Frequency domain

Last updated
The Fourier transform converts the function's time-domain representation, shown in red, to the function's frequency-domain representation, shown in blue. The component frequencies, spread across the frequency spectrum, are represented as peaks in the frequency domain. Fourier transform time and frequency domains (small).gif
The Fourier transform converts the function's time-domain representation, shown in red, to the function's frequency-domain representation, shown in blue. The component frequencies, spread across the frequency spectrum, are represented as peaks in the frequency domain.

In electronics, control systems engineering, and statistics, the frequency domain refers to the analysis of mathematical functions or signals with respect to frequency, rather than time. [1] Put simply, a time-domain graph shows how a signal changes over time, whereas a frequency-domain graph shows how much of the signal lies within each given frequency band over a range of frequencies. A frequency-domain representation can also include information on the phase shift that must be applied to each sinusoid in order to be able to recombine the frequency components to recover the original time signal.

Electronics physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter

Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter.

Statistics Study of the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data

Statistics is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, displaying, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, industrial, or social problem, it is conventional to begin with a statistical population or a statistical model to be studied. Populations can be diverse groups of people or objects such as "all people living in a country" or "every atom composing a crystal". Statistics deals with every aspect of data, including the planning of data collection in terms of the design of surveys and experiments. See glossary of probability and statistics.

Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second. Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.


A given function or signal can be converted between the time and frequency domains with a pair of mathematical operators called transforms. An example is the Fourier transform, which converts a time function into a sum or integral of sine waves of different frequencies, each of which represents a frequency component. The "spectrum" of frequency components is the frequency-domain representation of the signal. The inverse Fourier transform converts the frequency-domain function back to the time function. A spectrum analyzer is a tool commonly used to visualize electronic signals in the frequency domain.

In mathematics, an operator is generally a mapping that acts on elements of a space to produce elements of another space. The most common operators are linear maps, which act on vector spaces. However, when using "linear operator" instead of "linear map", mathematicians often mean actions on vector spaces of functions, which also preserve other properties, such as continuity. For example, differentiation and indefinite integration are linear operators; operators that are built from them are called differential operators, integral operators or integro-differential operators.

Fourier transform mathematical transform that expresses a mathematical function of time as a function of frequency

The Fourier transform (FT) decomposes a function of time into its constituent frequencies. This is similar to the way a musical chord can be expressed in terms of the volumes and frequencies of its constituent notes. The term Fourier transform refers to both the frequency domain representation and the mathematical operation that associates the frequency domain representation to a function of time. The Fourier transform of a function of time is itself a complex-valued function of frequency, whose magnitude (modulus) represents the amount of that frequency present in the original function, and whose argument is the phase offset of the basic sinusoid in that frequency. The Fourier transform is not limited to functions of time, but the domain of the original function is commonly referred to as the time domain. There is also an inverse Fourier transform that mathematically synthesizes the original function from its frequency domain representation.

Sine wave Mathematical curve that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation; continuous wave

A sine wave or sinusoid is a mathematical curve that describes a smooth periodic oscillation. A sine wave is a continuous wave. It is named after the function sine, of which it is the graph. It occurs often in pure and applied mathematics, as well as physics, engineering, signal processing and many other fields. Its most basic form as a function of time (t) is:

Some specialized signal processing techniques use transforms that result in a joint time–frequency domain, with the instantaneous frequency being a key link between the time domain and the frequency domain.

A time–frequency representation (TFR) is a view of a signal represented over both time and frequency. Time–frequency analysis means analysis into the time–frequency domain provided by a TFR. This is achieved by using a formulation often called "Time–Frequency Distribution", abbreviated as TFD.


One of the main reasons for using a frequency-domain representation of a problem is to simplify the mathematical analysis. For mathematical systems governed by linear differential equations, a very important class of systems with many real-world applications, converting the description of the system from the time domain to a frequency domain converts the differential equations to algebraic equations, which are much easier to solve.

