It should be simple enough to tell if your speaker is blown, right? Most of the time, you just hear a large amount of distortion. However, it is a little more complicated than that, and distortion is not the only feature a blown speaker can have.
Even the speaker’s internal workings and parts are subject to wear and tear, causing different scenarios of a blown speaker.
Depending on how your speakers are blown, you may hear distorted sound, no sound at all, loss of sound at specific frequencies, hisses, pops, and scratches. You may also be able to see external damage such as a torn cone or no cone movement.
Firstly in this article, we will cover all a speaker’s components because almost all of them are subject to causing a speaker to blow. Understanding them will give us a clear picture of how to narrow down what is the cause of a blown speaker.
We will then cover how to tell if your speakers are blown, going over in detail the most likely causes and symptoms, finally going over ways to test them (both external and internal testing).
Also read: Will a Subwoofer Still Work if Blown?
What components comprise a speaker?
In order to understand and be able to tell if your speakers are blown, we will look at the components that make up a speaker.
We need to understand this because there are many facets to a speaker that can go wrong, blowing your speakers, and hence, when we know all these components, and how they can be defective, we will be able to tell if our speakers are blown and either be able to repair and replace the parts or the entire speaker itself.
This part of the speaker (loudspeaker) joins the chassis to the cone and is also called the surround. It helps determine how energy will travel through the cone and how it is absorbed, and in conjunction with the suspension (another component of the speaker), it will control the speaker cone’s exertion.
The front suspension also helps limit the speaker’s movement past the points of its capability. Suppose the front suspension is not designed and machined correctly.
In that case, it can lead to early mechanical failure of the speaker cone, causing clearly audible distortion, unwanted peaks, and dips in its response.
The cone is what we see when we look at a speaker and is the most significant factor in determining a speaker’s frequency range and overall sound quality. The cone also incurs the risk because it is the most vulnerable, has the most demands mechanically (moving back and forth always), and is influenced by the speaker’s power.
The cone made from various materials, both natural and man-made, is very delicate, thin, and can be damaged most easily by scratching, tearing, liquid, being over-driven, and more. The cone is treated with various resins and lacquers to make it more sturdy, hardy, and give it resistance to different elements.
Many elements can affect the performance of the cone and its ability to withstand lots of use with these factors, including weight, stiffness, shape, and the profile of the cone. If the cone is torn or damaged in any way, the cone will blow, creating clearly audible distortion, and even a complete lack of sound can incur.
Also known as the dust cap, the dust cover is often thought of as just a cover to keep out the dust. However, the dust cover’s design is implemented into the cone, becoming a part of it, directly affecting its frequency response and behavior.
Also, due to its design, it helps to brace the cone impacting break up modes, and if misdesigned with incorrect specifications, it will tear, causing your speaker to blow.
Also known as a damper or suspension, it is one of the most stressed parts of a speaker. It functions to provide suspension to the speaker cone, keeps the voice coil appropriately aligned, and ensures that the speaker resolves to its normal position between vibrations.
It is technically used to limit the inductor’s oscillation and the speaker’s exertion without affecting linearity. It is only made from treated paper and coated with adhesive glue, and due to this, it is also vulnerable to wear and tear. If this part of your speaker tears, it will cause the cone to move and vibrate incorrectly again, causing audible distortion, sound blackouts, pops, and cracks.
Made from copper wire (at least high-quality voice coils), it is an electromagnet suspended in a magnetic field. The voice coil provides fore to the cone reacting to the magnetic field when an electric current (the audio signal) passes through it.
The set winding wrapped around the voice coil comes in two forms: flat (ribbon) wire or round wire. These windings are set around aluminum, Kapton, Nomex, or other forms of material.
Building a voice coil is quite delicate. Even though some voice coils can have the same specifications, they can achieve different efficiency and performance levels due to wire tension, enamels, and adhesives used. Voice coils are also the criteria used to determine a speaker’s impedance levels, ranging from 2ohms to 32ohms.
If your speaker’s voice coil is faulty or the wire is damaged in some way, it can cause incorrect current and resistance to pass through it, which will cause the cone to operate in an incorrect fashion causing distortion and unwanted sounds. Although your speaker may not be necessarily blown if your voice coil is damaged, it most certainly is broken to a degree.
