Filling Audio Buffer to Generate Waves in the PSLab Android App

The PSLab Android App works as an oscilloscope and a wave generator using the audio jack of the Android device. The implementation of the oscilloscope in the Android device using the in-built mic has been discussed in the blog post “Using the Audio Jack to make an Oscilloscope in the PSLab Android App” and the same has been discussed in the context of wave generator in the blog post “Implement Wave Generation Functionality in the PSLab Android App”. This post is a continuation of the post related to the implementation of wave generation functionality in the PSLab Android App. In this post, the subject matter of discussion is the way to fill the audio buffer so that the resulting wave generated is either a Sine Wave, a Square Wave or a Sawtooth Wave. The resultant audio buffer would be played using the AudioTrack API of Android to generate the corresponding wave. The waves we are trying to generate are periodic waves.

Periodic Wave: A wave whose displacement has a periodic variation with respect to time or distance, or both.

Thus, the problem reduces to generating a pulse which will constitute a single time period of the wave. Suppose we want to generate a sine wave; if we generate a continuous stream of pulses as illustrated in the image below, we would get a continuous sine wave. This is the main concept that we shall try to implement using code.

Initialise AudioTrack Object

AudioTrack object is initialised using the following parameters:

  • STREAM TYPE: Type of stream like STREAM_SYSTEM, STREAM_MUSIC, STREAM_RING, etc. For wave generation purposes we are using stream music. Every stream has its own maximum and minimum volume level.  
  • SAMPLING RATE: It is the rate at which the source samples the audio signal.
  • BUFFER SIZE IN BYTES: Total size of the internal buffer in bytes from where the audio data is read for playback.
  • MODES: There are two modes-
    • MODE_STATIC: Audio data is transferred from Java to the native layer only once before the audio starts playing.
    • MODE_STREAM: Audio data is streamed from Java to the native layer as audio is being played.

getMinBufferSize() returns the estimated minimum buffer size required for an AudioTrack object to be created in the MODE_STREAM mode.

minTrackBufferSize = AudioTrack.getMinBufferSize(SAMPLING_RATE, AudioFormat.CHANNEL_OUT_MONO, AudioFormat.ENCODING_PCM_16BIT);
audioTrack = new AudioTrack(

Fill Audio Buffer to Generate Sine Wave

Depending on the values in the audio buffer, the wave is generated by the AudioTrack object. Therefore, to generate a specific kind of wave, we need to fill the audio buffer with some specific values. The values are governed by the wave equation of the signal that we want to generate.

public short[] createBuffer(int frequency) {
   short[] buffer = new short[minTrackBufferSize];
   double f = frequency;
   double q = 0;
   double level = 16384;
   final double K = 2.0 * Math.PI / SAMPLING_RATE;

   for (int i = 0; i < minTrackBufferSize; i++) {
         f += (frequency - f) / 4096.0;
         q += (q < Math.PI) ? f * K : (f * K) - (2.0 * Math.PI);
         buffer[i] = (short) Math.round(Math.sin(q));
   return buffer;

Fill Audio Buffer to Generate Square Wave

To generate a square wave, let’s assume the time period to be t units. So, we need the amplitude to be equal to A for t/2 units and -A for the next t/2 units. Repeating this pulse continuously, we will get a square wave.

buffer[i] = (short) ((q > 0.0) ? 1 : -1);

Fill Audio Buffer to Generate Sawtooth Wave

Ramp signals increases linearly with time. A Ramp pulse has been illustrated in the image below:

We need repeated ramp pulses to generate a continuous sawtooth wave.

buffer[i] = (short) Math.round((q / Math.PI));

Finally, when the audio buffer is generated, write it to the audio sink for playback using write() method exposed by the AudioTrack object.

audioTrack.write(buffer, 0, buffer.length);