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What Is An Oscillator? Different Types Of Oscillator Circuits & Their Applications


What Is An Oscillator

What Is An Oscillator? Different Types Of Oscillator Circuits & Their Applications 

A mechanical or electronic instrument known as an oscillator operates on the oscillation principle, which describes a periodic variation among two objects depending on power shifts. Detection systems, calendars, watches, radios, and computers are just a few examples of the numerous gadgets that use oscillators.

One straightforward kind of mechanical oscillator is a clock pendulum. Atomic clocks preserve time by using atomic oscillation, the most precise timekeeper. Computers, wireless detectors, transmitters, and audio-frequency equipment, specifically music synthesizers, utilize electrical oscillators to produce signals. 

Oscillators in electronic come in various shapes and sizes. Still, they always work on the same fundamental premise: they use a sensitive amplifier whose output is relayed to the input in phase. The message replenishes and maintains itself as a result. It is referred to as favourable feedback. Unfortunately, a similar mechanism occasionally results in unwelcome "howling" in public address systems.

1. How oscillators work

A quartz crystal typically controls an oscillator's operating frequency. Such crystals vibrate whenever a straight current is supplied at a frequency determined by their thickness and how they were extracted from the original mineral rock. Some oscillators combine inductors, resistors, and capacitors to determine the frequency. Therefore, oscillators that use quartz crystals produce the highest levels of stability (frequency consistency).

The clock, a particular computer oscillator, acts as the microprocessor's pacemaker. The rate at which a processor can execute programs depends partly on the clock frequency, typically expressed in megahertz (MHz).

2. Different Types of Oscillators

Oscillator types come in various forms but can be roughly divided into harmonic oscillators (sometimes called linear oscillators) and relaxation oscillators.

In a harmonic oscillator, power constantly flows from the active to the passive elements, and the feedback route determines the frequency of oscillations.

In contrast, a relaxation oscillator involves a power exchange between the active and passive parts. As a result, the frequency of oscillations is governed by the time constants associated with the charging and discharging processes. At the same time, relaxation oscillators create non-sinusoidal (saw-tooth, triangle, or square) waveforms, and harmonic oscillators output low-distorted sine waves.

The most common varieties of oscillators are:

  • Voltage Controlled Oscillator

  • Colpitts Oscillator

  • Clapp Oscillators

  • Wien Bridge Oscillator

  • RC Phase Shift Oscillator

  • Hartley Oscillator

  • Crystal Oscillators

  • Opto-Electronic Oscillators

  • Pierce Oscillators

  • Robinson Oscillators

  • Tri-tet Oscillators

  • Pearson-Anson Oscillators

  • Delay-Line Oscillators

  • Royer Oscillators

  • Electron Coupled Oscillators

  • Multi-Wave Oscillators

  • Armstrong Oscillator

  • Tuned Collector Oscillator

  • Gunn Oscillator

  • Cross-Coupled Oscillators

  • Ring Oscillators

  • Dynatron Oscillators

  • Meissner Oscillators

According to the parameters considered, such as the feedback mechanism, the shape of the output waveform, etc., oscillators can also be divided into several categories. Here are these types of classes:

  • Using the Feedback Mechanism to Classify. There are two types of feedback oscillators: positive and negative.

  • Classification Based on Output Waveform Shape. Sweep oscillators (that generate a saw-tooth output waveform), Square or Rectangular Wave oscillators, Sine Wave Oscillators, etcetera.

  • Using the Output Signal's Frequency to Classify the Data. Oscillators with output frequencies in the audio range include audio oscillators, radio frequency oscillators, high-frequency oscillators, very high-frequency oscillators, and ultra-high frequency oscillators, among others.

  • Depending on the kind of frequency regulation being used, classifications. RC oscillators, LC oscillators, crystal oscillators (which produce output waveforms with frequency stabilization through a quartz crystal), etcetera.

  • Classification Depends on the type of Output Waveform's Frequency: variable or tunable Frequency and Constant Frequency Oscillators.

3. Applications for oscillators

Oscillators are a simple and inexpensive approach to producing a certain signal frequency. As an illustration, a low-frequency message is produced by an RC oscillator, a high-frequency message by an LC oscillator, and a steady frequency by an Op-Amp oscillator.

