Fourier Transforms in DASCore

These notes provide the reasoning for DASCore’s fourier module implementation.


  • When performing discrete fourier transforms, DACore multiplies numpy’s fft output by the coordinate spacing in order to:

    • Produce the same units as the continuous fourier transform
    • Preserve energy between the initial and transformed signals
    • Ensure the zero frequency approximates the average of the signal
  • If the scaled fft is divided by the signal duration, the amplitude spectrum magnitudes correspond to the magnitude of the basis harmonics.

Continuous Fourier Transform

The Continuous Fourier Transform (CFT) can be defined as:

\[ F(f) = \hat{f}(\xi) = \int_{-\infty}^{\infty} f(x) e^{-i 2 \pi \xi x} dx \tag{1}\]

Where \(f\) is a function of some variable \(x\), \(\hat{f}\) is \(f\) as a function of frequency (\(\xi\)), and \(i\) is the imaginary unit.

Its inverse is defined as:

\[ F^{-1}(\hat{f}) = f(x) = \frac{1}{2\pi} \int_{-\infty}^{\infty} \hat{f}(\xi) e^{i 2 \pi \xi x} d \xi \tag{2}\]

Let us consider how \(F\) affects the units of \(f(x)\) by first examining the units of the transformed variable \(\xi\). Since the product of the variables in the exponential (\(i 2 \pi \xi x\)) must be unit-less, and \(2 \pi i\) have no units, it follows that the units of \(\xi\) must be the multiplicative inverse of the units of \(x\). That is, if the units of \(x\) are seconds(\(s\)), the units of \(\xi\) must be \(\frac{1}{s} = Hz\). This is confirmed by rudimentary experience with time series analysis.

The units of \(\hat{f}\) are also straight-forward to ascertain from Equation 1. Because \(e^{-i 2 \pi \xi x}\) has no units, the resulting units of \(\hat{f}\) are just the units of \(f(x)\) multiplied by the units of \(dx\). So, if the original units of \(f\) are in volts (\(V\)) and the units of \(x\) are seconds, the units of \(\hat{f}\) are \(Vs\), which is often written as \(\frac{V}{Hz}\).

One property of Equation 1 relevant to DASCore’s implementation is Parseval’s identity which, in 1D, can be stated as:

\[ \int_{-\infty}^{\infty} |\hat{f}(\xi)|^2dx = \int_{-\infty}^{\infty} |f(x)|^2 dx \tag{3}\]

Loosely speaking, we might say that the energy of the function is preserved by the transform.

A related property of the Equation 3 is that the zero frequency represents the DC offset, or integral, of the original function. Setting \(\xi=0\) we see:

\[ \hat{f}(0) = \int_{-\infty}^{\infty} f(x) dx \]

The Discrete Fourier Transform

Before defining the Discrete Fourier Transform (DFT), let’s first consider how we expect DASCore’s DFT to behave based on Equation 1 and the discussion in the previous section.

  1. Units: The transformed axis should have inverse units of the original axis, and the data units should be multiplied by the units of the pre-transform dimension.

  2. Energy Preservation: From Equation 3, integrating the square of the untransformed data should yield the same value as integrating the square of the amplitude spectra.

  3. The amplitude of the zero frequency should be equal to the integral of the time series.

Now, let’s look at Numpy’s DFT, which is defined as:

\[ A_k = \sum_{m=0}^{n-1} a_m e^{-2 \pi i \frac{m k}{n}} \tag{4}\]

where \(a\) is the untransformed series of length \(n\), \(A\) is the transformed discrete series with elements corresponding to frequency bins (\(k\), \(k=0, ..., n-1\))

Right away you might notice some reasons Equation 4 can’t meet our expectations. First, nowhere are the units of \(a\)’s axis multiplied by the summation. Since the exponential term must be unit-less, \(a\) must have the same units as \(A\). Next, the energy can’t be preserved since the number of elements in the summation increases as \(n\) increases. Lastly, \(A(0) = \sum_{m=0}^{n-1} a_m\) which is not the integral, but the sum, of \(a\) (it doesn’t consider sample spacing).

