In common use, the word noise means unwanted sound or noise pollution. In both analog and digital electronics, noise or signal noise is an unwanted random addition to a wanted signal; it is called noise as a generalisation of the audible noise heard when listening to a weak radio transmission. Signal noise is heard as acoustic noise if played through a loudspeaker; it manifests as 'snow' on a television or video image. In signal processing or computing it can be considered unwanted 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 encountered while looking for something else can be considered noise.
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.
What is noise and what is not?
An annoying background hiss interfering with short-wave radio broadcasts was found to be due to extra-terrestrial, indeed cosmic, processes; listening to this "noise" to the exclusion of all other signals with ever more sensitive antennas and receivers is now the science of radio astronomy. Radio astronomers are still plagued by noise in their signals—but now it is thermal noise generated in their equipment interfering with wanted signals from the cosmos.
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. Acoustic noise can be anything from low-level but annoying to loud and harmful. At one extreme users of public transport sometimes complain about the faint and tinny sounds emanating from the headphones or earbuds of somebody listening to a portable audio player; at the other the sound of very loud music, a jet engine at close quarters, etc. can cause permanent irreversible hearing damage.
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, 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. In film sound 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:
"...it 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)).
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 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.
Noise is also present in images. Electronic noise will be present in camera sensors, and the physical size of the grains of film emulsion creates visual noise. This kind of noise is referred to as "grain."
Noise is also used in the creation of 2D and 3D images by computer. Sometimes noise is added to images to hide the sudden transitions inherent in digital representation of color, known as "banding." This adding of noise is referred to as "dithering." Sometimes noise is used to create the subject matter itself. Procedural noise (such as Perlin noise) is often used to create natural-looking variation in computer generated images.
Kosko, Bart (2006). Noise. Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-03495-9.
- Guidelines for Community Noise, World Health Organization, 1999
- Audio Measuring Articles - Electronics
- Mohr on Receiver Noise: Characterization, Insights & Surprises
- Fundamentals of Electrical Noise
- Noise voltage - Calculation and Measuring of Thermal Noise
- Noise at work European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA)
- US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, - Noise