Spectral centroid

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The spectral centroid is a measure used in digital signal processing to characterise a spectrum. It indicates where the center of mass of the spectrum is located. Perceptually, it has a robust connection with the impression of brightness of a sound.[1] It is sometimes called center of spectral mass.[2]


It is calculated as the weighted mean of the frequencies present in the signal, determined using a Fourier transform, with their magnitudes as the weights:[3]

where x(n) represents the weighted frequency value, or magnitude, of bin number n, and f(n) represents the center frequency of that bin.

Alternative usage[edit]

Some people use "spectral centroid" to refer to the median of the spectrum. This is a different statistic, the difference being essentially the same as the difference between the unweighted median and mean statistics. Since both are measures of central tendency, in some situations they will exhibit some similarity of behaviour. But since typical audio spectra are not normally distributed, the two measures will often give strongly different values. Grey and Gordon in 1978 found the mean a better fit than the median.[1]


Because the spectral centroid is a good predictor of the "brightness" of a sound,[1] it is widely used in digital audio and music processing as an automatic measure of musical timbre.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Grey, John M.; Gordon, John W. (1978). "Perceptual effects of spectral modifications on musical timbres". The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Acoustical Society of America (ASA). 63 (5): 1493–1500. doi:10.1121/1.381843. ISSN 0001-4966.
  2. ^ Pulavarti, Surya V. S. R. K.; Maguire, Jack B.; Yuen, Shirley; Harrison, Joseph S.; Griffin, Jermel; Premkumar, Lakshmanane; Esposito, Edward A.; Makhatadze, George I.; Garcia, Angel E.; Weiss, Thomas M.; Snell, Edward H. (2022-02-17). "From Protein Design to the Energy Landscape of a Cold Unfolding Protein". The Journal of Physical Chemistry B. 126 (6): 1212–1231. doi:10.1021/acs.jpcb.1c10750. ISSN 1520-6106.
  3. ^ A Large Set of Audio Features for Sound Description - technical report published by IRCAM in 2003. Section 6.1.1 describes the spectral centroid.
  4. ^ Schubert, Emery; Wolfe, Joe; Tarnopolsky, Alex (2004). "Spectral centroid and timbre in complex, multiple instrumental textures" (PDF). Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Music Perception & Cognition, North Western University, Illinois. International Conference on Music Perception & Cognition. Lipscomb, S.D.; Ashley, R.; Gjerdingen, R. O.; Webster, P. (Eds.). Sydney, Australia: School of Music and Music Education; School of Physics, University of New South Wales. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-10.