I am relatively new to this whole scene but am wanting to start a small project sending midi-signals from a board I am creating. That said, I am a big fan of these endless, smooth digital potentiometers for example built into the Novation Circuit. Im am having trouble finding these things for sale as I am not sure what exactly these are called. I found - sorry for the direct and probably wrong translation - "digital increment-givers", but reading into it the ones I found have sort of a grid, like giving 20 signals in the course of one rotation.

As I understand it, the ones I would need keep giving a consistent signal. Are these the droids I am looking for or are there different ones?

I could imagine if these are the ones I need that I would listen to the incremental signals and then add or subtract one depending on the rotation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ those are not potentiometers, because potentiometers by definition are adjustable resistors and hence can physically only be finite. What you're looking for is called a rotary encoder. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 18, 2017 at 17:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarcusMüller Thank you for the information. I made note of it. I was hoping I had made clear that I have no clue what I am talking about (yet) ;-) By definition it may be like this but I don't know the definition in addition to translatory issues. \$\endgroup\$
    – Halest
    Mar 18, 2017 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking for rotary encoders? They turn in both tun in either direction freely. \$\endgroup\$
    – User323693
    Mar 18, 2017 at 17:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarcusMüller Yes you seem to be right, rotary encoder seems to be what I am looking for. Please someone put it in an answer so I can mark it correct. \$\endgroup\$
    – Halest
    Mar 18, 2017 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is, by the way, not a product recommendation question, although it may look like one at a glance. \$\endgroup\$
    – pipe
    Mar 18, 2017 at 17:45

3 Answers 3


The name for the thing you're looking for is rotary encoder. In particular, the incremental rotary encoder.

If connected correctly, you will get pulses such as these:

enter image description here

Depending on the direction you're turning, those two pins will flip its state in a different order, so you can find out the direction.

Most of the ones that you want to pay for will have up to 24 "increments" in one revolution. This is not that great, but you can easily get 48 steps from that, if you think a bit about how the signals arrive. You can even get 96 steps per revolution iff the pulses are square and have a 90 degree offset such as in the illustration above. Some encoders don't, and then your 96 steps will not be evenly spaced.


What you're looking for is called a rotary encoder.


There are special potentiometers with 4 pins. It's a dual pot, but the wipers are phase shifted perhaps 90 degrees. They are continuous: they rotate indefinitely in either direction like a rotary encoder. But these are definitely analog pots, not encoders. Like a rotary encoder, you can detect motion by phase. They don't teach you about these in school. They offer more accuracy and lower noise than a normal pot going into an ADC, but they are scalable over a wide range, making them an ideal trade secret for the digital audio mixer and synthesizer industry.

Here's an example: Rotary potentiometer, 2.5KB, continuous travel.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "sine-cosine encoders" seem to be the most common name for incremental encoders with a continuously-varying signal \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben Voigt
    May 29, 2023 at 18:11

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