The 555 Oscillator

In the previous tutorial we saw that the 555 Timer IC can be connected either in its Monostable mode thereby producing a precision timer of a fixed time duration, or in its Bistable mode to produce a flip-flop type switching action.

But we can also connect the 555 timer IC in an Astable mode to produce a very stable 555 Oscillator circuit for generating highly accurate free running waveforms whose output frequency can be adjusted by means of an externally connected RC tank circuit consisting of just two resistors and a capacitor.

The 555 Oscillator is another type of relaxation oscillator for generating stabilized square wave output waveforms of either a fixed frequency of up to 500kHz or of varying duty cycles from 50 to 100%. In the previous 555 Timer tutorial we saw that the Monostable circuit produces a single output one-shot pulse when triggered on its pin 2 trigger input.

Whereas the 555 monostable circuit stopped after a preset time waiting for the next trigger pulse to start over again, in order to get the 555 Oscillator to operate as an astable multivibrator it is necessary to continuously re-trigger the 555 IC after each and every timing cycle.

This re-triggering is basically achieved by connecting the trigger input (pin 2) and the threshold input (pin 6) together, thereby allowing the device to act as an astable oscillator. Then the 555 Oscillator has no stable states as it continuously switches from one state to the other. Also the single timing resistor of the previous monostable multivibrator circuit has been split into two separate resistors, R1 and R2 with their junction connected to the discharge input (pin 7) as shown below.

Basic Astable 555 Oscillator Circuit

astable 555 oscillator


555 oscillator waveform


In the 555 Oscillator circuit above, pin 2 and pin 6 are connected together allowing the circuit to re-trigger itself on each and every cycle allowing it to operate as a free running oscillator. During each cycle capacitor, C charges up through both timing resistors, R1 and R2 but discharges itself only through resistor, R2 as the other side of R2 is connected to the discharge terminal, pin 7.

Then the capacitor charges up to 2/3Vcc (the upper comparator limit) which is determined by the 0.693(R1+R2)C combination and discharges itself down to 1/3Vcc (the lower comparator limit) determined by the 0.693(R2.C) combination. This results in an output waveform whose voltage level is approximately equal to Vcc – 1.5V and whose output “ON” and “OFF” time periods are determined by the capacitor and resistors combinations. The individual times required to complete one charge and discharge cycle of the output is therefore given as:

Astable 555 Oscillator Charge and Discharge Times

555 oscillator charge and discharge time

Where, R is in Ω’s and C in Farads.

When connected as an astable multivibrator, the output from the 555 Oscillator will continue indefinitely charging and discharging between 2/3Vcc and 1/3Vcc until the power supply is removed. As with the monostable multivibrator these charge and discharge times and therefore the frequency are independent on the supply voltage.

The duration of one full timing cycle is therefore equal to the sum of the two individual times that the capacitor charges and discharges added together and is given as:

555 Oscillator Cycle Time

555 oscillator cycle time

The output frequency of oscillations can be found by inverting the equation above for the total cycle time giving a final equation for the output frequency of an Astable 555 Oscillator as:

555 Oscillator Frequency Equation

555 astable oscillator frequency

By altering the time constant of just one of the RC combinations, the Duty Cycle better known as the “Mark-to-Space” ratio of the output waveform can be accurately set and is given as the ratio of resistor R2 to resistor R1. The Duty Cycle for the 555 Oscillator, which is the ratio of the “ON” time divided by the “OFF” time is given by:

555 Oscillator Duty Cycle

555 oscillator duty cycle=

The duty cycle has no units as it is a ratio but can be expressed as a percentage ( % ). If both timing resistors, R1 and R2 are equal in value, then the output duty cycle will be 2:1 that is, 66% ON time and 33% OFF time with respect to the period.