In mathematics, a linear differential equation is a differential equation that is defined by a linear polynomial in the unknown function and its derivatives, that is an equation of the form

Differential equation Mathematical equation that contains derivatives of an unknown function

A differential equation is a mathematical equation that relates some function with its derivatives. In applications, the functions generally represent physical quantities, the derivatives represent their rates of change, and the differential equation defines a relationship between the two. Because such relations are extremely common, differential equations play a prominent role in many disciplines including engineering, physics, economics, and biology.

In mathematics, an algebraic equation or polynomial equation is an equation of the form

In addition, looking at a system from the point of view of frequency can often give an intuitive understanding of the qualitative behavior of the system, and a revealing scientific nomenclature has grown up to describe it, characterizing the behavior of physical systems to time varying inputs using terms such as bandwidth, frequency response, gain, phase shift, resonant frequencies, time constant, resonance width, damping factor, Q factor, harmonics, spectrum, power spectral density, eigenvalues, poles, and zeros.

Bandwidth (signal processing) difference between the upper and lower frequencies passed by a filter, communication channel, or signal spectrum

Bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower frequencies in a continuous band of frequencies. It is typically measured in hertz, and depending on context, may specifically refer to passband bandwidth or baseband bandwidth. Passband bandwidth is the difference between the upper and lower cutoff frequencies of, for example, a band-pass filter, a communication channel, or a signal spectrum. Baseband bandwidth applies to a low-pass filter or baseband signal; the bandwidth is equal to its upper cutoff frequency.

Frequency response is the quantitative measure of the output spectrum of a system or device in response to a stimulus, and is used to characterize the dynamics of the system. It is a measure of magnitude and phase of the output as a function of frequency, in comparison to the input. In simplest terms, if a sine wave is injected into a system at a given frequency, a linear system will respond at that same frequency with a certain magnitude and a certain phase angle relative to the input. Also for a linear system, doubling the amplitude of the input will double the amplitude of the output. In addition, if the system is time-invariant, then the frequency response also will not vary with time. Thus for LTI systems, the frequency response can be seen as applying the system's transfer function to a purely imaginary number argument representing the frequency of the sinusoidal excitation.

Gain (electronics) ability of a  circuit to increase the power or amplitude of a signal

In electronics, gain is a measure of the ability of a two-port circuit to increase the power or amplitude of a signal from the input to the output port by adding energy converted from some power supply to the signal. It is usually defined as the mean ratio of the signal amplitude or power at the output port to the amplitude or power at the input port. It is often expressed using the logarithmic decibel (dB) units. A gain greater than one, that is amplification, is the defining property of an active component or circuit, while a passive circuit will have a gain of less than one.

An example of a field in which frequency-domain analysis gives a better understanding than time domain is music; the theory of operation of musical instruments and the musical notation used to record and discuss pieces of music is implicitly based on the breaking down of complex sounds into their separate component frequencies (musical notes).

Music form of art using sound and silence

Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements. Music is performed with a vast range of instruments and vocal techniques ranging from singing to rapping; there are solely instrumental pieces, solely vocal pieces and pieces that combine singing and instruments. The word derives from Greek μουσική . See glossary of musical terminology.

Musical notation graphic writing of musical parameters

Music notation or musical notation is any system used to visually represent aurally perceived music played with instruments or sung by the human voice through the use of written, printed, or otherwise-produced symbols.

Musical note Sign used in musical notation, a pitched sound

In music, a note is a symbol denoting a musical sound. In English usage a note is also the sound itself.

