When choosing any piece of audio equipment, including loudspeakers, it's useful to understand the expected lifespan of the product(s).
How long should loudspeakers last? Quality loudspeakers will last several decades when properly cared for. Lifespan factors include design/material, placement and environment, connected amplifier(s) and usage time. Though safe operation will improve speaker longevity, some components (i.e. surround and spider) will eventually fail.
Over time, parts such as its surround, cone, tweeter ferrofluid, crossover capacitors in the crossover, and more may degrade, reducing the speaker’s overall sound quality. While some of the components of your gear are more likely to deteriorate, a handful of steps can be taken to avert the effect.
In this article, we'll discuss the typical lifespans of speakers. Whether you've got an eye on a set of better-sounding speakers or you want to know the typical lifespan of your current sound system, let’s tune in and find out how long loudspeakers last.
Related article: Do Loudspeakers Wear Out & If So, How?
The Typical Lifespan Of Loudspeakers
The obvious answer to “how long will my loudspeaker last?” is “it depends on how it's treated and the quality of its parts”.
Loudspeakers, like all audio equipment, will eventually wear out. Higher quality parts will offer longer lifespans than lower quality parts. However, the most important factor when it comes to speaker longevity is the general care of the loudspeaker.
Cheap computer speakers may last five years or more under regular use. These super-affordable models are often constructed with subpar components that will eventually wear out.
High-end speakers, conversely, ought to last several decades when cared for properly. Some 50-year-old speakers continue to perform optimally without having had any repairs. Others will perform for extended periods but require parts to be replaced throughout their lifespan (notably surrounds and cones).
Much like any other material, components that make up a speaker last longer than others. While each piece is designed and built differently, deciding on which material to use in its development is of utmost importance. Depending on the budget and the speaker’s targeted final price, some manufacturers opt to use low-quality materials, making them prone to deterioration, repairs, and replacements in a much shorter period.
So what can we expect? Well, under normal circumstances, cheap speakers can be expected to work for up to five years or longer if they're cared for. High-end speakers will last much longer, extending to several decades if they're well taken care of. Of course, any specific number will be arbitrary at best and false at best. This is why I've strayed away from giving strict answers.
What Causes Speakers To Deteriorate?
A better strategy of discussing how long speakers will last is to consider the ways in which they degrade (over time) or become damaged (accurately).
Let's begin with the ways a speaker can be damaged instantaneously:
Now here are some of the factors that may cause speaker degradation over time:
Let's discuss each of these factors in a bit more detail.
Speakers can burn out when the power level of the inputted audio signal surpasses the capabilities of the loudspeaker.
Typically, this causes the speaker's voice coil to burn or melt due to the excessive heat that comes from the speaker driver transduction.
Speakers convert electrical energy (audio signals) to mechanical wave energy (sound waves) but do so at very low efficiency (typically below 4%). This produces lots of heat around the voice coil which will have negative consequences on the speaker's health.
Speaker blow-out can also occur due to overloading, though it typically refers to mechanical damage from over-excursion.
The solution? Ensure the amplifier output never exceeds the speaker's maximum power/wattage rating and keep the speakers as cool as possible (with proper ventilation and in shaded positions, for example).
To learn more about speaker power ratings and efficiency, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• The Complete Guide To Speaker Power Handling & Wattage Ratings
• Full Guide To Loudspeaker Sensitivity & Efficiency Ratings
• Loudspeaker Blow-Out: Why It Happens & How To Avoid/Fix It
This goes without saying, but physically damaging the speaker (like puncturing the cone, for example) will reduce its overall performance and longevity.
Power surges can lead to spikes in electricity being sent to audio equipment. Keeping active speakers on, for example, can lead to blow out during brownouts or power surges that can damage the internal amplifier, crossovers and drivers.
Keeping active speakers powered off can help reduce the risk of power surges damaging the speakers. Power conditioners are designed to protect all sorts of electrical devices, including audio equipment, and are valuable additions to any audio system.
To learn more about active speakers and keeping speakers off when not in use, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• What Are The Differences Between Passive & Active Speakers?
• Is It Bad/Damaging To Keep Speakers On When Not In Use?
Loose connections are relatively easy to fix on their own. If your loudspeaker sounds crackling or pops regularly, chances are it's a loose connection.
Fixing these loose connections is often as easy as soldering or tightening a connection. However, if left unresolved, these loose connections can lead to damage due to improper conductivity within the overall circuitry of the speakers.
Related article: What Causes Speakers To Pop And Crackle, And How To Fix It
Now let's consider a few common ways in which a loudspeaker will eventually deteriorate.
The speaker's cone is the diaphragm that ultimately pushes and pulls the air around it to produce sound waves. To work properly, these cones must be lightweight to move effectively and durable enough to withstand such movement and environmental factors.
However, there are still potential issues with speaker cones.
Their relative thinness makes them sensitive to physical trauma. The cones can be torn or otherwise damaged by excessive force. Some speakers protect their drivers' cones with a grille.
Related article: Why Do Some Speakers Have Grilles/Mesh & Others Don’t?
