can be from the detectors themselves, the electrical amplifiers that amplify the detector outputs, or thermal noise, which is caused by the vibration of atoms and molecules. Noise can also be inherent in the radiation being detected.

Undesired sound that is intrinsically objectionable or that interferes with other sounds being listened to. In electronics and information theory, noise refers to those random, unpredictable, and undesirable signals, or changes in signals, that mask the desired information content. In radio, this noise is called static; in television, it is called snow. White noise is a complex signal or sound covering the entire range of component frequencies, or tones, all of which possess equal intensity.

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In common use, the word noise means unwanted sound or noise pollution. In electronics noise can refer to the electronic signal corresponding to acoustic noise (in an audio system) or the electronic signal corresponding to the (visual) noise commonly seen as 'snow' on a degraded television or video image. In signal processing or computing it can be considered data without meaning; that is, data that is not being used to transmit a signal, but is simply produced as an unwanted by-product of other activities. In Information Theory, however, noise is still considered to be information. In a broader sense, film grain or even advertisements in web pages can be considered noise.

Noise can block, distort, or change/interfere with the meaning of a message in both human and electronic communication.

In many of these areas, the special case of thermal noise arises, which sets a fundamental lower limit to what can be measured or signaled and is related to basic physical processes at the molecular level described by well-established thermodynamics considerations, some of which are expressible by relatively well known simple formulae.

Acoustic noise

When speaking of noise in relation to sound, what is commonly meant is meaningless sound of greater than usual volume. Thus, a loud activity may be referred to as noisy. However, conversations of other people may be called noise for people not involved in any of them, and noise can be any unwanted sound such as the noise of dogs barking, neighbours playing loud music, road traffic sounds, chainsaws, or aircraft, spoiling the quiet of the countryside.


Noise regulation includes statutes or guidelines relating to sound transmission established by national, state or provincial and municipal levels of government. After a watershed passage of the U.S. Noise Control Act of 1972[1], the program was abandoned at the federal level, under President Ronald Reagan, in 1981 and the issue was left to local and state governments. Although the UK and Japan enacted national laws in 1960 and 1967 respectively, these laws were not at all comprehensive or fully enforceable as to address (a) generally rising ambient noise (b) enforceable numerical source limits on aircraft and motor vehicles or (c) comprehensive directives to local government.


Sounds that are generally regarded as acoustic noise include snoring.

In film

For film sound theorists and practitioners at the advent of talkies c.1928/1929, noise was non-speech sound or natural sound and for many of them noise (especially asynchronous use with image) was desired over the evils of dialogue synchronized to moving image. The director and critic René Clair writing in 1929 makes a clear distinction between film dialogue and film noise and very clearly suggests that noise can have meaning and be interpreted: " is possible that an interpretation of noises may have more of a future in it. Sound cartoons, using "real" noises, seem to point to interesting possibilities" ('The Art of Sound' (1929)). Alberto Cavalcanti uses noise as a synonym for natural sound ('Sound in Films' (1939)) and as late as 1960, Siegfried Kracauer was referring to noise as non-speech sound ('Dialogue and Sound' (1960)).

Audio noise

In audio, recording, and broadcast systems audio noise refers to the residual low level sound (usually hiss and hum) that is heard in quiet periods of programme.

In audio engineering it can also refer to the unwanted residual electronic noise signal that gives rise to acoustic noise heard as 'hiss'. This signal noise is commonly measured using A-weighting or ITU-R 468 weighting

Electronic noise

Electronic noise exists in all circuits and devices as a result of thermal noise, also referred to as Johnson Noise. Semiconductor devices can also contribute flicker noise and generation-recombination noise. In any electronic circuit, there exist random variations in current or voltage caused by the random movement of the electrons carrying the current as they are jolted around by thermal energy. Lower temperature results in lower thermal noise. This same phenomenon limits the minimum signal level that any radio receiver can usefully respond to, because there will always be a small but significant amount of thermal noise arising in its input circuits. This is why radio telescopes, which search for very low levels of signal from stars, use front-end low-noise amplifier circuits, usually mounted on the aerial dish, and cooled with liquid nitrogen.

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