Signal-to-noise ratio (often abbreviated SNR or S/N) is a measure used in science and engineering to quantify how much a signal has been corrupted by noise. It is defined as the ratio of signal power to the noise power corrupting the signal. A ratio higher than 1:1 indicates more signal than noise. While SNR is commonly quoted for electrical signals, it can be applied to any form of signal (such as isotope levels in an ice core or biochemical signaling between cells).
In less technical terms, signal-to-noise ratio compares the level of a desired signal (such as music) to the level of background noise. The higher the ratio, the less obtrusive the background noise is.
"Signal-to-noise ratio" is sometimes used informally to refer to the ratio of useful information to false or irrelevant data in a conversation or exchange. For example, in online discussion forums and other online communities, off-topic posts and spam are regarded as "noise" that interferes with the "signal" of appropriate discussion.
Signal-to-noise ratio is defined as the power ratio between a signal (meaningful information) and the background noise (unwanted signal):
where P is average power. Both signal and noise power must be measured at the same or equivalent points in a system, and within the same system bandwidth. If the signal and the noise are measured across the same impedance, then the SNR can be obtained by calculating the square of the amplitude ratio:
where A is root mean square (RMS) amplitude (for example, RMS voltage). Because many signals have a very wide dynamic range, SNRs are often expressed using the logarithmic decibel scale. In decibels, the SNR is defined as
which may equivalently be written using amplitude ratios as
The concepts of signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range are closely related. Dynamic range measures the ratio between the strongest un-distorted signal on a channel and the minimum discernable signal, which for most purposes is the noise level. SNR measures the ratio between an arbitrary signal level (not necessarily the most powerful signal possible) and noise. Measuring signal-to-noise ratios requires the selection of a representative or reference signal. In audio engineering, the reference signal is usually a sine wave at a standardized nominal or alignment level, such as 1 kHz at +4 dBu (1.228 VRMS).
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