Speaker drivers are meant to oscillate back and forth to produce sound and require a design and materials to do so effectively. It makes sense, then, that a speaker would require a bit of breaking-in to reduce the initial stiffness of its construction and to move (and produce sound) more optimally.
Do speakers need to be broken-in/burned-in? A brand new speaker should be burned in before it reaches optimal performance due to the increased mechanical compliance in the driver suspension and decreased free-air resonance frequency. These allow the speaker to perform more accurately as a transducer when converting audio into sound.
There's a lot of disagreement and contradicting information about speaker burn-in. In this article, I hope to clarify speaker burn-in rather than add more confusion to the argument. Here it goes!
Do Speakers Need To Be Burned-In?
The simple answer is that brand new speakers will work just fine without any burn-in.
However, burn-in will help the speakers get to optimal performance by stretching out the suspension so that the speaker reproduces audio with greater clarity.
What Is Speaker Break-In & Burn-In?
I'll begin by stating that speaker burn-in has to do specifically with the speaker driver.
The speaker enclosure is stationary and does not experience burn-in. The speaker amplifier may experience its own burn-in (especially if it has vacuum tubes), though this is not part of true speaker burn-in.
So what is speaker burn-in?
Speaker burn-in refers to the act of moving and stretching out new speaker driver material until the stiffness is reduced. Burned-in speakers perform better than non-burned-in speakers, similar to how our bodies perform better when warmed up.
There is a point when burn-in can be considered “complete.” At this point, the material is sufficiently flexed/stretched, and the speaker is ready to be used to its full capacity without any significant changes to the stiffness/flexibility of its materials.
To get into the finer details of speaker burn-in, let's have a look at a simplified cross-sectional diagram of a moving-coil electrodynamic speaker driver:
In the Goldwood Sound GW-6028 (link to check the price on Amazon) pictured below, we see the surround between the outer lip and diaphragm/cone. We also see the spider beneath the diaphragm and above the bulk of the magnet:
A perfectly new speaker driver that has never been connected to an audio source and has never produced sound will not perform as well as its burned-in counterpart.
The new speaker components are relatively rigid and stiff and require breaking-in. This is particularly true of the spider and surrounds though it is also a factor in the cone/diaphragm.
Let's quickly run through some definitions here:
A speaker spider (often referred to as the back suspension) is primarily there to keep the voice coil inline and centred around the magnetic gap. The voice coil must be able to move on the Z-axis while being restricted from movement in the X and Y-axes.
The spider also acts as a spring that returns the cone to its original position. This happens after the voice coil has been moved in response to the input audio signal.
The spider also plays a significant role in determining the speaker's low-frequency response and mechanical power handling.
A speaker surround (sometimes referred to as the front suspension) joins the cone to the basket/chassis. Together with the spider, the surround keeps the driver moving how it should. It also works to absorb energy from the cone and helps determine the mechanical limits of the driver's movement.
A speaker cone (otherwise known as the diaphragm) is the large membrane that effectively pushes and pulls air to produce sound. This large membrane moves according to the waveform of the audio signal. The shape, stiffness, weight, damping and resilience of the cone materials all play a role in determining the speaker's acoustic performance.
How Are Speakers Burned-In?
It's actually pretty easy to burn in speakers: just play them!
By sending audio to the speaker driver and having it produce sound, we work the suspension and the cone and, therefore, burn the speaker in.
In general, speaker burn-in takes 10s of hours (20-30 hours is commonly referenced through some say 100 hours of play time is required to sufficiently burn in speakers).
Fortunately, burn-in is a one-off proposition, and the speakers will benefit after the burn-in is completed.
Sometimes speakers that have been in storage for a long time may need some time to warm up, but this time will be short in comparison to the burn-in time.
So, then, speakers are broken in simply by getting used as they are designed. That being said, there are some tips to improve the burn-in process of the speakers:
- Play music/audio with a large dynamic range.
- Play music/audio with deep bass.
- Play music/audio with high-end.
- Turn the speakers up but not to maximum volume.
From a subjective standpoint, playing music you're familiar with may help you recognize when the burn-in improvements begin to happen.