More often than not, individuals will choose a chassis based on its appearance; however, it offers more functionality than one seems. If a chassis does not compliment the speaker’s design and its components, it may flex and vibrate when the speaker is in use.
Hence, your sound’s clarity and definition will be lost due to it absorbing energy when it should be redirecting it. An incorrect chassis will contribute to a speaker’s response causing it to sound blown.
The front plate is an intricate part of a speaker’s design and, along with the yoke and the magnet, completes the circuit allowing for the reproduction of sound in your speaker.
The front plate’s width has to be just right; otherwise, it could lose efficiency, causing distortion from being too thin and can cause a loss in dynamics if it is too thick.
This little component also needs to have the exact inside and outside diameters, allowing for optimum magnetic efficiency, stability, and power handling. An incorrect sized front plate and voice coil will be detrimental to your speaker’s performance and will not last long.
The magnet is made from metals named ferromagnetic metals, which include metals such as nickel and iron. If designed correctly, these magnets hold an indefinite charge and serve as a positive or negative inverter for the voice coil.
These two components coupled together force the cone into motion creating the sound that we hear. Contrary to popular belief, the weight and size of the magnet have little meaning.
One has to understand that magnets also have specific design requirements affecting the speaker’s performance, and ignoring this can lead to your speaker’s demagnetization and deform the cone, and produce more sound causing you to think that the speaker is blown.
This is the very back part of your speaker. The yoke’s design has more effect on the magnet’s efficiency and stability than one thinks it does.
Added to that, it also has very significant effects on distortion and temperature of the voice coil. In turn, stabilizing and creating a better performance for the speaker overall.
If the yoke is damaged in any way, it could cause a chain reaction of problems causing other parts of the speaker to malfunction, and in turn, because other components are damaged, it could cause your speaker to blow, lose definition and clarity, create sound blackouts and more.
How to tell if your speaker is blown
Now that we understand what components can go wrong and how it will and can affect your speaker let’s discuss the term blown in detail. Most people will use the term blown for all aspects of poor sound quality relating to a speaker; however, this is not true.
As we now know, many components in a speaker may be faulty, worn down, or damaged, causing the speaker to become defective, but this does not necessarily mean that your speaker is blown.
A blown speaker constitutes a speaker that produces no sound at all, generates distortion no matter at which volume you set it, and has a torn or damaged cone that is affecting the speaker’s sound to a degree, causing it to distort or make the sound unpleasant.
What does a blown speaker sound like?
The sound associated with a blown speaker is usually that of buzzing bees. Distortion, crackling, hissing, and poping will also be common sounds that you will hear when listening closely to tell if your speaker is blown.
One thing to note is that these sounds may not be apparent all the time, and you might need to listen closely because the distortion may be embedded amongst all the other audio.
Furthermore, depending on how your speaker is blown, only certain frequencies may be affected, and distortion will occur only within a specific power range (this does not necessarily mean volume). So this is something you need to look out for.
How does a speaker become blown?
There are many different ways in which a speaker can become blown, and we have listed the most common causes here for you.
Wear and tear of speaker components
As we now know, some speaker components are made from delicate materials or are designed very specifically, causing them to be fragile.
Years of use and being exposed to the elements such as heat, cold, and moisture can cause the components of a speaker to wear away gradually. In turn, this can cause some features to malfunction and then drive the speaker to blow. Refer to the first section to see what parts can become faulty.
Unlike components that are worn away over time, you may purchase a brand new speaker that was not designed correctly or has a faulty part (this does happen on occasion).
Defective components and lack of proper design can cause your speaker to blow almost instantly as you turn it on, or it may occur at certain volumes or when specific frequencies are pushed higher.
Volume and equalization abuse
This is probably the most common reason besides mismatched power (incorrect watts driving your speaker). Most individuals like to turn up the volume and match up the EQ to push massive amounts of bass and sub-bass frequencies.
Furthermore, individuals don’t have the correct drivers (woofers, tweeters, or subwoofers) to cope with this frequency and volume abuse.
