There’s always that time when we want to listen to our favorite playlist, and the speakers pop at high volume. What’s that popping sound coming out from the speakers?
Many factors cause speaker distortion and popping, often by pushing your speakers to the extremes, mainly by underloading or overloading speakers.
Also read: How To Tell If Your Speakers Are Blown
What exactly is underloading or overloading, and what are the other possible reasons that speakers have distorted sound? Most importantly, what can I do to prevent this from happening?
How Do Speakers Work?
Speakers are machines that create sound. Speakers generate sound by moving their internal mechanisms to compress and rarify air to produce pressure waves and vibrations to create sound.
A good speaker recreates every sound or frequency as accurately as possible from the source audio.
Each speaker has its charm. For example, some speakers have better treble, and some have better bases. Overall, the sound that they produce may vary because of these possible factors:
- Original Audio or Input Audio
- Crossover Networks
- Physical Damage
Some speakers have sound frequency specialties too! Subwoofers specialize in the lowest frequencies, while woofers specialize in lower frequencies that are a bit higher than the subwoofers.
The tweeter has specializations in the highest frequency.
Check out my recommended speakers for home theater.
What Exactly Are Distortion And Speakers Pop at High Volume?
In sound, distortion refers to the deformation of an output waveform in contrast to the input waveform.
Technically, distortion in sound refers to the difference in waveforms from input to output.
To untrained ears, the differences may be slightly audible or most often than not, goes unnoticed. But when the distortions and popping go to the extremes, it will be audible even to the most untrained of capable ears.
It is usually due to the non-linear movement of a speaker driver.
Speakers Pop at High Volume? Here’s Why
There are many causes of distorted and popping audio, but it may be within these four situations:
Bad source audio
No matter how good the speaker, if the input sound is horrible, then the sound coming out from the speakers will be bad. Even with the standard formats of .mp3 and .flac, the sound output from your speakers can only be as good as the audio file itself.
There are many reasons for having lousy source audio. A possibility is that the microphone recording the audio is terrible, or the audio production is awful.
Manufacturers may intentionally make it that way, such as lo-fi (not an ear sore at all).
There is also another cause for lousy source audio, and that is compression. Most of the time, a single compression from audio and video sharing platforms like YouTube, Soundcloud, and Facebook only compresses files by a bit.
But when a file is re-uploaded and redownloaded many times, multiple compressions may result in a not-so-nice hearing experience.
Here’s the situation: you’ve got an amplifier that spits a tad bit too much wattage for a low-watt speaker. What’s even worse is when this situation happens to a crossover network (a network of speakers), which means that a possible signal leak may occur.
As discussed above, tweeters release high-frequency signals, but what happens if a low-frequency leak jumps onto the tweeters? What results is a non-linear action within the speakers, thus: distortion.
Think of it this way. The tweeters are supposed to provide the sweetest trebles within your crossover network. Then suddenly, a bass audio signal comes into play and completely overwhelms the tweeter. It can make speakers pop at high volume.
Another problem also with overloading is that overloading may not handle excess electricity properly.
Undissipated electrical energy may cause heat which can result in voice coils melting and burning.
It may result wherein your speakers will have broken electrical connections, which may, in turn, prevent speakers from producing quality sound or make any sound at all.
You want that speaker to sound loud. So you turn the volume up, but it seems like your amplifier could only supply so much electricity! Oh, what shame.
Underloading your speakers is one reason why a crackling, popping sound comes off from your speakers whenever you turn the volume up. To create louder sound requires more electricity.
And when your amplifier cannot provide such an immense load, distortion occurs.
Most people have a misconception about the causes of distortion in loudspeakers. Many have expressed their opinions on how overloading is the common reason that speakers create distorted sounds.
The reality is that the exact opposite is true: underpowering your speakers is way more common.
Many people come to contemplate on choosing which speaker to buy, the biggest, the loudest, the smallest, the sweetest.
Yet, many buy the amplifier as an afterthought. But, unbeknownst to them, having high-watt speakers and low-watt amplifiers isn’t such a good idea.
As you raise the volume of your speakers, the drivers will need to extend further and faster. With this, the speaker will need a lot more power to continue creating good sound quality.
This type of distortion does not occur due to the speaker’s limitations but comes from the amplifier’s limits.
It happens when an audio file amplifies to extreme highs and lows, wherein the sound required is beyond the amplifier’s capabilities. It can create a situation where speakers pop at high volume.
When amplifier clipping happens, the high and low frequencies beyond the amplifier’s capabilities will be clipped, which means these excess frequencies won’t make it to the speakers, even if the speakers can produce such high and lows.
Underloading and overloading. When these situations happen too often at your speakers, they may cause permanent physical damage. And with this, your speakers may permanently produce distorted sound.
Physical damage is usually caused by heat (most associated with overloading).
When the speaker gets too hot, wires may melt, and adhesives used within the interiors of your speaker may not work. It can result in distorted sound or no sound at all.
How Do I Prevent Popping, Distortion, And Physical Damage To My Speakers?
Tone it down. Those are the three words that can solve most of your speaker-related problems. Tone it down.
Many may take this advice for granted but toning down your speakers enable your speakers not to require as much electricity as needed, thus reducing the risk of underloading.
Also, since speakers need to create vibrations to produce sound, toning down your speakers may also help reduce the amount of movement the speaker’s internals may suffer.
It will also help with internal component fatigue as less electricity means less heat produced around the system.
Storing your speakers in a cool, dry, and safe place is also crucial for speaker longevity and preventing any possible popping and distortion. Heat is usually the main reason speakers break all the time—also, water damage.
Also, buying quality material is vital when purchasing sound components. Not only can this ensure that your product will last longer, but this can also ensure better sound quality.
“Quality material” does not only refer to speakers, necessarily. In fact, buying the appropriate amplifier is also very crucial to prevent underloading and overloading. It brings me to my next point.
Buy power-matched equipment. Buying power-matched equipment not only helps with sound quality but also helps with the durability of your speakers.
It is because buying power-matched equipment (meaning buying the appropriate power of amplifier concerning the amount of energy your crossover network needs) is essential to prevent any complications within your speaker system.
Reasonably Sound Frequently Asked Questions About Speakers, and Distortion
Do I need to buy a whole set of speakers?
Honestly, no, but it depends on what demographic you reside. For example, suppose you want the best possible listening experience. In that case, you can buy a whole crossover network’s worth of speakers, but most often, you don’t need to.
If you want to have a high-quality listening experience without breaking the bank, a good speaker will do. A pair of budget earbuds or earphones will probably sound better than budget speakers, though.
If I have the best quality speakers, does this mean that I will have the best quality sound?
No. To have the best listening experience, you will need to have an acoustically tuned room, which means that any room with rigid walls and floors is a HARD no-no.
To acoustically tune your room, you may need to go with the basics and start applying sound-absorbing materials, as these disable unnecessary echoes. Also, a constant reminder, buying the appropriate amplifier is a must.
I have my speakers at a relatively low volume. So why is there still that horrible popping sound and distortion?
There are many reasons for that; most commonly, you may either have very damaged speakers or just a low-quality setup.