Two Sine Waves

To illustrate some of these issues, consider a sine waves with amplitude of \(\pm\) \(b_0\) and dominant frequency of \(f_0\) Hz.

\[ f(x) = b_0 sin(2 \pi\ f_0 x) \tag{5}\]

We know (or can derive/look up) the CFT of this function:

\[ F(f) = \frac{b_0}{2i} [\delta(\xi - f_0) - \delta(\xi + f_0)] \tag{6}\]

Where \(\delta\) is the Dirac delta distribution.

To discretize Equation 5, let \(f_0 = 2\), the total signal duration (\(T\)) = 5 seconds, and \(b_0\) = 1. We create two sine waves, one with 500 samples and one with 1000 samples. When we naively perform the dft, shift the zero frequency to the center, and plot the amplitude spectra get the following:

import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

import numpy as np

def get_sine_and_time(duration, freq, samples, amplitude=1):
    """Return an array of time, sine with specified parameters"""
    time = np.linspace(0, duration, num=samples)
    sin = amplitude * np.sin(2 * np.pi * freq * time)
    return time, sin

def get_fft_and_freqs(time, signal):
    """return the fft and corresponding frequencies of a signal"""
    fft = np.fft.fft(signal)
    dt = time[1] - time[0]  # assuming evenly sampled
    freqs = np.fft.fftfreq(len(time), dt)
    return np.fft.fftshift(freqs), np.fft.fftshift(fft)

def plot_amplitude_spectras(freqs1, fft1, freqs2, fft2, lims=(-5, 5)):
    """plot amplitude spectra without normalization"""
    plt.plot(freqs1, np.abs(fft1), label=f"n={len(freqs1)}", alpha=0.8)
    plt.plot(freqs2, np.abs(fft2), label=f"n={len(freqs2)}", alpha=0.8)
    plt.xlabel("Frequency (Hz)")
    plt.ylabel("Amplitude (?)")
    return plt.gca()

duration = 5  # seconds
freq = 2  # Hz
n1, n2 = 500, 1000  # number of samples

# get two cases, one with 100 and 300 samples
t1, sin1 = get_sine_and_time(duration, freq, n1)
t2, sin2 = get_sine_and_time(duration, freq, n2)

# get their transforms
freqs1, fft1 = get_fft_and_freqs(t1, sin1)
freqs2, fft2 = get_fft_and_freqs(t2, sin2)

# and plot
ax = plot_amplitude_spectras(freqs1, fft1, freqs2, fft2)

Figure 1: Sine amplitude spectrum

As expected, both outputs have spikes at \(\pm f_0\) (5Hz), but the amplitude of the 1000 sample function 2X larger than the 500 sample function. This isn’t entirely surprising; from Equation 6 we expect the amplitude to tend toward infinity as the signal moves from discrete to continuous (\(n \rightarrow \infty\)). However, this scaling is typically not useful. Certainly, it won’t meet our expectations stated above.


One approach to fix scaling discrepancy is to divide each amplitude spectrum by the number of samples. After which, they have nearly identical spectral amplitudes.

n_scaled_fft1 = fft1 / len(freqs1)
n_scaled_fft2 = fft2 / len(freqs2)
ax = plot_amplitude_spectras(freqs1, n_scaled_fft1, freqs2, n_scaled_fft2)

Figure 2: Sine amplitude spectrum scaled by n

A nice result of this approach is that the magnitude of the amplitude spectra values at \(\pm\) the dominant frequency (\(f_0\)) are half of the amplitude of the original sine wave (\(b_0\)). If we fold the amplitude spectrum over 0, meaning we add the values of the negative frequencies to their corresponding positive frequencies, the value corresponding to \(f_0\) is exactly \(b_0\).