They will push mid-range speakers past their limits trying to increase the bass, and when the bass frequencies are still not prevalent (due to trying to get bass from a mid-range driver), they will up the volume more and more, causing severe stress on the cone.
Hence, the speaker’s cone will blow due to it not being built and designed to handle these volume types with specific frequencies.
Incorrect power driving speakers
You have to pay close attention to both the specifications of the speakers you have and the amplifier that powers them. Both scenarios of underpower your speakers and overpower them can eventually lead to speakers blowing.
When a speaker is underpowered, clipping will occur, and the sound wave generated will become more square-like. This reduces the life expectancy of a speaker dramatically. Over time this will lead to the voice coils being damaged due to incorrect heat displacement.
The same principle applies to speakers that are being overdriven with too much power. In addition to that, an overpowered speaker will cause the cone to move past its ROM (range of motion), effectively rendering the cone to distort and tear.
Hence the best thing to do is match the correct amplification with the proper speakers also regarding impedance levels. For example, you need to purchase an amplifier that is 300wats if your speakers are 300watts and if your speakers are 2ohms, make sure that your amplifier can drive 2 ohms.
What symptoms will a blown speaker have?
Distortion at all volumes
If y our speakers are blown, then no matter what volume you set it at, you will have distortion. Even if you set the volume low, the problem will still be there, and if you turn the volume up, the problem will intensify.
The cone of your speaker has to move always, even at low volumes. If there is a lack of movement, you can rest assured there is some component that is hindering your speaker’s power.
In this case, you may be able to get it repaired, where in most other cases of a blown speaker, you would need to replace the entire speaker.
No frequency response (sound blackout)
In some instances, your speaker may work perfectly fine, and then at a certain point in a song, there is complete silence, or there will be severe amounts of distortion.
This typically will happen when individuals try to increase the bass frequencies, and then all of a sudden, they won’t hear any bass. This can happen with all frequencies, but typically it will happen with the high and low frequencies.
The most common sound you will hear is distortion coming from a blown speaker; however, many more uncommon noises can result from a blown speaker, such as hisses, pops, scratches, and rattling.
These noises don’t necessarily have to come from the sound being reproduced from the cone itself but can emanate from within the speaker due to loose or faulty components.
How to test for a blown speaker (external test)
The main ways you will be able to test and figure out if your speaker is blown is by examining and listening to audio playback on your speaker.
It would help if you visually inspected the cone and all other external aspects of the speaker and then playback audio that you know (this means play a song you have memorized and know how it goes in terms of its sound).
It would be best if you flattened the EQ range (meaning take all the EQ settings and place them at 0db) and play the audio at a low volume increasing it incrementally before pushing it up to the speaker’s maximum volume.
Remember that your speakers should be paired with your amplifier to handle the same watts, so you should be able to push your speakers to full volume. In any case, even when your speakers are at total volume, they are never working precisely at their max capability.
This is because of the range of the audio (frequency range and volume of said frequencies) that is being played (you will only push a speaker’s maximum capacity if you are playing an unaltered sign wave). By analyzing your speaker this way, you will be able to tell if it is blown or not, effectively.
How to test for a blown speaker (internal test)
Testing the internal workings of a speaker is a little more complicated and easier said than done. You will need various instruments such as a meter gauge and a knowledge of speaker design and circuitry.
If you do have such knowledge, you need to examine the speaker and its parts systematically, checking for broken fuses, worn wire, faulty parts, and more.
If you do not know what you are doing but can’t find anything wrong once you have done the external test, it is best to take the speaker into a professional and have it examined.
We discussed speakers in detail, going over all their components and how they could effectively blow a speaker if they were incorrectly designed or faulty.
With this understanding, we could comprehend how a speaker works, take that, and correlate it to what we know a broken speaker would sound like, effectively understanding what parts of a speaker would be blown.
We went over the most common causes that could cause a speaker to blow and what symptoms a blown speaker would have. Finally, we discussed how to evaluate and test for a blown speaker internally and externally.
Concluding we should now be able to, without a doubt, tell if a speaker is blown or not.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.