Sampling (signal processing)

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Signal sampling representation. The continuous signal is represented with a green colored line while the discrete samples are indicated by the blue vertical lines.

In signal processing, sampling is the reduction of a continuous signal to a discrete signal. A common example is the conversion of a sound wave (a continuous signal) to a sequence of samples (a discrete-time signal).

A sample refers to a value or set of values at a point in time and/or space.

A sampler is a subsystem or operation that extracts samples from a continuous signal.

A theoretical ideal sampler produces samples equivalent to the instantaneous value of the continuous signal at the desired points.


See also: Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem

Sampling can be done for functions varying in space, time, or any other dimension, and similar results are obtained in two or more dimensions.

For functions that vary with time, let s(t) be a continuous function (or "signal") to be sampled, and let sampling be performed by measuring the value of the continuous function every T seconds, which is called the sampling interval.[1]  Then the sampled function is given by the sequence:

s(nT),   for integer values of n.

The sampling frequency or sampling rate, fs, is defined as the number of samples obtained in one second (samples per second), thus fs = 1/T.

Reconstructing a continuous function from samples is done by interpolation algorithms. The Whittaker–Shannon interpolation formula is mathematically equivalent to an ideal lowpass filter whose input is a sequence of Dirac delta functions that are modulated (multiplied) by the sample values. When the time interval between adjacent samples is a constant (T), the sequence of delta functions is called a Dirac comb. Mathematically, the modulated Dirac comb is equivalent to the product of the comb function with s(t). That purely mathematical abstraction is sometimes referred to as impulse sampling.[2]

Most sampled signals are not simply stored and reconstructed. But the fidelity of a theoretical reconstruction is a customary measure of the effectiveness of sampling. That fidelity is reduced when s(t) contains frequency components higher than fs/2 Hz, which is known as the Nyquist frequency of the sampler. Therefore s(t) is usually the output of a lowpass filter, functionally known as an anti-aliasing filter. Without an anti-aliasing filter, frequencies higher than the Nyquist frequency will influence the samples in a way that is misinterpreted by the interpolation process.[3] For details, see Aliasing.

Practical considerations[edit]

In practice, the continuous signal is sampled using an analog-to-digital converter (ADC), a device with various physical limitations. This results in deviations from the theoretically perfect reconstruction, collectively referred to as distortion.

Various types of distortion can occur, including:

  • Aliasing. Some amount of aliasing is inevitable because only theoretical, infinitely long, functions can have no frequency content above the Nyquist frequency. Aliasing can be made arbitrarily small by using a sufficiently large order of the anti-aliasing filter.
  • Aperture error results from the fact that the sample is obtained as a time average within a sampling region, rather than just being equal to the signal value at the sampling instant. In a capacitor-based sample and hold circuit,aperture error is introduced because the capacitor cannot instantly change voltage thus requiring the sample to have non-zero width.
  • Jitter or deviation from the precise sample timing intervals.
  • Noise, including thermal sensor noise, analog circuit noise, etc.
  • Slew rate limit error, caused by the inability of the ADC input value to change sufficiently rapidly.
  • Quantization as a consequence of the finite precision of words that represent the converted values.
  • Error due to other non-linear effects of the mapping of input voltage to converted output value (in addition to the effects of quantization).

Although the use of oversampling can completely eliminate aperture error and aliasing by shifting them out of the pass band, this technique cannot be practically used above a few GHz, and maybe prohibitively expensive at much lower frequencies. Furthermore, while oversampling can reduce quantization error and non-linearity, it cannot eliminate these entirely. Consequently, practical ADCs at audio frequencies typically do not exhibit aliasing, aperture error, and are not limited by quantization error. Instead, analog noise dominates. At RF and microwave frequencies where oversampling is impractical and filters are expensive, aperture error, quantization error and aliasing can be significant limitations.

Jitter, noise, and quantization are often analyzed by modeling them as random errors added to the sample values. Integration and zero-order hold effects can be analyzed as a form of low-pass filtering. The non-linearities of either ADC or DAC are analyzed by replacing the ideal linear function mapping with a proposed nonlinear function.


Audio sampling[edit]

Digital audio uses pulse-code modulation and digital signals for sound reproduction. This includes analog-to-digital conversion (ADC), digital-to-analog conversion (DAC), storage, and transmission. In effect, the system commonly referred to as digital is in fact a discrete-time, discrete-level analog of a previous electrical analog. While modern systems can be quite subtle in their methods, the primary usefulness of a digital system is the ability to store, retrieve and transmit signals without any loss of quality.

