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Zero-Phase Zero Padding

The previous zero-padding example used the causal Hamming window, and the appended zeros all went to the right of the window in the FFT input buffer (see Fig.2.4a). When using zero-phase FFT windows (usually the best choice), the zero-padding goes in the middle of the FFT buffer, as we now illustrate.

We look at zero-phase zero-padding using a Blackman window3.3.1) which has good, though suboptimal, characteristics for audio work.3.11

Figure 2.6a shows a windowed segment of some sinusoidal data, with the window also shown as an envelope. Figure 2.6b shows the same data loaded into an FFT input buffer with a factor of 2 zero-phase zero padding. Note that all time is ``modulo $ N$ '' for a length $ N$ FFT. As a result, negative times $ -n$ map to $ N-n$ in the FFT input buffer.

Figure 2.6: (a) Blackman window overlaid with windowed data. b) Zero-padded windowed data loaded into the FFT input buffer.

Figure 2.7a shows the result of performing an FFT on the data of Fig.2.6b. Since frequency indices are also modulo $ N$ , the negative-frequency bins appear in the right half of the buffer. Figure 2.6b shows the same data ``rotated'' so that bin number is in order of physical frequency from $ -f_s/2$ to $ f_s/2$ . If $ k$ is the bin number, then the frequency in Hz is given by $ k
f_s/N$ , where $ f_s$ denotes the sampling rate and $ N$ is the FFT size.

Figure 2.7: (a) FFT magnitude data, as returned by the FFT. (b) FFT magnitude spectrum ``rotated'' to a more ``physical'' frequency axis in bin numbers.

The Matlab script for creating Figures 2.6 and 2.7 is listed in in §F.1.1.

Matlab/Octave fftshift utility

Matlab and Octave have a simple utility called fftshift that performs this bin rotation. Consider the following example:

fftshift([1 2 3 4])
ans =
  3  4  1  2
If the vector [1 2 3 4] is the output of a length 4 FFT, then the first element (1) is the dc term, and the third element (3) is the point at half the sampling rate ($ f_s/2$ ), which can be taken to be either plus or minus $ f_s/2$ since they are the same point on the unit circle in the $ z$ plane. Elements 2 and 4 are plus and minus $ f_s/4$ , respectively. After fftshift, element (3) is first, which indicates that both Matlab and Octave regard the spectral sample at half the sampling rate as a negative frequency. The next element is 4, corresponding to frequency $ -f_s/4$ , followed by dc and $ f_s/4$ .

Another reasonable result would be fftshift([1 2 3 4]) == [4 1 2 3], which defines half the sampling rate as a positive frequency. However, giving $ f_s/2$ to the negative frequencies balances giving dc to the positive frequencies, and the number of samples on both sides is then the same. For an odd-length DFT, there is no point at $ \pm f_s/2$ , so the result

fftshift([1 2 3])
ans =
  3  1  2
is the only reasonable answer, corresponding to frequencies $ -f_s/3,
0, f_s/3$ , respectively.

Index Ranges for Zero-Phase Zero-Padding

Having looked at zero-phase zero-padding ``pictorially'' in matlab buffers, let's now specify the index-ranges mathematically. Denote the window length by $ M$ (an odd integer) and the FFT length by $ N>M$ (a power of 2). Then the windowed data will occupy indices 0 to $ (M-1)/2$ (positive-time segment), and $ N-(M-1)/2$ to $ N-1$ (negative-time segment). Here we are assuming a 0-based indexing scheme as used in C or C++. We add 1 to all indices for matlab indexing to obtain 1:(M-1)/2+1 and N-(M-1)/2+1:N, respectively. The zero-padding zeros go in between these ranges, i.e., from $ (M-1)/2 + 1$ to $ N-(M-1)/2 - 1$ .


To summarize, zero-padding is used for

  • padding out to the next higher power of 2 so a Cooley-Tukey FFT can be used with any window length,
  • improving the quality of spectral displays, and
  • oversampling spectral peaks so that some simple final interpolation will be accurate.
In addition, we will learn in Chapter 8 that zero-padding is also necessary to accommodate spectral modifications in the short-time Fourier transform (STFT). This is because spectral modifications cause the time-domain signal to lengthen in time, and without sufficient zero-padding to accommodate it, there will be time aliasing in the reconstruction of the signal from the modified FFTs.

Some examples of interpolated spectral display by means of zero-padding may be seen in §3.4.

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Zero Padding in the Time Domain