In electronics, an analog-to-digital converter (ADC, A/D, or A-to-D) is a system that converts an analog signal, such as a sound picked up by a microphone or light entering a digital camera, into a digital signal. An ADC may also provide an isolated measurement such as an electronic device that converts an input analog voltage or current to a digital number representing the magnitude of the voltage or current. Typically the digital output is a two's complement binary number that is proportional to the input, but there are other possibilities.
A digital-to-analog converter (DAC) performs the reverse function; it converts a digital signal into an analog signal.
An ADC converts a continuous-time and continuous-amplitude analog signal to a discrete-time and discrete-amplitude digital signal. The conversion involves quantization of the input, so it necessarily introduces a small amount of error or noise. Furthermore, instead of continuously performing the conversion, an ADC does the conversion periodically, sampling the input, limiting the allowable bandwidth of the input signal.
The performance of an ADC is primarily characterized by its bandwidth and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The bandwidth of an ADC is characterized primarily by its sampling rate. The SNR of an ADC is influenced by many factors, including the resolution, linearity and accuracy (how well the quantization levels match the true analog signal), aliasing and jitter. The SNR of an ADC is often summarized in terms of its effective number of bits (ENOB), the number of bits of each measure it returns that are on average not noise. An ideal ADC has an ENOB equal to its resolution. ADCs are chosen to match the bandwidth and required SNR of the signal to be digitized. If an ADC operates at a sampling rate greater than twice the bandwidth of the signal, then per the Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem, perfect reconstruction is possible. The presence of quantization error limits the SNR of even an ideal ADC. However, if the SNR of the ADC exceeds that of the input signal, its effects may be neglected resulting in an essentially perfect digital representation of the analog input signal.