# What Is the Best First Order IIR (AR Filter) Approximation to a Moving Average Filter (FIR Filter)?

Assume the following first order IIR Filter:

$$y[n] = \alpha x[n] + (1 - \alpha) y[n - 1]$$

How can I choose the parameter $\alpha$ s.t. the IIR approximates as good as possible the FIR which is the arithmetic mean of the last $k$ samples:

$$z[n] = \frac{1}{k}x[n] + \frac{1}{k}x[n-1] + \ldots + \frac{1}{k}x[n-k+1]$$

Where $n \in [k, \infty)$, meaning the input for the IIR might be longer than $k$ and yet I'd like to have the best approximation of the mean of last $k$ inputs.

I know the IIR has infinite impulse response, hence I'm looking for the best approximation. I'd be happy for analytic solution whether it is for ${L}_{2}$ or ${L}_{1}$ cost function.

How could this optimization problems can be solved given only 1st order IIR.

Thanks.

• Does it have to follow $y[n] = \alpha x[n] + (1 - \alpha) y[n - 1]$ precisely]? – Phonon Oct 6 '11 at 13:32
• This is bound to become a very poor approximation. Can't you afford anything more than a first-order IIR? – leftaroundabout Oct 6 '11 at 13:42
• You might want to edit your question so that you don't use $y[n]$ to mean two different things, e.g. the second displayed equation could read $z[n] = \frac{1}{k}x[n] + \cdots + \frac{1}{k}x[n-k+1]$, and you might want to say what exactly is your criterion of "as good as possible" e.g. do you want $\vert y[n] - z[n]\vert$ to be as small as possible for all $n$, or $\vert y[n] - z[n]\vert^2$ to be as small as possible for all $n$. – Dilip Sarwate Oct 6 '11 at 13:45
• @Phonon, yes, it must be a first order IIR. The criteria is simple, the result $y[n]$ should be as close as possible to the mean of the last $k$ inputs to the system where $n \in [k, \inf]$. I would be happy to see the result for both cases. Though I assume analytic solution is only viable for ${|y[n]−z[n]|}^{2}$. – Royi Oct 6 '11 at 13:53

There is no analytic solution for $\alpha$ being a scalar (I think). Here is a script that gives you $\alpha$ for a given $K$. If you need it online you can build a LUT. The script finds the solution that minimizes

$$\int_{0}^{\pi} dw \quad \left|H_1(jw) - H_2(jw)\right|^2$$

where $H_1$ is the FIR frequency response and $H_2$ is the IIR frequency response.

You did not specify any range for K. But I just want to make it clear that the following system is equivalent to your mean filter and has the same computational complexity and your first order IIR!

$H(z) = \frac{1}{K} \frac{1 - z^{-K}}{1-z^{-1}}$

function a = find_a(K)

w = 0.0001:0.001:pi;
as = [-1:0.001:-0.001  0.001:0.001:1];

E = zeros(size(as));
for idx=1:length(as)
fJ = J(w,as(idx),K);
E(idx) = sum(fJ);
end

[Emin, indx] = min(E)
a = as(indx)

function f = J(w,a,K)
num = 2*(2-a)*(1-cos(w*K)) + 2*(cos(w*(K-1)) - cos(w)) - 2*(1-a)*(cos(w)-cos(w*(K+1)));
den = (2-a)^2 + 1 + (1-a)^2 + 2*(1-a)*cos(2*w) - 2*(2-a)^2*cos(w);
f = -(a/K)*num./den;
f = f+(1/K^2)*(1-cos(w*K))./(1-cos(w))+a^2./(1+(1-a)^2-2*(1-a)*cos(w));
end

end

• @Drazick It is relative straight forward. The two expressions for the IIR and FIR is plugged into the integral. The key to finding the alternative expression for the FIR filter is to recognize the geometric progression/series. You find all the details here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geometric_progression#Geometric_series. In the script, the J function calculates the expression under the integral sign. – niaren Oct 8 '11 at 19:07
• @niaren I know this is an old post so if you can remember: how is your function 'f' derived? I've coded a similar thing but using the complex transfer functions for FIR (H1) and IIR (H2) and then doing sum(abs(H1 - H2)**2). I've compared this with your sum(fj), but get different resulting outputs. Thought I would ask before ploughing through the math. – Dom Jun 7 '13 at 13:47
• @Dom That IS a long time ago and I really can't remember. I guess I just went through the process of working out $[H_1(j\omega)-H_2(j\omega)][H_1(-j\omega)-H_2(-j\omega)]$. I can't remember how I verified the expression. I don't mind going through the math again... – niaren Jun 7 '13 at 19:22
• @niaren Hi, I tried to derive your expression but got stuck when adding up the complex fractions. I made a mistake in my code...your function seems to give results that are proportional to sum(abs(H1 - H2)**2), indicating it is correct. – Dom Jun 9 '13 at 13:28

