Signal Generator Types

- details about vector signal generators - what they are, how they work and how they are different to other RF signal generators.

There are several different types of signal generator.

Although they all generate electronic signals and waveforms, the different signal generator types are used for different applications and to develop different types of electronic signal.

The different types of signal generator also have very different designs because of the circuits required to realise their requirements.

As a result the different types of signal generator have very different levels of capability and functionality.

Summary of signal generator types

Summaries of the different types of signal generator are given below:

  • Function generator:   The function generator is a type of signal generator that is used to generator simple repetitive waveforms. Typically this signal generator type will produce waveforms or functions such as sine waves, sawtooth waveforms, square and triangular waveforms.

    Early function generators tended to rely on analogue oscillator circuits that produced the waveforms directly. Modern function generators may use digital signal processing techniques to generate the waveforms digitally and then convert them from the digital into an analogue format.

    Many function generators will tend to be limited to lower frequencies as this is where the waveforms created by this type of signal generator are often required. However it is possible for higher frequency versions to be obtained. Read more about the function generator
  • Arbitrary waveform generator :   The arbitrary waveform generator is a type of signal generator that creates very sophisticated waveforms that can be specified by the user. These waveforms can be almost any shape and can be entered in a variety of ways, even extending to specifying points on the waveform.

    Essentially an arbitrary waveform generator can be thought of as a very sophisticated function generator.

    Being considerably more complex, arbitrary waveform generators are more expensive than function generators, and often their bandwidth is more limited because of the techniques required in generating the signals. Read more about the arbitrary waveform generator
  • RF signal generator:   As the name indicates, this type of signal generator is used to generate RF or radio frequency signals.

    An RF signal generator may use a variety of methods to generate the signal. Analogue signal generator types used free running oscillators, although some used frequency locked loop techniques to improve stability. However most RF signal generators use frequency synthesizers to provide the stability and accuracy needed. Both phase locked loop and direct digital synthesis techniques may be used. Read more about the RF signal generator
  • Vector signal generator:   The vector signal generator is a type of RF signal generator that generates RF signals with complex modulation formats such as QPSK, QAM, etc. Read more about the Vector signal generator
  • Audio signal generator:   As the name implies this type of signal generator is used for audio applications. Signal generators such as these run over the audio range, typically from about 20 Hz to 20 kHz and more. They are often used in audio measurements of frequency response and for distortion measurements. As a result they must have a very flat resp0pnse and also very low levels of harmonic distortion.
  • Pulse generator:   As the name suggests, the pulse generator is a form of signal generator that creates pulses. These signal geenrators are often int he form of logic pulse generators that can produce pulses with variable delays and some even offer variable rise and fall times. Read more about the Pulse generator

By Ian Poole

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