However, does the equivalent of Equation 3 hold if we perform numerical integration?

import numpy as np

def integrate_amp_squared(x, signal):
    """Integrate the square of the abs of signal with x coordinates."""
    dx = x[1] - x[0]  # x must be evenly sampled.
    amp_sq = np.abs(signal) ** 2
    return np.trapz(amp_sq, dx=dx)

# Check for first sine wave
fft1_energy = integrate_amp_squared(freqs1, n_scaled_fft1)
time1_energy = integrate_amp_squared(t1, sin1)
print(f"sine wave (n={len(t1)}) energy {time1_energy:.02f}")
print(f"fft n-scaled (n={len(t1)}) energy {fft1_energy:.02f}")

# Then second
fft2_energy = integrate_amp_squared(freqs2, n_scaled_fft2)
time2_energy = integrate_amp_squared(t2, sin2)
print(f"sine wave (n={len(t2)}) energy {time2_energy:.02f}")
print(f"fft n-scaled (n={len(t2)}) energy {fft2_energy:.02f}")
sine wave (n=500) energy 2.50
fft n-scaled (n=500) energy 0.10
sine wave (n=1000) energy 2.50
fft n-scaled (n=1000) energy 0.10

It doesn’t. And what about the units? As we saw above, \(A\) in Equation 4 would have the same units as \(a\).

What if, drawing inspiration from Equation 1, we simply scale the output units by the function’s sample spacing (\(dx\))? After all, the spacing and the number of samples is directly related by

\[ \frac{T}{n} = dx \tag{7}\]

dt1, dt2 = t1[1] - t1[0], t2[1] - t2[0]
dt_scaled_fft1 = fft1 * dt1
dt_scaled_fft2 = fft2 * dt2
ax = plot_amplitude_spectras(freqs1, dt_scaled_fft1, freqs2, dt_scaled_fft2)

Figure 3: Sine amplitude spectrum scalled by dx

As expected, The transforms with different numbers of points still have the same magnitude at \(\pm f_0\). Checking their energy conservation:

# Check for first sine wave
fft1_energy = integrate_amp_squared(freqs1, dt_scaled_fft1)
time1_energy = integrate_amp_squared(t1, sin1)
print(f"sine wave (n={len(t1)}) energy {time1_energy:.02f}")
print(f"fft dt_scaled (n={len(t1)}) energy {fft1_energy:.02f}")

# Then second
fft2_energy = integrate_amp_squared(freqs2, dt_scaled_fft2)
time2_energy = integrate_amp_squared(t2, sin2)
print(f"sine wave (n={len(t2)}) energy {time2_energy:.02f}")
print(f"fft dt_scaled (n={len(t2)}) energy {fft2_energy:.02f}")
sine wave (n=500) energy 2.50
fft dt_scaled (n=500) energy 2.50
sine wave (n=1000) energy 2.50
fft dt_scaled (n=1000) energy 2.50

The energy is conserved, and the expected units are produced. However, we would need to divide by the total signal duration \(T\) in order for the spectrum magnitudes to correspond to the time-domain amplitude of harmonics in the new basis (Equation 7), if that property is desirable.

Zero Frequency

What about the zero frequency representing the integral over the signal domain? It is hard to say with a zero-mean signal like the sine wave used in the previous section. However, we could use a ramp function, such that \(f(x) = x\). Using the 5 second signal from before, which forms a triangle with area of 12.5, we get the following transforms:

# get scaled fft

tri_1 = t1
tri_2 = t2

tri_freq1, tri_fft1 = get_fft_and_freqs(t1, tri_1)
tri_freq2, tri_fft2 = get_fft_and_freqs(t2, tri_2)

tri_fft1_scaled = tri_fft1 * dt1
tri_fft2_scaled = tri_fft2 * dt2

ax = plot_amplitude_spectras(tri_freq1, tri_fft1_scaled, tri_freq2, tri_fft2_scaled)

value = np.abs(tri_fft2_scaled).max()

print(f"Zero frequency amplitude {value}")
Zero frequency amplitude 12.512512512512512

Ramp amplitude spectrum scaled by dx

Both outputs have a zero frequency amplitude spectrum value very near 12.5.


Our requirements/expectations of the dft are met if we simply multiply numpy’s fft output by the sample spacing (\(dx\)). If we want the amplitude spectrum magnitudes to correspond to the amplitude of the composite harmonics, we just need to divide by the signal duration.


We also need to be careful to handle the frequency shifts if the frequency bins are to be sorted.

Patch methods dft and idft handle this for you.

Useful Resources

Sclaing of DFT: Concise overview of the DFT and its properties compared to the CFT.

xrft: A very useful resource for DASCore’s implementation.

numpy’s fft module: Details Numpy’s fft implementations.