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What are Analog Chips?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Analog chips are small electronic circuits. Unlike digital chips that can differentiate only between "on" and "off" signals, analog chips can process gradations. In practical terms, digital chips are the best at manipulating or storing data bits as the numeral 1 or the numeral 0, and analog chips can read and process waveforms such as speech, music and video. Hence, analog chips create a bridge to the digital world full of storage and manipulation capabilities.

Examples of Uses

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Digital cameras, cell phones, Internet telephony and downloading or uploading Internet audio, video or image files all involve analog technology. The typed word "hello" is simple for a digital chip to understand, but only analog chips can understand the spoken word. Storage on compact discs (CDs) and digital versatile discs (DVDs) is digital. Analog chips are used as translators to bridge the gaps into and out of the digital world, converting waveforms into digital data, then reassembling the data back into waveforms for it to be seen or heard. The digital format provides the storehouse.

Two-Way Conversions

When music is recorded to a CD, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) sample the waveform at a discretionary rate. The higher the rate, the more accurate the reading. The term "CD quality" refers to a rate of 44,100 times per second.

Each rate sampling is logged as a discrete value, with one of 65,536 gradations possible within the value. This continuous record provides an extremely accurate measurement of the waveform in a numerical format. The numerical data gets translated into digital bits, which are recorded by a laser beam onto the CD or DVD surface in the form of pits and lands.

When the music or movie is played back, a laser reads the pits and lands to a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), which reconstitutes the analog waveform from the digital blueprint. The waveform is amplified and sent through the speakers. ADCs and DACs, or coder-decoders, are known as codecs for short. Analog chips understand the language of codecs.

Hybrid Chips

Analog chips are vital in many areas, including the automobile industry. Used as sensors, analog chips can detect a rise in motor temperature, report the health of the battery and provide accurate data on other systems. In an effort to further unite the digital and analog worlds, many chips are manufactured as hybrids of digital and analog chips. Although digital technology gets most of the attention, analog technology is what incorporates the human environment of waveforms and shades of gray into the ideal electronic formats.

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Discussion Comments


@hidingplace - Yes, a discretionary rate is also used in the conversion of CDs to MP3s. When MP3s first came into popularity the usual quality was 128kbps which many people didn't consider to be up to the standard of the sound on a CD. Nowadays though the discretionary rate is much higher, with 256kbps or more being the standard. It depends on your setup, but most people wouldn't notice the difference.

The main difference in audio quality is between vinyl records and CDs/MP3s, because a vinyl record is an entirely analog recording.


I’ve heard of “CD-quality” MP3s, but if analog-to-digital converters sample a song from a CD at a discretionary rate, does the same apply for converting CDs to MP3s?


Good article. An example I often use when trying to explain what an analog chip is to get the person to picture the credits sequence in The Matrix, you know the green font with the falling zeros and ones? That’s digital. The zeros and ones are called binary, it’s used in all modern computers. But the real world isn’t a computer of course, we don’t speak or touch in zeros and ones. So analog chips and digital chips essentially work as a team.

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