Sampling rate[edit]

When it is necessary to capture audio covering the entire 20–20,000 Hz range of human hearing,[4]  such as when recording music or many types of acoustic events, audio waveforms are typically sampled at 44.1 kHz (CD), 48 kHz (professional audio), 88.2 kHz, or 96 kHz.[5]  The approximately double-rate requirement is a consequence of the Nyquist theorem. Sampling rates higher than about 50 kHz to 60 kHz cannot supply more usable information for human listeners. Early professional audio equipment manufacturers chose sampling rates in the region of 50 kHz for this reason.

There has been an industry trend towards sampling rates well beyond the basic requirements: such as 96 kHz and even 192 kHz[6]  This is in contrast with laboratory experiments, which have failed to show that ultrasonic frequencies are audible to human observers; however in some cases ultrasonic sounds do interact with and modulate the audible part of the frequency spectrum (intermodulation distortion).[7]  It is noteworthy that intermodulation distortion is not present in the live audio and so it represents an artificial coloration to the live sound.[8]  One advantage of higher sampling rates is that they can relax the low-pass filter design requirements for ADCs and DACs, but with modern oversampling sigma-delta converters this advantage is less important.

The Audio Engineering Society recommends 48 kHz sample rate for most applications but gives recognition to 44.1 kHz for Compact Disc and other consumer uses, 32 kHz for transmission-related application, and 96 kHz for higher bandwidth or relaxed anti-aliasing filtering.[9]

A more complete list of common audio sample rates is:

Sampling rate Use
8,000 Hz Telephone and encrypted walkie-talkie, wireless intercom[10][11] and wireless microphone[12] transmission; adequate for human speech but without sibilance; ess sounds like eff (/s/, /f/).
11,025 Hz One quarter the sampling rate of audio CDs; used for lower-quality PCM, MPEG audio and for audio analysis of subwoofer bandpasses.[citation needed]
16,000 Hz Wideband frequency extension over standard telephone narrowband 8,000 Hz. Used in most modern VoIP and VVoIP communication products.[13]
22,050 Hz One half the sampling rate of audio CDs; used for lower-quality PCM and MPEG audio and for audio analysis of low frequency energy. Suitable for digitizing early 20th century audio formats such as 78s.[14]
32,000 Hz miniDV digital video camcorder, video tapes with extra channels of audio (e.g. DVCAM with 4 Channels of audio), DAT (LP mode), Germany's Digitales Satellitenradio, NICAM digital audio, used alongside analogue television sound in some countries. High-quality digital wireless microphones.[15] Suitable for digitizing FM radio.[citation needed]
44,056 Hz Used by digital audio locked to NTSC color video signals (245 lines by 3 samples by 59.94 fields per second = 29.97 frames per second).
44,100 Hz Audio CD, also most commonly used with MPEG-1 audio (VCD, SVCD, MP3). Originally chosen by Sony because it could be recorded on modified video equipment running at either 25 frames per second (PAL) or 30 frame/s (using an NTSC monochrome video recorder) and cover the 20 kHz bandwidth thought necessary to match professional analog recording equipment of the time. A PCM adaptor would fit digital audio samples into the analog video channel of, for example, PAL video tapes using 588 lines by 3 samples by 25 frames per second.
47,250 Hz world's first commercial PCM sound recorder by Nippon Columbia (Denon)
48,000 Hz The standard audio sampling rate used by professional digital video equipment such as tape recorders, video servers, vision mixers and so on. This rate was chosen because it could deliver a 22 kHz frequency response and work with 29.97 frames per second NTSC video - as well as 25 frame/s, 30 frame/s and 24 frame/s systems. With 29.97 frame/s systems it is necessary to handle 1601.6 audio samples per frame delivering an integer number of audio samples only every fifth video frame.[9]  Also used for sound with consumer video formats like DV, digital TV, DVD, and films. The professional Serial Digital Interface (SDI) and High-definition Serial Digital Interface (HD-SDI) used to connect broadcast television equipment together uses this audio sampling frequency. Most professional audio gear uses 48 kHz sampling, including mixing consoles, and digital recording devices.
50,000 Hz First commercial digital audio recorders from the late 70s from 3M and Soundstream.
50,400 Hz Sampling rate used by the Mitsubishi X-80 digital audio recorder.
88,200 Hz Sampling rate used by some professional recording equipment when the destination is CD (multiples of 44,100 Hz). Some pro audio gear uses (or is able to select) 88.2 kHz sampling, including mixers, EQs, compressors, reverb, crossovers and recording devices.
96,000 Hz DVD-Audio, some LPCM DVD tracks, BD-ROM (Blu-ray Disc) audio tracks, HD DVD (High-Definition DVD) audio tracks. Some professional recording and production equipment is able to select 96 kHz sampling. This sampling frequency is twice the 48 kHz standard commonly used with audio on professional equipment.
176,400 Hz Sampling rate used by HDCD recorders and other professional applications for CD production.
192,000 Hz DVD-Audio, some LPCM DVD tracks, BD-ROM (Blu-ray Disc) audio tracks, and HD DVD (High-Definition DVD) audio tracks, High-Definition audio recording devices and audio editing software. This sampling frequency is four times the 48 kHz standard commonly used with audio on professional video equipment.
352,800 Hz Digital eXtreme Definition, used for recording and editing Super Audio CDs, as 1-bit DSD is not suited for editing. Eight times the frequency of 44.1 kHz.
2,822,400 Hz SACD, 1-bit delta-sigma modulation process known as Direct Stream Digital, co-developed by Sony and Philips.
5,644,800 Hz Double-Rate DSD, 1-bit Direct Stream Digital at 2x the rate of the SACD. Used in some professional DSD recorders.

