Display the FFT result using Python!

In digital signal processing (DSP), we often compute the discrete Fourier transform (DFT) of an audio signal, for example, using the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT). This tutorial shows you how to easily display the magnitude of the DFT, the magnitude spectrum, using the Matplolib library in Python.

The script includes examples of how to include decibels full-scale (dBFS) scaling of the magnitude axis and a logarithmic frequency axis for a better interpretability of the graph.

Below there’s the code snippet for it, further down are the explanations and finally, a video showing step-by-step how the script was created.

From the script you will learn:

  • ✅ Which libraries to use
  • ✅ How to effortlessly compute the FFT of an audio signal
  • ✅ Step-by-step writing of the plot_magnitude_spectrum functions
  • ✅ How to plot the magnitude in decibels full-scale (dBFS)
  • ✅ How to plot the frequency axis logarithmically which corresponds to our perception of pitch
  • ✅ How to mark the frequency axis using the ISO-standardized octave band marks
  • ✅ How to adjust the figure to your needs (colors, labels, font size, markersize and more)
  • ✅ How to export your figure to a .png file with transparent background effortlessly
  • ✅ How to adjust the limits of the plot properly for optimal readability

Code snippet to plot the magnitude spectrum of an audio signal in Python


  1. In the main() function, we read an example signal from the LibriSpeech database. We then calculate its one-sided magnitude spectrum, i.e., including frequencies only up to the Nyquist frequency. We also compute the frequencies corresponding to the discrete Fourier transform bins. We then pass the frequencies and the magnitude spectrum to 3 plotting functions along with the path to save the plot to.
  2. In the plot_spectrum_and_save() function, we plot the magnitude spectrum using linear frequency and magnitude scales. We then mostly adjust the figure’s properties. Lines starting with ax turn off the ugly frame of the plot.
  3. In the plot_spectrum_db_and_save() function, we do the same but the passed in magnitude spectrum must be in decibels. Before we compute the decibels with librosa.amplitude_to_db function, we normalize the magnitude spectrum to the highest value so that the maximum value is 1 the decibels are full scale (the highest value is 0 dBFS). In audio, we typically compare relative magnitudes rather than absolute because we’re dealing with digital signals that are anyway in the [-1, 1] range (most often). In the function, we also display the grid so that reading from the plot is easier.
  4. In the plot_spectrum_plot_spectrum_db_in_octaves_and_saveand_save() function, we do the same thing as in the previous function but we plot the frequency axis to be logarithmic, which corresponds more to our perception. We also set the ticks on the frequency axis to correspond to ISO octave bands.

Python libraries used:

  • numpy
  • matplotlib
  • scipy
  • pathlib
  • librosa version 0.9.2

Code explanation video

Watch how this code was written and why I included particular lines in this explainer video:

Want to know what knowledge from digital signal processing in needed for audio programming? Check out my free Audio Plugin Developer Checklist!