555 Oscillator Example No1

An Astable 555 Oscillator is constructed using the following components, R1 = 1kΩ, R2 = 2kΩ and capacitor C = 10uF. Calculate the output frequency from the 555 oscillator and the duty cycle of the output waveform.

  t1 – capacitor charge “ON” time is calculated as:

waveform on time

  t2 – capacitor discharge “OFF” time is calculated as:

waveform off Time

  Total periodic time ( T ) is therefore calculated as:

total periodic time

  The output frequency, ƒ is therefore given as:

555 output frequency

  Giving a duty cycle value of:

555 astable duty cycle=


As the timing capacitor, C charges through resistors R1 and R2 but only discharges through resistor R2 the output duty cycle can be varied between 50 and 100% by changing the value of resistor R2. By decreasing the value of R2 the duty cycle increases towards 100% and by increasing R2 the duty cycle reduces towards 50%. If resistor, R2 is very large relative to resistor R1 the output frequency of the 555 astable circuit will determined by R2 x C only.

The problem with this basic astable 555 oscillator configuration is that the duty cycle, the “mark to-space” ratio will never go below 50% as the presence of resistor R2 prevents this. In other words we cannot make the outputs “ON” time shorter than the “OFF” time, as (R1 + R2)C will always be greater than the value of R1 x C. One way to overcome this problem is to connect a signal bypassing diode in parallel with resistor R2 as shown below.

Improved 555 Oscillator Duty Cycle

555 astable oscillator duty cycle


By connecting this diode, D1 between the trigger input and the discharge input, the timing capacitor will now charge up directly through resistor R1 only, as resistor R2 is effectively shorted out by the diode. The capacitor discharges as normal through resistor, R2.

An additional diode, D2 can be connected in series with the discharge resistor, R2 if required to ensure that the timing capacitor will only charge up through D1 and not through the parallel path of R2. This is because during the charging process diode D2 is connected in reverse bias blocking the flow of current through itself.

Now the previous charging time of t1 = 0.693(R1 + R2)C is modified to take account of this new charging circuit and is given as: 0.693(R1 x C). The duty cycle is therefore given as D = R1/(R1 + R2). Then to generate a duty cycle of less than 50%, resistor R1 needs to be less than resistor R2.

Although the previous circuit improves the duty cycle of the output waveform by charging the timing capacitor, C1 through the R1 + D1 combination and then discharging it through the D2 + R2 combination, the problem with this circuit arrangement is that the 555 oscillator circuit uses additional components, i.e. two diodes.

We can improve on this idea and produce a fixed square wave output waveform with an exact 50% duty cycle very easily and without the need for any extra diodes by simply moving the position of the charging resistor, R2 to the output ( pin 3 ) as shown.

50% Duty Cycle Astable Oscillator

50% duty cycle astable oscillator


The reason for this 50% duty cycle is that capacitor, C1 is now charging and discharging through the same resistor, R2. When the output from the 555 oscillator is HIGH, the capacitor charges up through R2 and when the output is LOW, it discharges through R2. Resistor R1 ensures than the capacitor charges up fully to the same value as the supply voltage.

However, as the capacitor charges and discharges through the same resistor, the above equation for the output frequency of oscillations has to be modified a little to reflect this circuit change. Then the new equation for the 50% Astable 555 Oscillator is given as:

50% Duty Cycle Frequency Equation

50% duty cycle frequency equation

Note that resistor R1 needs to be sufficiently high enough to ensure it does not interfere with the charging of the capacitor to produce the required 50% duty cycle. Also changing the value of the timing capacitor, C1 changes the oscillation frequency of the astable circuit.

555 Oscillator Applications

We said previously that the maximum output to either sink or source the load current via pin 3 is about 200mA and this value is more than enough to drive or switch other logic IC’s, a few LED’s or a small lamp etc and that we would need to use a bipolar transistor or MOSFET to amplify the 555’s output to drive larger current loads such as motor or relays.

555 flasher

But the 555 Oscillator can also be used in a wide range of waveform generator circuits and applications that require very little output current such as in electronic test equipment for producing a whole range of different output test frequencies.

