DSP Basics

DSP Basics
dsp basicsDSP technology is everywhere. Every time you use your home theater system, earbuds, tablet, smartphone, digital TV, or any number of audio electronics, DSP technology is at work. Read on to learn about this technology, it’s common uses, and more.

The Basics

Digital Signal Processing (DSP) may seem like a simple term but it is actually a fairly complex topic. DSP basically takes a signal, i.e., a sound or audio signal, and digitally manipulates it to achieve a certain, desired result. It sounds simple enough but the algorithms and the actual processing used can be quite complex. A basic task like increasing the audio volume to a certain level may be relatively straightforward, but a feature like adaptive noise cancellation is a more complex and challenging task to handle.

You will sometimes see a product, e.g., headphones, labeled as having a “DSP”. In such cases, it stands for digital signal processor. Hence, that product features a chip that has been specifically designed to process audio signals in specific ways.

Most Common Uses

DSP can do some amazing things, but it also has some very common, simple uses. For instance, when you are listening to a music playlist, many audio players use Digital Signal Processing to make sure that there are no massive volume jumps between tracks.

Another common DSP use case is digital to analog and analog to digital conversion. Often, the conversion takes place in a specialized DSP chip designed particularly for this purpose. It is called AD/DA or DAC. Turning analog audio signals into digital signal is a work of art. That’s why converters available on the market are usually very expensive.

Noise cancellation is another specific use of Digital Signal Processing that you probably take advantage of on regular basis. Noise cancellation is basically a combination of DSP and your earbud’s microphones that cancels out the surrounding sounds.

DSP is also used to do something opposite to this. Apple calls it Transparency Mode. It uses those same microphones that help with noise cancellation, but rather than cancelling the sounds around you, it boosts them hence helping you hear your surroundings more clearly and easily.

Finally, Digital Signal Processing is also used for Digital EQ. If you have ever used a music player on your smartphone or computer that allows you to adjust the equalizer, this is DSP in action. When you make adjustment via the sliders, it digitally lowers or amplifies the amplitude of the selected frequencies.

When Does DSP Matter?

This is an odd question but there are times when the use of DSP is crucial. For music, there are specific product aspects where you might want to check the manufacturer of the Digital Signal Processing chip or at least the type being used.

If you are purchasing an A/V receiver or a headphone amp, you will need to choose better quality AD/DA converters to ensure improved sound quality. Noise cancellation is another key aspect where the quality of both the algorithms running on DSP chips and the chips themselves makes a huge difference.

While there are many aspects and features of DSP, you should only concern yourself with those that you will be using often.


The world of engineering and science is filled with signals that carry various types of data. DSP is the science that understands these types of data with the help of computers/chips. It is one of the most powerful and beneficial technologies available. Suppose you connect an analog to digital converter to your computer and then use it to obtain a chuck of real-world data. Digital Signal Processing answers the question: what’s next.

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