Crest factor is a measure of a waveform, such as alternating current or sound, showing the ratio of peak values to the average value. In other words, crest factor indicates how extreme the peaks are in a waveform. Crest factor 1 indicates no peaks, such as direct current. Higher crest factors indicate peaks, for example sound waves tend to have high crest factors.
Crest factor and PAPR are therefore dimensionless quantities. While the crest factor is defined as a positive real number, in commercial products it is also commonly stated as the ratio of two whole numbers, e.g., 2:1. The PAPR is most used in signal processing applications. As it is a power ratio, it is normally expressed in decibels (dB).
The minimum possible crest factor is 1, 1:1 or 0 dB.
|Wave type||Waveform||RMS value||Crest factor||PAPR (dB)|
|Sine wave||||3.01 dB|
|N superimposed sine waves
(same amplitudes, different frequencies)
|Full-wave rectified sine||||3.01 dB|
|Half-wave rectified sine||||6.02 dB|
|Triangle wave||4.77 dB|
|Square wave||1||1||0 dB|
|8PSK||3.3 dB |
|π/4DQPSK||3.0 dB |
|OQPSK||3.3 dB |
|8VSB||6.5–8.1 dB |
|WCDMA downlink carrier||10.6 dB|
Notes: 1. crest factors specified for QPSK, QAM, WCDMA are typical factors needed for reliable communication, not the theoretical crest factors which can be larger.
Crest factor is an important parameter to understand when trying to take accurate measurements of low frequency signals. For example, given a certain digital multimeter with an AC accuracy of 0.03% (always specified for sine waves) with an additional error of 0.2% for crest factors between 1.414 and 5, then the total error for measuring a triangular wave (crest factor = 1.73) is 0.03% + 0.2% = 0.23%.
In acoustics, crest factor is usually expressed in decibels. For example, for a sine wave the 1.414 ratio is 20 log(1.414) or 3 dB. Most ambient noise has a crest factor of around 10 dB while impulsive sounds such as gunshots can have crest factors of over 30 dB.
Peak-to-average ratio (PAR) meter
A peak-to-average ratio meter (Par meter) is a device used to measure the ratio of the peak power level to the time-averaged power level in an electrical circuit. This quantity is known as the peak-to-average ratio (p/a r or PAR). Such meters are used as a quick means to identify degraded telephone channels.
Crest factor reduction
Many modulation techniques have been specifically designed to have constant envelope modulation, i.e., the minimum possible crest factor of 1:1.
In general, modulation techniques that have smaller crest factors usually transmit more bits per second than modulation techniques that have higher crest factors. This is because (1) Any given linear amplifier has some "peak output power"—some maximum possible instantaneous peak amplitude it can support and still stay in the linear range. (2) The average power of the signal is the peak output power divided by the crest factor. (3) The number of bits per second transmitted (on average) is proportional to the average power transmitted (Shannon–Hartley theorem).
Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM) is a very promising modulation technique; perhaps its biggest problem is its high crest factor. Many crest factor reduction techniques (CFR) have been proposed for OFDM. The reduction in crest factor results in a system that can either transmit more bits per second with the same hardware, or transmit the same bits per second with lower-power hardware (and therefore lower electricity costs) (and therefore less expensive hardware), or both.
- Electrical engineering — for describing the quality of an AC power waveform
- Vibration analysis — for estimating the amount of impact wear in a bearing 
- Radio and audio electronics — for estimating the headroom required in a signal chain 
- Physiology — for analysing the sound of snoring 
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- "Wireless 101: Peak to average power ratio (PAPR)".
- "RMS and Average Values for Typical Waveforms". Archived from the original on 2010-07-21.
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- Op Amp Noise Theory and Applications - 10.2.1 rms versus P-P Noise
- Chapter 1 First-Order Low-Pass Filtered Noise - "The standard deviation of a Gaussian noise voltage is the root-mean-square or rms value of the voltage."
- Noise: Frequently Asked Questions - "Noise theoretically has an unbounded distribution so that it should have an infinite crest factor"
- Telecommunications Measurements, Analysis, and Instrumentation, Kamilo Feher, section 7.2.3 Finite Crest Factor Noise
- "Crest Factor Reduction of an OFDM/WiMAX Network".
- "Low Crest Factor Modulation Techniques for Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM)".
- R. Neil Braithwaite. "Crest Factor Reduction for OFDM Using Selective Subcarrier Degradation".
- K. T. Wong, B. Wang & J.-C. Chen, "OFDM PAPR Reduction by Switching Null Subcarriers & Data-Subcarriers," Electronics Letters, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 62-63 January, 2011.
- S.C. Thompson, "Constant Envelope OFDM Phase Modulation," PhD Dissertation, UC San Diego, 2005.
- Nick Wells. "DVB-T2 in relation to the DVB-x2 Family of Standards" quote: "techniques which can reduce the PAPR, ... could result in a significant saving in electricity costs."
- What Is The “Crest Factor” And Why Is It Used?
- Crest factor analysis for complex signal processing
- Crest factor definition — Rane Pro Audio Reference
- Level Practices in Digital Audio
- Gain Structure — Setting the System Levels, Mackie Mixer Tips
- Setting sound system level controls: The most expensive system set up wrong never performs as well as an inexpensive system set up correctly.
- Palatal snoring identified by acoustic crest factor analysis