Once again, there is no magic time limit for speaker burn-in. My advice is to use and enjoy your new speakers as you normally would and let any burn-in occur by itself. Try noting the changes in sound that result from burn-in for your own personal knowledge.
Though dependent on the particular design of the speaker, a burn-in compliance increase on the order of 5% – 10% is rather common.
This increase in mechanical compliance allows the speaker to reproduce the audio signal more accurately. It also lowers the driver resonance frequency (in Hz) and flattens out the Q and amplitude of the resonance frequency.
The Claims About Speaker Break-In & Burn-In
As mentioned in the early parts of this article, there are plenty of comments online about speaker burn-in. These claims include the following:
- Manufacturers burn-in their speakers before selling them.
- You have to burn-in the speakers yourself.
- Burn-in can be accomplished in one listening session.
- Burn-in takes several listening sessions to accomplish.
- Burn-in is a placebo or simply the listener getting used to the new speakers.
- Burn-in has minimal effect on speaker performance.
- Burn-in is not real.
No wonder this seemingly simple subject is so complicated.
Of those who report burning-in, the majority say that burn-in improves the bass performance of the speakers.
This is because the mechanical compliance of the spider and surround suspensions play a major role in the driver's movement.
If the suspensions are too tight, the driver will be overly difficult to move. If they are too loose, they will have difficulty keeping the coil in its proper axis.
The spider and surround require synergistic amounts of compliance for the linearity of the driver movement. That being said, they do not, by nature, exhibit linear restoring forces.
As the driver moves back and forth, the restoring forces of the suspension cause inevitable distortion.
This is particularly true when the driver is near the limits of its movement. A stiffer spider and surround will be affected more by the tension of the suspension at these extremes and cause greater distortion.
To be produced and heard effectively, lower frequencies require larger driver movements. This is likely the reason why people report improved bass response after burning in their speakers.
I haven't heard of anyone claiming that burn-in has worsened speaker performance.
It's also the case that users generally give a time range in which the burn-in improvements occur, after which no further improvements follow.
Buying Pre-Burned-In Speakers
Quality speaker manufacturers certainly have quality-control standards.
Even if the manufacturer is not directly trying to burn in its speaker before it is sent to the market, the general tests are likely to burn the speaker in (at least partially) in the process.
The fact is that loudspeakers are designed with specifications. Once a loudspeaker is constructed, the manufacturer (if they are concerned with quality control) needs to test the speaker to ensure it matches the specifications as designed.
This obviously involves sending audio signals to the speaker and having the speaker produce sound. In the process of getting tested, the speaker will likely get burned in.
After all, if burn-in is to significantly alter and improve the sound of a speaker, then the manufacturer's specs sheets would be null and void if the speaker was not pre-burned-in. It just doesn't make sense for a speaker manufacturer to sell a product that will, by nature, have its sound altered over a relatively short “burn-in” period.
Of course, this is all assuming that the manufacturer will take the time to run tests and break in its speakers before selling them. That is not always the case, and so many speakers will actually go through the burn-in process under the ownership of the purchaser.
A theory in the online forums suggests that noticeable speaker burn-in for purchased speakers is either a placebo or simply our hearing getting used to hearing sound from those speakers.
This is what I call psychological burn-in, which is completely subjective. It may take some time to adjust to new speakers and understand what they truly sound like.
It's important to know the sound of your monitors when mixing and mastering, and a new mixing environment (whether that's simply changing the studio monitors) warrants a recalibration in how we understand the sound of the speakers and audio mix.
Can you damage speakers by playing them too loud? Turning up the volume of a speaker increases the amplitude of the audio signal (voltage or current) sent to it. This can result in mechanical damage to the driver and/or a melted or burned voice coil. This damage is collectively known as “blow out.”
Related article: Why Do Speakers Distort At High Sound/Audio Levels?
What happens when a speaker is blown? Speaker blow-out is an all-encompassing term for a damaged speaker. Usually, speaker blow-out refers to a melted or burned voice coil resulting from electrically overloading the speaker. However, blow-out could also refer to a stretched or torn cone or an otherwise damaged driver/enclosure.
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