The 555 can also be used to produce very accurate sine, square and pulse waveforms or as LED or lamp flashers and dimmers to simple noise making circuits such as metronomes, tone and sound effects generators and even musical toys for Christmas.

We could very easily build a simple 555 oscillator circuit to flash a few LED’s “ON” and “OFF” similar to the one shown, or to produce a high frequency noise from a loudspeaker. But one very nice and simple to build science project using an astable based 555 oscillator is that of an Electronic Metronome.

Metronomes are devices used to mark time in pieces of music by producing a regular and recurring musical beat or click. A simple electronic metronome can be made using a 555 oscillator as the main timing device and by adjusting the output frequency of the oscillator the tempo or “Beats per Minute” can be set.

So for example, a tempo of 60 beats per minute means that one beat will occur every second and in electronics terms that equates to 1Hz. So by using some very common musical definitions we can easily build a table of the different frequencies required for our metronome circuit as shown below.

Metronome Frequency Table

Rate Beats per
Time (T)
Larghetto Very Slow 60 1sec 1.0Hz
Andante Slow 90 666ms 1.5Hz
Moderato Medium 120 500ms 2.0Hz
Allegro Fast 150 400ms 2.5Hz
Presto Very Fast 180 333ms 3.0Hz

The output frequency range of the metronome was simply calculated as the reciprocal of 1 minute or 60 seconds divided by the number of beats per minute required, for example (1/(60 secs / 90 bpm) = 1.5Hz) and 120bpm is equivalent to 2Hz, and so on. So by using our now familiar equation above for calculating the output frequency of an astable 555 oscillator circuit the individual values of R1, R2 and C can be found.

The time period of the output waveform for an astable 555 Oscillator is given as:

555 astable oscillator cycle time


For our electronic metronome circuit, the value of the timing resistor R1 can be found by rearranging the equation above to give.

oscillator resistor value


Assuming a value for resistor R2 = 1kΩ and capacitor C = 10uF the value of the timing resistor R1 for our frequency range is given as 142k3Ω at 60 beats per minute to 46k1Ω at 180 beats per minute, so a variable resistor (potentiometer) of 150kΩ would be more than enough for the metronome circuit to produce the full range of beats required and some more. Then the final circuit for our electronic metronome example would be given as:

555 Electronic Metronome

555 electronic metronome circuit


This simple metronome circuit demonstrates just one simple way of using a 555 oscillator to produce an audible sound or note. It uses a 150kΩ potentiometer to control the full range of output pulses or beats, and as it has a 150kΩ value it can be easily calibrated to give an equivalent percentage value corresponding to the position of the potentiometer. For example, 60 beats per minute equals 142.3kΩ or 95% rotation.

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Likewise, 120 beats per minute equals 70.1kΩ or 47% rotation, etc. Additional resistors or trimmer’s can be connected in series with the potentiometer to pre-set the outputs upper and lower limits to predefined values, but these additional components will need to be taken into account when calculating the output frequency or time period.

While the above circuit is a very simple and amusing example of sound generation, it is possible to use the 555 Oscillator as a noise generator/synthesizer or to make musical sounds, tones and alarms by constructing a variable-frequency, variable-mark/space ratio waveform generator.

In this tutorial we have used just a single 555 oscillator circuit to produce a sound but by cascading together two or more 555 oscillator chips, various circuits can be constructed to produce a whole range of musical and sound effects. One such novelty circuit is the police car “Dee-Dah” siren given in the example below.

555 Oscillator Police “Dee-Dah” Siren

555 Oscillator police siren


The circuit simulates a warble-tone alarm signal that simulates the sound of a police siren. IC1 is connected as a 2Hz non-symmetrical astable multivibrator which is used to frequency modulate IC2 via the 10kΩ resistor. The output of IC2 alternates symmetrically between 300Hz and 660Hz taking 0.5 seconds to complete each alternating cycle.