Magnitude and phase

In using the Laplace, Z-, or Fourier transforms, a signal is described by a complex function of frequency: the component of the signal at any given frequency is given by a complex number. The modulus of the number is the amplitude of that component, and the argument is the relative phase of the wave. For example, using the Fourier transform, a sound wave, such as human speech, can be broken down into its component tones of different frequencies, each represented by a sine wave of a different amplitude and phase. The response of a system, as a function of frequency, can also be described by a complex function. In many applications, phase information is not important. By discarding the phase information, it is possible to simplify the information in a frequency-domain representation to generate a frequency spectrum or spectral density. A spectrum analyzer is a device that displays the spectrum, while the time-domain signal can be seen on an oscilloscope.


Although "the" frequency domain is spoken of in the singular, there are a number of different mathematical transforms which are used to analyze time-domain functions and are referred to as "frequency domain" methods. These are the most common transforms, and the fields in which they are used:

More generally, one can speak of the transform domain with respect to any transform. The above transforms can be interpreted as capturing some form of frequency, and hence the transform domain is referred to as a frequency domain.

Discrete frequency domain

The Fourier transform of a periodic signal has energy only at a base frequency and its harmonics. Another way of saying this is that a periodic signal can be analyzed using a discrete frequency domain. Dually, a discrete-time signal gives rise to a periodic frequency spectrum. Combining these two, if we start with a time signal which is both discrete and periodic, we get a frequency spectrum which is also both discrete and periodic. This is the usual context for a discrete Fourier transform.

History of term

The use of the terms "frequency domain" and "time domain" arose in communication engineering in the 1950s and early 1960s, with "frequency domain" appearing in 1953. [2] See time domain: origin of term for details. [3]

See also

Related Research Articles

Digital signal processing (DSP) is the use of digital processing, such as by computers or more specialized digital signal processors, to perform a wide variety of signal processing operations. The signals processed in this manner are a sequence of numbers that represent samples of a continuous variable in a domain such as time, space, or frequency.

Fourier analysis Branch of mathematics regarding periodic and continuous signals

In mathematics, Fourier analysis is the study of the way general functions may be represented or approximated by sums of simpler trigonometric functions. Fourier analysis grew from the study of Fourier series, and is named after Joseph Fourier, who showed that representing a function as a sum of trigonometric functions greatly simplifies the study of heat transfer.

A cepstrum is the result of taking the inverse Fourier transform (IFT) of the logarithm of the estimated spectrum of a signal. It may be pronounced in the two ways given, the second having the advantage of avoiding confusion with "kepstrum", which also exists. There is a complex cepstrum, a real cepstrum, a power cepstrum, and a phase cepstrum. The power cepstrum in particular has applications in the analysis of human speech.

Wavelet function for integral Fourier-like transform

A wavelet is a wave-like oscillation with an amplitude that begins at zero, increases, and then decreases back to zero. It can typically be visualized as a "brief oscillation" like one recorded by a seismograph or heart monitor. Generally, wavelets are intentionally crafted to have specific properties that make them useful for signal processing. Using a "reverse, shift, multiply and integrate" technique called convolution, wavelets can be combined with known portions of a damaged signal to extract information from the unknown portions.

Spectral density Relative importance of certain frequencies in a composite signal

The power spectrum of a time series describes the distribution of power into frequency components composing that signal. According to Fourier analysis, any physical signal can be decomposed into a number of discrete frequencies, or a spectrum of frequencies over a continuous range. The statistical average of a certain signal or sort of signal as analyzed in terms of its frequency content, is called its spectrum.

In mathematics, deconvolution is an algorithm-based process used to reverse the effects of convolution on recorded data. The concept of deconvolution is widely used in the techniques of signal processing and image processing. Because these techniques are in turn widely used in many scientific and engineering disciplines, deconvolution finds many applications.

Fourier optics is the study of classical optics using Fourier transforms (FTs), in which the waveform being considered is regarded as made up of a combination, or superposition, of plane waves. It has some parallels to the Huygens–Fresnel principle, in which the wavefront is regarded as being made up of a combination of spherical wavefronts whose sum is the wavefront being studied. A key difference is that Fourier optics considers the plane waves to be natural modes of the propagation medium, as opposed to Huygens–Fresnel, where the spherical waves originate in the physical medium.