The material of the cone can be worn out by environmental factors over time as well. For example, aramid fibre tends to absorb moisture and will wear out more quickly in more humid environments. Conversely, paper cones are more sensitive to UV rays and will wear out faster when exposed to direct sunlight.
The surround, which is the ring-shaped material that connects the cone/diaphragm to the speaker housing, will also suffer from mechanical wear and tear over time. Movement and flex cause friction, heat and mechanical stress, which build up in the surround, thereby fatiguing the material.
Of course, speakers are designed with this repetitive stress in mind, and high-quality speakers will often perform for a long time (decades) before noticeable surround wearing occurs. That being said, the surround is typically the first part of the speaker to wear out since it's under the most repetitive stress.
For more information on how speakers work, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
• How Do Speakers & Headphones Work As Transducers?
• How Do Speakers Produce Sound? (A Helpful Beginner’s Guide)
Wearing Out Of Electronics
Electronic components all eventually wear out after extended use. The timeline of such wearing is sometimes given in MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures), measured in hours.
Of all components, the capacitors of the speaker crossover networks are the most susceptible to wear out. As they are consistently activated to hold and disperse charge in the crossover, they eventually (often after thousands of hours) wear out, resulting in improper frequency band splitting, which can, in turn, cause distortion and damage to the individual speaker drivers.
Drying Up Of Ferrofluid
Some tweeters built in the 1980s and 1990s we designed with ferrofluid (a magnetic fluid) to improve damping and keep the voice coil cool.
This design practice has been discontinued mainly because the fluid would dry up, leaving behind its magnetic particles, which would cause a slew of different problems ranging from distortion and low-pass filtering to complete seizure of the tweeter.
How To Properly Care For Your Loudspeakers
Now that we understand the typical factors that affect a loudspeaker's lifespan, let's focus on improving this lifespan by properly caring for the loudspeaker.
Keep It Out Of Direct Sunlight
Apart from sunburns and skin rashes, the sun's harsh UV rays can damage the speaker’s cones or grill fabric if exposed for long periods. Sunlight can also heat the speaker’s voice coil, acting as a catalyst to overheating and burn-out when the speaker is in use.
Maintain Favorable Humidity
Moisture can no doubt do immeasurable damage to the speaker’s cones and surrounds over time. Keeping your equipment in a humid environment can help wear away its metallic parts faster, as well as damage the speaker’s power amp, which speeds up the speaker driver’s perversion.
Keep It Dust-Free
Allowing dust to settle on your speakers can potentially cause extensive harm. By letting swaths of dust bed down on your speaker, immeasurable damage can be done on its cones, speaker cabinets, and surrounds, negatively affecting the system’s function, sound quality, and durability.
Tiny particles of dust can be relatively sharp, causing microscopic damage to the elements of the speaker. Furthermore, the dust build-up will impede the proper movement of the speaker while also causing greater friction and providing insulation for unwanted heat.
Ensure Ample Ventilation
Placing your speakers in areas where there is suitable airflow helps cool them down as they work. Placing speakers at least several inches away from walls or tight spaces helps prolong your speakers' service life and lessen distortions from vibrations and excessive heat, ultimately improving its sound quality. It also enhances the overall acoustics of the room, resulting in a win-win situation.
Guard Against Power Surges
Much like TVs, refrigerators, and air conditioners, sudden surges in power can be highly detrimental to your sound system. Investing in a suitable UPS or voltage regulator is both wise and cost-effective as it protects your speakers from damage and your pockets from unexpected repairs and replacements.
Watch Out For Static Electricity
While it is relatively easy to keep your speakers safe from particles and the sun, static electricity is challenging to avoid yet hazardous to the longevity of your system. By getting a hold of anti-static floor mats, you avert the build-up to what could be hazardous levels of static energy, which could result in speaker blow-out similar to power surges.
Like any piece of quality equipment, taking good care of your loudspeakers will keep them sounding their best. Whether it is a fully functional vintage piece or the latest in sound system innovation, keeping your unit in tip-top condition assures you of high-quality sounds for years to come.
How Long Should Loudspeakers Last?
Depending on the materials they're made of and the environmental conditions of where the equipment is used, high-quality speakers typically last up to 40-50 years before showing any signs of damage.
As audiophiles and enthusiasts would attest, they are likely to tell you about a fantastic set of speakers they have that still works perfectly even after all this time. Taking proper care of your speakers will allow for countless years of enjoyment. Additionally, speaker technology has continued to advance, making way for new and innovative materials such as Kevlar and carbon fibre to help increase modern speaker durability even further.
There is no doubt that excellent quality loudspeakers will provide great sound for a long time, so long as they're cared for properly. From keeping the speakers free from dust and away from direct sunlight, to staving off power surges and static electricity, giving your speakers proper care and maintenance will help ensure the speakers will continue to perform optimally for years to come.
Choosing the right PA speakers for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive PA Speaker Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next PA speaker purchase.
With so many loudspeakers on the market, purchasing the best speaker(s) for your applications can be rather daunting. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Loudspeaker Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next speaker acquisition.
This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.