The component value can be changed using potentiometer arrangements to alter the oscillation frequency.

Oscillators are used in a variety of applications, such as:

  • Quartz timepieces (which use a crystal oscillator)

  • Utilized in a variety of audio and visual systems

  • Utilized in several radios, television, and other communication equipment

  • Used in radio frequency and ultrasonic devices, processors, detection systems, stun guns, and inverters.

  • Used to produce the clock pulses needed by microprocessors and microcontrollers

  • Used in buzzers and alarms

  • Used to run ornamental lights (e.g., dancing lights)

4. Oscillator Performance Comparison

It's important to note that many alternative gadgets are accessible for every choice in the chart. For instance, alternatives usually offered at DigiKey for fixed-frequency MEMS oscillators range in frequency stability from 150 parts per million to 50 parts per billion. One oscillator kind may offer possibilities for exceptionally high stability or accuracy over a wide temperature range, but that does not necessarily indicate that another alternative will not be less expensive for your accuracy needs, given the wide range of frequency consistency that goes along with it.

The Connor-Winfield OX200-SC-010.0M 10MHz VCOCXO is a crystal oscillator with frequency stability of just +/- 1.5 parts per billion as an illustrative case. For the same +/- 1.5ppb frequency stability, the IQD Frequency Products LFRBXO059244BULK 10MHz atomic oscillator costs more than ten times as much in single-unit numbers. Considering this, there will be instances where the $2000 atomic oscillator is a better option for a highly accurate oscillator. 

A VCOCXO made by IQD Frequency Products also boasts a frequency response astoundingly better than the atomic oscillator's +/- 1ppb over a larger temperature range. With a cost that is less than ten times cheaper than the atomic alternative while still being less than twice as expensive as the Connor-Winfield device in single quantity volumes. It is astounding that atomic clock resources are still available, and it is even more amazing that a more accurate crystal oscillator can be purchased for a much lower cost.

Clock Source





Crystal Oscillator Module

10 kHz to 100 MHz

Medium to Extreme

insensitive to humidity and EMI. There are no missing components or inconsistencies.

Costly, energy-intensive, vibration-sensitive, and requiring huge packaging

Quartz Crystal

10 kHz to 100 MHz

Medium to High

Low Cost

EMI, vibration, and humidity sensors.

Ceramic Resonator

100 kHz to 10 MHz


Lower Cost

EMI, vibration, and humidity-sensitive

RC Oscillator

From Hz to 10 MHz

Very Low

Lowest Cost

Typically, sensitive to dampness and EMI. Poor performance in the rejection of temperature and supply voltage

LC Oscillator

from kHz to a hundred MHz


Low Cost

Typically, sensitive to dampness and EMI. Poor performance in the rejection of temperature and supply voltage

Integrated Silicon Oscillator

1 kHz to 170 MHz

Low to Medium

EMI, vibration, and humidity are insensitive. Quick starting, compact size, lack of extra parts, and no compatibility concerns

More sensitive to temperature than ceramic or crystal. elevated supply current.

MEMS Oscillator

Tens of kHz to Hundreds of MHz

Low to Extreme

Smaller packaging, easy to design, no external components, and ability to drive various loads.



Essentially, an oscillator is a message producer that generates a sinusoidal or non-sinusoidal signal at a specific frequency. The oscillator uses in numerous places because they are essential to all electronic and electrical systems.

An oscillator's operation is based on constant oscillations. Therefore, an oscillator is sometimes described as an amplifier with positive feedback—alternatively, a feedback amplifier with one or slightly higher open loop gain.


Frequently Asked Questions


A mechanical or electronic gadget known as an oscillator operates on the oscillation principle, which describes a periodic variation among two objects depending on power shifts. Detection systems, clocks, watches, radios, and computers are a few of the numerous gadgets that use oscillators.


There are two basic kinds of oscillators: harmonic oscillators and relaxation oscillators. An oscillator circuit that regulates the repeating discharge of a message. Gadgets that need a measurable, continuous motion that may be utilized for another reason frequently employ this signal.



The movements of a simple pendulum in a clock and the tides in the sea are the two most typical instances of oscillation. The motion of a spring is another illustration of oscillation. Oscillations can also be seen in the vibrating of string instruments and those of other stringed instruments.

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