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What Is a Sine Wave Generator?

Sine wave generators are used for many tasks, including calibrating measurement equipment and generating sound effects.
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  • Written By: C. Greason
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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A sine wave generator is a type of electronic equipment that generates a pure, oscillating frequency in a sinusoidal pattern. A sinusoid function goes up and down and up and down in a consistent, smooth, rolling pattern of hills and valleys. A sine wave generator produces these waves, which are called sine waves because they have the mathematical shape of the trigonometric sine or cosine function. Sine wave generators are used for many tasks, including calibrating measurement equipment and generating sound effects.

Sine waves are all around us. They are found in nature and include light waves and sound waves. A sine wave generator can drive audio speakers if the wave generated is in the range of human hearing. Electrical alternating current (AC), which is available from wall outlets to power electrical appliances, lighting and electronics, alternates in a sine wave pattern at 60 cycles per second (Hertz).

A turbine or electrical generator producing AC current is a kind of sine wave generator. Some electrical circuits, specifically resonant circuits, oscillate in the pattern of a sine wave and, thus, are used in sine wave generators. Sine waves are produced by a resonant circuit when the voltage across the output rises and falls in a sinusoidal pattern.

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Function generators can typically produce both sine waves and other wave shapes, such as square waves and triangular waves, by adding together several different waves. Any periodic or oscillating function can be described as a weighted sum of multiples of the base frequency. A Fourier transform is a mathematical function that describes which sine waves added together will make the desired wave.

By generating multiple overlapping sine and cosine waves, an oscillator can generate waves of different shapes, such as square waves that go up and maintain a level for a time, and then drop to the inverse of the original level and maintain that for a time, and then oscillate back up again, repeatedly. Square waves are used in digital electronics to produce an on/off signal at consistent intervals to drive digital logic, thus serving as internal timing clocks that regulate actions in computers. The speed of a computer processor chip is described by the frequency of its internal clock in a unit called Hertz. A computer is described as working at a speed of a certain number of gigahertz (GHz). One cycle per second equals 1 Hertz.

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