Im trying to cross correlate two signals in matlab and get the phase difference between the signals.

For cross correlation (the idea is to do it without xcorr) I used:

Cxx=fftshift(ifft(fft(x,N).*conj(fft(y,N))))/(norm(x) * norm(y));

I get the result and not sure about the reference point I have to take for phase calculation Now which point should I take as zero on time scale and how do I get the phase difference from this result.



3 Answers 3


There is no such thing as the phase angle between two signals unless they both consist of a single sinusoid at the same frequency, that is, $x(t) = A\cos(\omega t+\psi)$ and $y(t) = B\cos(\omega t + \phi)$. If you have $N$ samples of these signals $x(t)$ and $y(t)$, taken at times $0$, $T$, $2T, \ldots$, $(N-1)T$, so that $$x[n] = x(nT), ~~ y[n] = y(nT), 0 \leq n < N,$$ and either $N\omega T$ is an integer multiple of $2\pi$ or $N\omega T \gg 1$ then the phase angle between the two sinusoids is $$\theta = \arccos\left(\frac{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} x[n]y[n]}{\sqrt{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}(x[n])^2\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}(y[n])^2}}\right). \tag{1}$$ For complex-valued sinusoids $x(t) = Ae^{j(\omega t+\psi)}$ and $y(t) = BAe^{j(\omega t+\phi)}$, $(1)$ should be replaced by $$\theta = \arccos\left(\frac{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} x[n](y[n])^*}{\sqrt{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}|x[n]|^2\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}|y[n]|^2}}\right). \tag{2}$$

Of course, these formula can be used for arbitrary signals, not just for pure sinusoids, but then, what you get is the _angle between the two vectors $\mathbf x = (x[0], x[1], \ldots, x[N-1])$ and $\mathbf y =(y[0], y[1], \ldots, y[N-1])$ in the $N$-dimensional spaces $\mathbb R^N$ or $\mathbb C^N$, and not a phase angle between two sinusoids at the same frequency. Note that the three points $\mathbf 0 = (0,0,\ldots,0)$, $\mathbf x$ and $\mathbf y$ lie in a (two-dimensional) plane in $N$-dimensional space and the $\theta$ that you get is the angle between the line segments with endpoints $\mathbf 0$ and $\mathbf x$ and endpoints $\mathbf 0$ and $\mathbf y$ which lie in this plane. Another way to think about this is that $$\langle\mathbf x, \mathbf y\rangle = ||\mathbf x||\cdot||\mathbf y||\cdot\cos(\theta)$$ and thus $(1)$ is obtained from $$\cos(\theta) = \frac{\langle\mathbf x, \mathbf y\rangle}{||\mathbf x||\cdot||\mathbf y||} = \frac{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} x[n](y[n])^*}{\sqrt{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}|x[n]|^2}\sqrt{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}|y[n]|^2}}.$$

If you must use FFTs because that's the way you have been told to do it, then you have $$\theta = \arccos\left(\frac{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} X[n](Y[n])^*}{\sqrt{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}|X[n]|^2\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}|Y[n]|^2}}\right)\tag{3}$$ so that you have the ineffable pleasure of not only needing to compute two FFTs first, but also of using complex multiplications in $(3)$ instead of the real multiplications in $(1)$ (for real-valued signals). This is overkill in my estimation, but as usual, YMMV, and what your boss insists on is always right, regardless of what people write on Internet forums.

  • $\begingroup$ I disagree, you can absolutely have a phase angle between two signals if at least one of them is complex. $\endgroup$
    – Jim Clay
    Jun 9, 2013 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ @JimClay Could you post another comment, or maybe a new answer, in which you give the definition of the phase angle between two complex signals or between a complex signal and a real signal, and how to compute this phase angle? $\endgroup$ Jun 10, 2013 at 2:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JimClay I agree with your assertion that a complex signal $x(t)$ and $x(t)e^{j\phi}$ can be said to differ in phase by $\phi$ radians but this is hardly a support for the broad assertion that "you can absolutely have a phase angle between two signals if at least one of them is complex" which most people would take to mean that one can define a phase angle between two arbitrary signals $x(t)$ and $y(t)$ as long as at least one of $x(t)$ and $y(t)$ is complex. $\endgroup$ Jun 10, 2013 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ I meant "can" as in "it is possible", but I see that what I wrote was ambiguous. My apologies. $\endgroup$
    – Jim Clay
    Jun 10, 2013 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @AF_Aggie Equation 1 is the definition of the angle between two real-valued $n$-vectors: the angle is $\theta$ where the standard inner product or dot-product $\mathbf x\cdot \mathbf y$ is expressed as $$\mathbf x\cdot \mathbf y = |\mathbf x||\mathbf y|\cos \theta.$$ $\theta$ does not exactly equal the phase difference between the (continuous-time) sinusoids unless $N\omega T$ is an integer multiple of $2\pi$. $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2015 at 14:29

Adding to @Dilip Sarwate's dot product solution, which gives you the magnitude of the phase difference (note that arccos returns a value from [0, $\pi$]), if you want to know which signal leads the other, you'll need an expression that includes $sin$, such as the cross product.

$$\left\|\mathbf{a} \times \mathbf{b}\right\| = \left\| \mathbf{a} \right\| \left\| \mathbf{b} \right\| \sin (\theta)$$

$$\sin \theta = \frac{ \left\|\mathbf{a} \times \mathbf{b}\right\| }{\left\| \mathbf{a} \right\| \cdot \left\| \mathbf{b} \right\|} = \frac{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} t_x[n]*y[n] - t_y[n]*x[n]}{\sqrt{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}(x[n])^2\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}(y[n])^2}}$$

with $\mathbf{a} = \left< t, x,0\right>$ and $\mathbf{a} = \left< t, y,0\right>$

Which when using the same time base for the 2 signals, simplifies to: $$\sin \theta = \frac{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1} t[n]\left(y[n] - x[n]\right)}{\sqrt{\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}(x[n])^2\displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{N-1}(y[n])^2}}$$

In Python, without knowing the phase shift magnitude or direction in advance:

t = np.deg2rad(np.arange(0, 360*4))
y1 = np.sin(t)
y2 = np.sin(t+10*np.pi/180)
# from dot product
opp = np.sum(y2*y1)
hyp = np.sqrt( np.sum(y2**2) * np.sum(y1**2) )
# from cross product
adj = np.cross([np.cos(t), y1], [np.cos(t), y2], axis=0)
phase_angle = np.atan2( adj, opp )

Which is consistent with $\sin(\theta) = opp/hyp$, $\cos(\theta) = adj/hyp$, and $\tan(\theta) = opp/adj$,

  • $\begingroup$ I am interested in the application of your solution. However, I'm a little confused by the differences between your math and the python code... why do you calculate hypotenuse when it is not used? and why do you calculate atan2( adj, opp)... I think it would be atan2(opp,adj)? And why do you not use sum(t*(y2-y1)) like you define for the sin(theta) equation? Thanks in advance for clarifying! $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2019 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps np.arctan2 instead of np.atan2 ? $\endgroup$
    – kimstik
    Dec 3, 2019 at 11:08

If you can use the FFTs of x and y to get some sort of periodicity estimates from these two signals, and they are similar (or you have the periodicity a-priori), then one phase angle difference measure might be 2pi times the ratio between the cross-correlation lag and your periodicity estimate. Note that this works even if the signals are not sine waves or even have a missing fundamental component (by using the FFTs with a pitch estimation method such a cepstral or HPS).


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