Bit depth (quantization)[edit]

Audio is typically recorded at 8-, 16-, and 20-bit depth, which yield a theoretical maximum Signal-to-quantization-noise ratio (SQNR) for a pure sine wave of, approximately, 49.93 dB, 98.09 dB and 122.17 dB.[16] CD quality audio is recorded at 16-bit. Thermal noise limits the true number of bits that can be used in quantization. Few analog systems have signal to noise ratios (SNR) exceeding 120 dB. However, digital signal processing operations can have very high dynamic range, consequently it is common to perform mixing and mastering operations at 32-bit precision and then convert to 16 or 24 bit for distribution.

Speech sampling[edit]

Speech signals, i.e., signals intended to carry only human speech, can usually be sampled at a much lower rate. For most phonemes, almost all of the energy is contained in the 5Hz-4 kHz range, allowing a sampling rate of 8 kHz. This is the sampling rate used by nearly all telephony systems, which use the G.711 sampling and quantization specifications.

Video sampling[edit]

Standard-definition television (SDTV) uses either 720 by 480 pixels (US NTSC 525-line) or 704 by 576 pixels (UK PAL 625-line) for the visible picture area.

High-definition television (HDTV) uses 720p (progressive), 1080i (interlaced), and 1080p (progressive, also known as Full-HD).

In digital video, the temporal sampling rate is defined the frame rate – or rather the field rate – rather than the notional pixel clock. The image sampling frequency is the repetition rate of the sensor integration period. Since the integration period may be significantly shorter than the time between repetitions, the sampling frequency can be different from the inverse of the sample time:

  • 50 Hz – PAL video
  • 60 / 1.001 Hz ~= 59.94 Hz – NTSC video

Video digital-to-analog converters operate in the megahertz range (from ~3 MHz for low quality composite video scalers in early games consoles, to 250 MHz or more for the highest-resolution VGA output).

When analog video is converted to digital video, a different sampling process occurs, this time at the pixel frequency, corresponding to a spatial sampling rate along scan lines. A common pixel sampling rate is:

Spatial sampling in the other direction is determined by the spacing of scan lines in the raster. The sampling rates and resolutions in both spatial directions can be measured in units of lines per picture height.

Spatial aliasing of high-frequency luma or chroma video components shows up as a moiré pattern.

The top 2 graphs depict Fourier transforms of 2 different functions that produce the same results when sampled at a particular rate. The baseband function is sampled faster than its Nyquist rate, and the bandpass function is undersampled, effectively converting it to baseband. The lower graphs indicate how identical spectral results are created by the aliases of the sampling process.

3D sampling[edit]


When a bandpass signal is sampled slower than its Nyquist rate, the samples are indistinguishable from samples of a low-frequency alias of the high-frequency signal. That is often done purposefully in such a way that the lowest-frequency alias satisfies the Nyquist criterion, because the bandpass signal is still uniquely represented and recoverable. Such undersampling is also known as bandpass sampling, harmonic sampling, IF sampling, and direct IF to digital conversion.[17]


Oversampling is used in most modern analog-to-digital converters to reduce the distortion introduced by practical digital-to-analog converters, such as a zero-order hold instead of idealizations like the Whittaker–Shannon interpolation formula.[18]

Complex sampling[edit]

Complex sampling (I/Q sampling) refers to the simultaneous sampling of two different, but related, waveforms, resulting in pairs of samples that are subsequently treated as complex numbers.[note 1]  When one waveform, \hat s(t),  is the Hilbert transform of the other waveform, s(t),\,  the complex-valued function,  s_a(t)\ \stackrel{\text{def}}{=}\ s(t) + j\cdot \hat s(t),  is called an analytic signal,  whose Fourier transform is zero for all negative values of frequency. In that case, the Nyquist rate for a waveform with no frequencies ≥ B can be reduced to just B (complex samples/sec), instead of 2B (real samples/sec).[note 2] More apparently, the equivalent baseband waveform,  s_a(t)\cdot e^{-j 2\pi \frac{B}{2} t},  also has a Nyquist rate of B, because all of its non-zero frequency content is shifted into the interval [-B/2, B/2).

