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You see them in various stereo systems and such, they are used to simulate a potentiometer. There is no limit to how much you can turn them in either direction and as you turn them they send pulses indicating the direction. What are they called?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you thinking of a rotary encoder? \$\endgroup\$ – scld Jul 28 '15 at 0:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ ah yes that seems to be it \$\endgroup\$ – user81993 Jul 28 '15 at 0:46
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotary_encoder

A rotary encoder, also called a shaft encoder, is an electro-mechanical device that converts the angular position or motion of a shaft or axle to an analog or digital code.

There are many different varieties and you'll need to further define your requirements to decide which is best for your needs.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The encoders in the user interfaces (front panels of stereos and such) are usually of contacting type (like these) or magnetic type. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Alexeev Jul 28 '15 at 1:13

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