I'm trying to learn the concept of Pulse-density Modulation.

The wiki page gives a good overview and pseudocode of encoding procedure, but it lacks the decoding part:

The process of decoding a PDM signal into an analog one is simple: one only has to pass the PDM signal through a low-pass filter. This works because the function of a low-pass filter is essentially to average the signal. The average amplitude of pulses is measured by the density of those pulses over time, thus a low-pass filter is the only step required in the decoding process.

I'm trying to replicate the sine wave example and got quite stuck with the decoding part. I've tried convolving with Gaussian filter. The results are not great and also a bit impractical (since the result depends on the particular sigma and window size).

Here is the code I've written and how it looks:

import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

N = 100
xs = np.linspace(0, 2 * np.pi, N)
ys = np.sin(xs)

def pdm(real_samples):
    res = []

    error = 0

    for item in real_samples:
        error += item
        res.append(-1 if error <= 0 else 1)
        error -= res[-1]

    return np.array(res)

def decode(encoded):
    n = len(encoded)
    res = np.zeros(n)

    t = 10
    sigma = 4

    ws = np.arange(-t, t + 1)
    w = np.exp(-((ws) ** 2) / (2 * sigma ** 2))
    w /= np.sum(w)

    xs = np.arange(t, n - t)
    for x in xs:
        res[x] = np.sum(encoded[x - t: x + t + 1] * w)

    res = res[t:n - t]

    return xs, res

encoded = pdm(ys)
decoded_xs, decoded = decode(encoded)
decoded_xs = xs[decoded_xs]


plt.plot(xs, ys, label='original')
plt.step(xs, encoded, color='orange', linewidth=0.5, label='PDM')
plt.plot(decoded_xs, decoded, color='red', label='restored')


Example output

Question: how do i properly restore the pulse density modulation encoded signal? What kind of low-pass filter should I use? And what cut-off frequency should I use?


2 Answers 2


Well, probably with a filter of the analog bandwidth of the original signal – there's necessarily an anti-aliasing filter in front of your PDM converter, even if it's just implicit.

So, design a low-pass filter that has the bandwidth you need – say, you know that your highest signal frequency component is at 1 MHz, then you would design a filter that let's through everything below 1 MHz and then switches to perfect blocking before you reach the first harmonic (i.e., before 2 MHz).

Usual filter design methods for this include windowed approximation (you take the "boxcar filter" spectral shape, do an IDFT on that, and multiply the resulting window with one of the usual Window Functions, to trade spectral sharpness for length).


In addition to the good points made by Marcus, the OP is only simulating one cycle of the reconstructed sine wave, but there will be an initial transient based on the sampling rate and length of filter used (assuming the encoding of an arbitrary waveform of any bandwidth below some upper limit and not a circular pattern). The initial part of the reconstructed waveform will have this transient condition; in order to see a steady state condition, several cycles should be simulated.

I demonstrate the successful reconstruction as well as point out some other gotchas and considerations with regards to pulse-density modulators.

I created the following FIR filter using the least squares algorithm firls available in Python, Matlab and Octave. In Python done as (sig is from the scipy.signal package):

coeff = sig.firls(101, [0, .01, .05, .5], [1, 1, 0, 0], fs=1)

The frequency response for this filter is plotted below. The rejection and transition band is traded with the number of taps used.

Freq Response

After filtering an extended (multi-cycle) version of the OP's waveform, using the following python command:

out1 = sig.filtfilt(coeff, 1, encoded)

I get the following result (where I also include a 2nd order version and dithering options explained further below).

Filtered sine wave

A visual inspection such as above is not necessarily an adequate indication of how well we have recovered the waveform. Both a spectral evaluation on a dB scale, and an rms "error-vector-magnitude" (EVM) analysis will reveal much more about the quality of the reconstructed result. EVM is the measure of the rms error of the reconstructed waveform and its reference, importantly after matching delay and amplitude (a simple subtraction of input and output will not work since filtering used as well as the modulator itself can introduce fractional sample delays).

Important additional points are that the noise spectrum in a PDM waveform is "noise-shaped" in that the low frequency noise is suppressed at the expense of high frequency noise. Typically this would be a digital implementation as a delta sigma modulator and the noise would be the quantization noise from fixed precisions used. The improvement in noise significantly increases by the oversampling factor (how much we increase the sampling rate over Nyquist). The OP has implemented a simple first-order PDM, and with that the noise increases 6 dB/octave in the lower spectrum where a signal will occupy, resulting in a 9dB/octave improvement in SNR from oversampling. First order modulators are also prone to pattern noise resulting in very high spurious content in addition the desired waveform. This can be reduced through the addition of a "dither" to randomize the noise patterns as well as higher order modulations. I demonstrate both of these concepts with the additional 2nd order implementation below. A 2nd order implementation in comparison has a 12 dB/octave noise shaping and 15 dB/octave improvement in SNR from oversampling:

def pdm2(real_samples, dith_gain=0):
    # 2nd order pdm with dither
    res = []
    accum1 = 0
    accum2 = 0
    dither = np.random.randn(len(real_samples))
    for item, dith in zip(real_samples, dither):
        res.append(-1 if accum2 + dith * dith_gain <= 0 else 1)
        first_diff = item - res[-1]
        accum1 += first_diff
        second_diff = accum1 - 1.5 * res[-1] 
        accum2 += second_diff
return np.array(res)

With the following spectrum results below. Note that the input waveform should also be reduced from full scale which reduces the harmonic content (and ensures stability for the 2nd order implementation). The test signal for these was at 60% full scale and generated similar to the OP's code as:

N = 100
xs = np.linspace(0, 1000*2 * np.pi, N*1000)
ys = .6 * np.sin(xs)

Spectrum Results

I measured the EVM for the different cases above. Although the dither significantly reduces the harmonic content, the EVM will be better in the no-dither cases. With dither, we are adding noise (which reduces overall SNR and therefore EVM) at the benefit of decreasing the highest spur level, and therefore increases the spurious-free dynamic range.

EVM RESULTS (rms error):
1st order no dither (OP's original case): 2.05%
2nd order no dither: 0.59%
1st order with dither (dither gain=0.3): 2.8%
2nd order with dither (dither gain=0.3): 0.7%


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