Although complex-valued samples can be obtained as described above, they are also created by manipulating samples of a real-valued waveform. For instance, the equivalent baseband waveform can be created without explicitly computing \hat s(t),  by processing the product sequence, \left [s(nT)\cdot e^{-j 2 \pi \frac{B}{2}Tn}\right ],[note 3]  through a digital lowpass filter whose cutoff frequency is B/2.[note 4] Computing only every other sample of the output sequence reduces the sample-rate commensurate with the reduced Nyquist rate. The result is half as many complex-valued samples as the original number of real samples. No information is lost, and the original s(t) waveform can be recovered, if necessary.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sample-pairs are also sometimes viewed as points on a constellation diagram.
  2. ^ When the complex sample-rate is B, a frequency component at 0.6 B, for instance, will have an alias at −0.4 B, which is unambiguous because of the constraint that the pre-sampled signal was analytic. Also see Aliasing#Complex_sinusoids
  3. ^ When s(t) is sampled at the Nyquist frequency (1/T = 2B), the product sequence simplifies to \left [s(nT)\cdot (-j)^n\right ].
  4. ^ The sequence of complex numbers is convolved with the impulse response of a filter with real-valued coefficients. That is equivalent to separately filtering the sequences of real parts and imaginary parts and reforming complex pairs at the outputs.


  1. ^ Martin H. Weik (1996). Communications Standard Dictionary. Springer. ISBN 0412083914. 
  2. ^ Rao, R. Signals and Systems. Prentice-Hall Of India Pvt. Limited. ISBN 9788120338593. 
  3. ^ C. E. Shannon, "Communication in the presence of noise", Proc. Institute of Radio Engineers, vol. 37, no.1, pp. 10–21, Jan. 1949. Reprint as classic paper in: Proc. IEEE, Vol. 86, No. 2, (Feb 1998)
  4. ^ "Frequency Range of Human Hearing". The Physics Factbook. 
  5. ^ Self, Douglas (2012). Audio Engineering Explained. Taylor & Francis US. pp. 200, 446. ISBN 0240812735. 
  6. ^ "Digital Pro Sound". Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  7. ^ Colletti, Justin (February 4, 2013). "The Science of Sample Rates (When Higher Is Better—And When It Isn’t)". Trust Me I'm A Scientist. Retrieved February 6, 2013. 
  8. ^ David Griesinger. "Perception of mid frequency and high frequency intermodulation distortion in loudspeakers, and its relationship to high-definition audio" (Powerpoint presentation). Archived from the original on 2008-05-01. 
  9. ^ a b AES5-2008: AES recommended practice for professional digital audio - Preferred sampling frequencies for applications employing pulse-code modulation, Audio Engineering Society, 2008, retrieved 2010-01-18 
  10. ^ HME DX200 encrypted wireless intercom[dead link]
  11. ^ "Telex BTR-1 encrypted wireless intercom". Retrieved 2011-01-18. 
  12. ^ "Telex SAFE-1000 wireless microphone". Retrieved 2011-01-18. 
  13. ^[unreliable source?]
  14. ^ "The restoration procedure - part 1". Archived from the original on 2009-09-14. Retrieved 2011-01-18. "For most records a sample rate of 22050 in stereo is adequate. An exception is likely to be recordings made in the second half of the century, which may need a sample rate of 44100." 
  15. ^ "Zaxcom digital wireless transmitters". Retrieved 2011-01-18. 
  16. ^ "MT-001: Taking the Mystery out of the Infamous Formula, "SNR=6.02N + 1.76dB," and Why You Should Care". 
  17. ^ Walt Kester (2003). Mixed-signal and DSP design techniques. Newnes. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-7506-7611-3. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  18. ^ William Morris Hartmann (1997). Signals, Sound, and Sensation. Springer. ISBN 1563962837. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Matt Pharr and Greg Humphreys, Physically Based Rendering: From Theory to Implementation, Morgan Kaufmann, July 2004. ISBN 0-12-553180-X. The chapter on sampling (available online) is nicely written with diagrams, core theory and code sample.

External links[edit]