Analog signal processing is a type of signal processing conducted on continuous analog signals by some analog means. "Analog" indicates something that is mathematically represented as a set of continuous values. This differs from "digital" which uses a series of discrete quantities to represent signal. Analog values are typically represented as a voltage, electric current, or electric charge around components in the electronic devices. An error or noise affecting such physical quantities will result in a corresponding error in the signals represented by such physical quantities.

Continuous wavelet transform

In mathematics, the continuous wavelet transform (CWT) is a formal tool that provides an overcomplete representation of a signal by letting the translation and scale parameter of the wavelets vary continuously.

In signal processing, time–frequency analysis comprises those techniques that study a signal in both the time and frequency domains simultaneously, using various time–frequency representations. Rather than viewing a 1-dimensional signal and some transform, time–frequency analysis studies a two-dimensional signal – a function whose domain is the two-dimensional real plane, obtained from the signal via a time–frequency transform.

Stransform as a time–frequency distribution was developed in 1994 for analyzing geophysics data. In this way, the S transform is a generalization of the short-time Fourier transform (STFT), extending the continuous wavelet transform and overcoming some of its disadvantages. For one, modulation sinusoids are fixed with respect to the time axis; this localizes the scalable Gaussian window dilations and translations in S transform. Moreover, the S transform doesn't have a cross-term problem and yields a better signal clarity than Gabor transform. However, the S transform has its own disadvantages: the clarity is worse than Wigner distribution function and Cohen's class distribution function.

In mathematics and engineering, the s-plane is the complex plane on which Laplace transforms are graphed. It is a mathematical domain where, instead of viewing processes in the time domain modeled with time-based functions, they are viewed as equations in the frequency domain. It is used as a graphical analysis tool in engineering and physics.

Wavelet transform mathematical technique used in data compression and analysis

In mathematics, a wavelet series is a representation of a square-integrable function by a certain orthonormal series generated by a wavelet. This article provides a formal, mathematical definition of an orthonormal wavelet and of the integral wavelet transform.

Education and training of electrical and electronics engineers

Both electrical and electronics engineers typically possess an academic degree with a major in electrical/ electronics engineering. The length of study for such a degree is usually three or four years and the completed degree may be designated as a Bachelor of Engineering, Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Applied Science depending upon the university.

Geophysical survey is the systematic collection of geophysical data for spatial studies. Detection and analysis of the geophysical signals forms the core of Geophysical signal processing. The magnetic and gravitational fields emanating from the Earth's interior hold essential information concerning seismic activities and the internal structure. Hence, detection and analysis of the electric and Magnetic fields is very crucial. As the Electromagnetic and gravitational waves are multi-dimensional signals, all the 1-D transformation techniques can be extended for the analysis of these signals as well. Hence this article also discusses multi-dimensional signal processing techniques.

In statistical signal processing, the goal of spectral density estimation (SDE) is to estimate the spectral density of a random signal from a sequence of time samples of the signal. Intuitively speaking, the spectral density characterizes the frequency content of the signal. One purpose of estimating the spectral density is to detect any periodicities in the data, by observing peaks at the frequencies corresponding to these periodicities.

A Fourier series is a representation of a function in terms of a summation of an infinite number of harmonically-related sinusoids with different amplitudes and phases. The amplitude and phase of a sinusoid can be combined into a single complex number, called a Fourier coefficient. The Fourier series is a periodic function. So it cannot represent any arbitrary function. It can represent either:


  1. Broughton, S. A.; Bryan, K. (2008). Discrete Fourier Analysis and Wavelets: Applications to Signal and Image Processing. New York: Wiley. p. 72.
  2. Zadeh, L. A. (1953), "Theory of Filtering", Journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, 1: 35–51, doi:10.1137/0101003
  3. Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics (T), Jeff Miller, March 25, 2009

Further reading