OK, let's try to derive the best: $$\begin{array}{lcl} y[n] &=& \alpha x[n] + (1 - \alpha) y[n - 1] \\ &=& \alpha x[n] + (1 - \alpha) \alpha x[n-1] + (1 - \alpha)^2 y[n - 2]\\ &=& \alpha x[n] + (1 - \alpha) \alpha x[n-1] + (1 - \alpha)^2 \alpha x[n-2] + (1 - \alpha)^3 y[n - 3]\\ \end{array}$$ so that the coefficient of $x[n-m]$ is $\alpha(1-\alpha)^m$.

The best mean-square approximation will minimize: $$\begin{array}{lcl} J(\alpha) &=& \sum_{m=0}^{k-1} (\alpha(1-\alpha)^m - \frac{1}{k})^2 + \sum_{m=k}^\infty \alpha^2(1-\alpha)^{2m}\\ &=& \sum_{m=0}^{k-1} \left(\alpha^2(1-\alpha)^{2m} - \frac{2}{k}\alpha(1-\alpha)^m + \frac{1}{k^2}\right) + \alpha^2 (1-\alpha)^{2k} \sum_{m=0}^\infty (1-\alpha)^{2m} \\ &=& \alpha^2\frac{1- (1-\alpha)^{2k}}{1 - (1-\alpha)^2} + \frac{2\alpha}{k} \frac{1 - (1 - \alpha)^k}{1 - (1 - \alpha)} + \frac{\alpha^2(1-\alpha)^{2k}}{1 - (1 - \alpha)^2}+ \frac{1}{k}\\ &=& \frac{\alpha^2}{1 - (1 - \alpha)^2} + \frac{2}{k} (1-(1-\alpha)^k) + \frac{1}{k}\\ &=& \frac{\alpha^2}{2\alpha - \alpha^2 }+ \frac{2}{k} (1-(1-\alpha)^k)+ \frac{1}{k}\\ &=& \frac{\alpha}{2 - \alpha }+ \frac{2}{k} (1-(1-\alpha)^k)+ \frac{1}{k}\\ \end{array}$$ because the FIR coefficients are zero for $m > k - 1$.

Next step is to take derivatives and equate to zero.

Looking at a plot of the derived $J$ for $K = 1000$ and $\alpha$ from 0 to 1, it looks like the problem (as I've set it up) is ill-posed, because the best answer is $\alpha = 0$. I think there's a mistake here. The way it should be according to my calculations is:

$$\begin{array}{lcl} J(\alpha) &=& \sum_{m=0}^{k-1} (\alpha(1-\alpha)^m - \frac{1}{k})^2 + \sum_{m=k}^\infty \alpha^2(1-\alpha)^{2m} \\ &=& \sum_{m=0}^{k-1} \left(\alpha^2(1-\alpha)^{2m} - \frac{2}{k}\alpha(1-\alpha)^m + \frac{1}{k^2}\right) + \alpha^2 (1-\alpha)^{2k} \sum_{m=0}^\infty (1-\alpha)^{2m} \\ &=& \alpha^2\frac{1- (1-\alpha)^{2k}}{1 - (1-\alpha)^2} - \frac{2\alpha}{k} \frac{1 - (1 - \alpha)^k}{1 - (1 - \alpha)} + \frac{1}{k} + \frac{\alpha^2(1-\alpha)^{2k}}{1 - (1 - \alpha)^2} \end{array}$$

$$J(\alpha) = \frac{\alpha}{2 - \alpha} + \frac{2 {(1 - \alpha)}^{k} -1}{k}$$

Using the following code on MATLAB yields something equivalent though different:

syms a k;

expr1 = (a ^ 2) * ((1 - ((1 - a) ^ (2 * k))) / (1 - ((1 - a) ^ 2)));
expr2 = ((2 * a) / k) * ((1 - ((1 - a) ^ (k))) / (1 - (1 - a)));
expr3 = (1 / k);
expr4 = ((a ^ 2) * ((1 - a) ^ (2 * k))) / (1 - ((1 - a) ^ (2)));

simpExpr = simplify(expr1 - expr2 + expr3 + expr4);


$$J(\alpha) = \frac{-2}{\alpha - 2} - \frac{k - 2{(1 - \alpha)}^{k} + 1}{k}$$

Anyhow, those functions do have minimum.