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37 Responses to “555 Oscillator Tutorial”

  1. Pedro

    Hello, although i didnt try the circuit in pratic, im running the “50% Duty Cycle Astable Oscillator” on PSPICE simulator and it gives me an error because PIN 7 (Discharge) is not connected to anything, will this just happen on simulator? If not, where should i connect it?

    • Wayne Storr

      Hello Pedro, Pin 7 of the 555 is the Discharge Pin and works more or less in parallel with pin 3 (Output) so you can connect pin 7 to pin 3 which would also give better sinking of the load current. When activated pin 7 shorts to ground (LOW) via the collector of an internal transistor so you can also tie it to ground, 0v if you wish. Then try Pin 7 to 3, or Pin 7 to 0v and see if PSPICE is happy. :)

      • Pedro

        Perfect, not sure if happy but PSPICE at least is not mad anymore :)

        However, i cant get a perfect square wave nor the frequency i was expecting, and duty-cycle also doesnt seem 50%. Im using a C1=10uF and R2 = 36Ohms wich should result in a 2KHz frequency.
        But output wave has a period of 4.25ms wich 2.3ms of those are Ton. Any idea what might be wrong?

  2. Park Siyoung

    Hi! I’m middle school student in South Korea.
    I made my own Basic Astable mode 555 Oscillator Calculator.
    Please see my program and advise me some improvement point.
    I want to add more functions on program.
    For example, output pulse sound and waveform…
    Link down below is my blog post address.
    I wrote explanation in English too.
    Please some advise to me!

      • Park Siyoung

        I will reference your post on my program when I copy your tutorial.
        I just used information from NE555 datasheet yet.
        On next version, I have to reference your tutorial for summative explanation.
        Then, I will write your name and this post URL on it.
        Wayne Storr is your real name?

  3. Yuri

    I believe that in your 50% Duty Cycle diagram there is no need for resistor R1.

    • Wayne Storr

      Hello Yuri, technically you are correct that R1 can be omitted as the capacitor is charging and discharging through R2 producing in theory a symmetric waveform. However the output square waves symmetry depends on the accuracy of the timers internal 5k resistor network producing the timers comparator voltages. Any errors or inaccuracies are therefore eliminated by adding a high value resistor R2 producing a perfect square wave. Also R2 helps with the initial charge of C1 once power is first applied to ensure that the timer fires into oscillation.

  4. Julio Baez

    In the text you wrote: “If both timing resistors, R1 and R2 are equal the output duty cycle will be given as 2:1 or 33%.” Do you mean 66.6%? Since duty cycle is not less than 50%

  5. Russ

    Hi Wayne (and all): I have been working through the Make: Electronics books by Charles Platt, and I constructed the little audio amplifier in Experiment 29. The amplifier works fine, but I tried adding the 555 oscillator he shows on p.256 but could not get that to work properly. So I googled for 555 timer oscillator, and found your tutorial. Your series looks great and I will be checking out all your stuff.

    Now to my question(s): I built the oscillator circuit you show, using the resistor and capacitor values in your Example No1. I hook up my scope to pin 3 and see a nice square wave form, but the values I measure are way off from yours. Instead of a T1 of 21ms, I get an “on” cycle duration of about 3ms, maybe a hair less. And the T2 “off” cycle is not 14ms, but about 2.4ms. I’m using R1=1K, R2=2K, C1=10uF (106), and C2=.01uF (103), with Vcc at 9VDC. Any idea why my observed values are so far off from your calculated values? I also noticed that if I decrease Vcc, the times increase, and if I increase Vcc, the times decrease. Any idea why? Shouldn’t the times remain constant? TIA, ~Russ

    • Wayne Storr

      Hello Russ, I can not comment on other peoples books or circuits, and have no interest in doing so. But regarding my tutorial circuit above, if you have used the same components and connected the 555 timer correctly as in the basic oscillator circuit, then it will oscillate as calculated. Regards.


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