So let's assume that we really only care about the approximation over the support (length) of the FIR filter. In that case, the optimization problem is just: $$J_2(\alpha) = \sum_{m=0}^{k-1} (\alpha(1-\alpha)^m - \frac{1}{k})^2$$

Plotting $J_2(\alpha)$ for various values of $K$ versus $\alpha$ results in the date in the plots and table below.

For $K$ = 8. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.1533333
For $K$ = 16. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.08
For $K$ = 24. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.0533333
For $K$ = 32. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.04
For $K$ = 40. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.0333333
For $K$ = 48. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.0266667
For $K$ = 56. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.0233333
For $K$ = 64. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.02
For $K$ = 72. $\alpha_{\tt min}$ = 0.0166667 The red dashed lines are $1/K$ and the green lines are $\alpha_{\tt min}$, the value of $\alpha$ that minimizes $J_2(\alpha)$ (chosen from $\tt alpha = [0:.01:1]/3;$).

• Was just going to post the exact same thing = ) – Phonon Oct 6 '11 at 16:31
• @Phonon: Feel free to continue! I've marked it as community wiki for that purpose. – Peter K. Oct 6 '11 at 16:32
• The derivative w.r.t $\alpha$ is a series with an infinite number of terms (i.e. not a polynomial) that you have to set equal to $0$ and then solve for $\alpha$, and so some care (or possibly approximation) is going to be necessary. – Dilip Sarwate Oct 6 '11 at 17:11
• Can someone please check and/or correct my working? :-) – Peter K. Oct 6 '11 at 21:11
• @DilipSarwate, What would be the best approximation? Thanks. – Royi Oct 7 '11 at 18:03

There's a nice discussion of this problem in Embedded Signal Processing with the Micro Signal Architecture, roughly between pages 63 and 69. On page 63, it includes a derivation of the exact recursive moving average filter (which niaren gave in his answer),

$$H(z) = { 1 \over{N} } { 1 - z^{-N} \over { 1 - z^{-1} } }.$$

For convenience with respect to the following discussion, it corresponds to the following difference equation:

$$y_n = y_{n-1} + {1\over{N} }(x_n - x_{n-N}).$$

The approximation which puts the filter into the form you specified requires assuming that $x_{n-N} \approx y_{n-1}$, because (and I quote from pg. 68) "$y_{n-1}$ is the average of $x_n$ samples". That approximation allows us to simplify the preceding difference equation as follows:

$$\begin{array}\\ y_{n} = y_{n-1} + {1\over{N}}(x_n - y_{n-1}) \\ y_{n} = y_{n-1} - {1\over{N}} y_{n-1} + {1\over{N}}x_n \\ y_{n} = (1-{1\over{N}})y_{n-1} + {1\over{N}}x_n. \end{array}$$

Setting $\alpha = {1\over{N}}$, we arrive at your original form, $y_{n} = \alpha x_n + (1-\alpha)y_{n-1}$, which shows that the coefficient you want (with respect to this approximation) is exactly $1\over{N}$ (where $N$ is the number of samples).

Is this approximation the "best" in some respect? It's certainly elegant. Here's how the magnitude response compares [at 44.1kHz] for N = 3, and as N increases to 10 (approximation in blue):  As Peter's answer suggests, approximating an FIR filter with a recursive filter can be problematic under a least squares norm. An extensive discussion of how to solve this problem in general can be found in JOS's thesis, Techniques for Digital Filter Design and System Identification with Application to the Violin. He advocates the use of the Hankel Norm, but in cases where the phase response doesn't matter, he also covers Kopec's Method, which might work well in this case (and uses an $L^2$ norm). A broad overview of the techniques in the thesis can be found here. They may yield other interesting approximations.

• This is an "Elegant" way to say something about the memory of the first order IIR Filter. Its memory is equivalent to $\frac{1}{\alpha}$. I'll look into the other methods you mentioned. Thanks. – Royi Oct 8 '11 at 16:19
• Could you explain intuitively why under the LS norm (${L}_{2}$) there's no solution? – Royi Oct 9 '11 at 12:39
• I'm not sure if there is a LS solution in this case or not yet, I just know that it tends have issues with convergence for the general "IIR-based FIR approximation" problem. I'll update w/ more info when I get a chance. – datageist Oct 9 '11 at 17:31
• Well, If the cost function Peter suggested (The first one) is right there is a solution. At least according to my calculations. – Royi Oct 9 '11 at 19:43
• Great. I'm curious to see how the "heuristic" $1/N$ approach compares to something more canonical. – datageist Oct 9 '11 at 20:12

Based in experimental tests with k in range (2 to 100) the best fit (sum squared error) gives a relation of alfa = 1/k^0.865 being k number of samples for MovAvg filter

I stumbled upon this old question and I would like to share my solution. As mentioned in other answers, there is no analytical solution, but the function to be minimized behaves nicely and the optimal value of $\alpha$ can be found easily with a few Newton iterations. There is also a formula to check the optimality of the result.

The impulse response of the length $N$ FIR moving average filter is given by

$$h_{FIR}[n]=\frac{1}{N}(u[n]-u[n-N])\tag{1}$$

where $u[n]$ is the unit step function. The first order IIR filter

$$y[n]=\alpha x[n]+(1-\alpha)y[n-1]\tag{2}$$

has the impulse response

$$h_{IIR}[n]=\alpha(1-\alpha)^nu[n]\tag{3}$$

The goal is now to minimize the squared error

$$\epsilon=\sum_{n=0}^{\infty}\left(h_{FIR}[n]-h_{IIR}[n]\right)^2\tag{4}$$

Using $(1)$ and $(3)$, the error can be written as

\begin{align}\epsilon(\alpha)&=\sum_{n=0}^{N-1}\left(\alpha(1-\alpha)^n-\frac{1}{N}\right)^2+\sum_{n=N}^{\infty}\alpha^2(1-\alpha)^{2n}\\&=\alpha^2\sum_{n=0}^{\infty}(1-\alpha)^{2n}-\frac{2\alpha}{N}\sum_{n=0}^{N-1}(1-\alpha)^n+\sum_{n=0}^{N-1}\frac{1}{N^2}\\&=\frac{\alpha^2}{1-(1-\alpha)^2}-\frac{2\alpha}{N}\frac{1-(1-\alpha)^N}{1-(1-\alpha)}+\frac{1}{N}\\&=\frac{\alpha}{2-\alpha}-\frac{2}{N}\left(1-(1-\alpha)^N\right)+\frac{1}{N},\qquad 0<\alpha<2\tag{5}\end{align}

This expression is very similar to the one given in this answer, but it's not identical. The restriction on $\alpha$ in $(5)$ makes sure that the infinite sum converges, and it is identical to the stability condition for the IIR filter given by $(2)$.

Setting the derivative of $(5)$ to zero results in

$$(1-\alpha)^{N-1}(2-\alpha)^2=1\tag{6}$$

Note that the optimal $\alpha$ must be in the interval $(0,1]$ because larger values of $\alpha$ result in an alternating impulse response $(3)$, which cannot approximate the constant impulse repsonse of the FIR moving average filter.

Taking the square root of $(6)$ and introducing $\beta=1-\alpha$, we obtain

$$\beta^{(N+1)/2}+\beta^{(N-1)/2}-1=0\tag{7}$$

This equation cannot be solved analytically for $\beta$, but it can be solved for $N$:

$$N=-2\frac{\log(1+\beta)}{\log(\beta)},\qquad \beta\neq 0\tag{8}$$

Equation $(8)$ can be used to double-check a numerical solution of $(7)$; it must return the specified value of $N$.

Equation $(7)$ can be solved with a few lines of (Matlab/Octave) code:

N = 50;     % desired filter length of FIR moving average filter

if ( N == 1 )    % no iteration for trivial case
b = 0;
else
% Newton iteration
b = 1;       % starting value
Nit = 7;
n = (N+1)/2;
for k = 1:Nit,
f = b^n + b^(n-1) -1;
fp = n*b^(n-1) + (n-1)*b^(n-2);
b = b - f/fp;
end

% check result
N0 = -2*log(1+b)/log(b) + 1     % must equal N
end

a = 1 - b;


Below is a table with the optimal values of $\alpha$ for a range of filter lengths $N$:

   N     alpha

1   1.0000e+00
2   5.3443e-01
3   3.8197e-01
4   2.9839e-01
5   2.4512e-01
6   2.0809e-01
7   1.8083e-01
8   1.5990e-01
9   1.4333e-01
10   1.2987e-01
20   6.7023e-02
30   4.5175e-02
40   3.4071e-02
50   2.7349e-02
60   2.2842e-02
70   1.9611e-02
80   1.7180e-02
90   1.5286e-02
100   1.3768e-02
200   6.9076e-03
300   4.6103e-03
400   3.4597e-03
500   2.7688e-03
600   2.3078e-03
700   1.9785e-03
800   1.7314e-03
900   1.5391e-03
1000   1.3853e-03