As you begin working with your new piece of sound equipment, you are likely wondering how you should take the best care of it. You may have heard of the implications of underpowering and overpowering your subwoofer, but are these true?
Underpowering a subwoofer by providing it too little power or too low of volume will not damage it. However, a clipped (distorted) signal can come from underpowering the amp and result in damage to the subwoofer. RMS ratings on the amplifier and subwoofer can prevent damage.
Also read: How to Break In a Subwoofer Properly
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In this situation, you can see that it is important to define what it is exactly that you are underpowering. If you are providing too little power or volume to your subwoofer, it will likely be just fine.
However, if you are underpowering or overpowering the amp, you might cause the device to be overworked and eventually clip the signal resulting in a pop, bang, sizzle, and, ultimately, damage to your subwoofer. Let’s take a closer look.
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Will Using Too Low of Power Damage Your Subwoofer?
As you set up your surround sound system in your new home theater, you might be wondering how to appropriately achieve the right connections for each piece of sound equipment that you own.
In doing so, you will, of course, check the RMS ratings. But, you might be wondering what could happen if you end up using too little power for your subwoofer.
So, will using too low of power damage your subwoofer?
Really, it depends on which component you are referring to. Having too low of power or too little volume will not harm your subwoofer.
However, a distorted or clipped signal can come from supplying too much or too little power from your amp and can not only reap poor sound quality but a damaged sub as well.
For anyone who is not familiar with the process of setting up a sound system within their home (or another location), it can seem a bit intimidating to begin this process.
However, using the appropriate RMS ratings, you can ensure that your subwoofer is receiving just enough sound and power to be able to transmit the low frequencies as it was designed to do.
With this in mind, it is important to make the distinction between what supplying too little power to your subwoofer really means and what this could look like.
Realistically, if you are using a speaker system that has too low of power, it will not be the power itself that causes damage to the subwoofer.
However, underpowering your subwoofer does have a negative reputation for the end result of your sub because of what consequently happens when the amp is overpowered or underpowered. This, primarily, results in a clipped signal which we will discuss more in-depth later on in this article.
However, for now, it is important to simply recognize that it is not the power that is causing issues with your sub but the overworking or underworking of your amplifier in connection with your sub.
What is a Clipped Audio Signal?
So, in case you are new to the audio world, then you might not quite understand the significance of a clipped audio signal (or how this would affect your subwoofer or speaker system). Fortunately for you, understanding this and knowing what to do (or not to do) is not overly complicated.
So, what is a clipped audio signal?
An amplifier is capable of sending out a maximum audio signal capacity determined by the RMS rating. When the audio signal is larger than the capacity at which the amplifier can receive, the excess is cut off resulting in a clipped and distorted audio signal.
If you imagine this as a truck passing through a tunnel, the excess height on the truck would be clipped off at the height capacity of the tunnel. This would result in a distorted shape (among other chaos) of the vehicle.
In this way, the amplifier acts as the tunnel and the audio signal acts as the truck- passing through to the capacity in which the amplifier is capable of receiving/sending.
While this might be a bit difficult to imagine, you can look at the shape of an audio signal and see how this clipping occurs when it is too large of a signal for the amplifier to receive or appropriately manage.
How Does a Clipped Audio Signal Affect a Subwoofer?
Clipped audio signals not only distort the resulting sound quality of the audio, but they can harm the devices which are attempting to receive them.
When a subwoofer receives a clipped audio signal, this is when it is often misinterpreted as underpowering a subwoofer.
However, it is not that you are supplying the subwoofer with limited power or a lower volume, but instead with a distorted (clipped) audio signal that it has to work extra hard to receive.
So, how does a clipped audio signal affect a subwoofer?
When a subwoofer receives a clipped audio signal, it goes into overdrive attempting to connect the distorted sound wave. In this way, a subwoofer can overheat and get damaged by a clipped audio signal.
Because of this, it is incredibly important to ensure that the various pieces of equipment in your sound system are matched to meet the appropriate capacity.
Importantly, following the RMS rating will help you to determine the best input and output capacity that your specific device is capable of handling.
When you match up the equipment using appropriate input and output capacities, you reduce the risk of overpowering or underpowering your subwoofer as well as the other speakers involved in the speaker system setup.
Specifically, you can aim to reduce the potential of causing a clipped audio signal that will distort the sound and potentially cause harm to your various pieces of equipment.
Through the preventative measures of avoiding clipping the audio signal in the first place, you act to ensure proper care and function of your audio equipment for the long haul.
With this in mind, you can more confidently navigate your sound equipment to achieve the overall sound quality that you were hoping for from the start.
How Do You Avoid Audio Clipping? (Setting Up Your System)
Now that you are aware that audio clipping is what causes damage to your subwoofer in terms of underpowering it (as opposed to supplying too little power or too low of volume), it is likely that you will take every preventative measure that you can to avoid audio clipping in the first place.
So, how do you avoid audio clipping?
Achieving the appropriate signal level for your specific equipment is the best way to avoid audio clipping. You can choose to raise or lower the signal strength depending on the capacity of the devices you are using.
You can even choose to use amplifiers that are stronger than the speaker’s ratings, depending on the setup that you would like for your sound system in your home.
Either way, you will want to make sure that your input level does not exceed the maximum level that the speaker is able to receive.
You can do this in a couple of different ways. Primarily, you will purchase and use equipment that was specifically designed to work on a similar (functional) capacity.
Along with this, though, you can also find that using signal converters is another way to reduce the signal that is streaming from one piece of equipment to another.
There are likely other solutions available, too, if you were to check in various audiophile forums or at the store that you purchased your audio equipment from.
Just be sure to continue testing and monitoring the various uses of your equipment so that you can keep using it effectively for years to come.
Is it Better to Underpower or Overpower a Subwoofer?
Ok, so we have talked about underpowering your subwoofer and the implications that a clipped audio signal can have for your overall sound quality and safe and effective use of your subwoofer (and other pieces of audio equipment). What we have not discussed, though, is what happens when you overpower a subwoofer.
Is it better to underpower or overpower a subwoofer? Neither underpowering or overpowering your subwoofer is an effective way to stream audio through this low-frequency piece of audio equipment.
In underpowering with a clipped audio signal, you risk damage in this way. However, overpowering the subwoofer is not likely to cause the same damage.
So, in this way, one could argue that overpowering a subwoofer is the way to go. In this case, you might even find audiophiles who have decided to use an amplifier with a much greater capacity than the subwoofer’s maximum range. However, the risks are quite minimal in comparison to underpowering a subwoofer.
In overpowering the subwoofer, the subwoofer can play all that it can stream the low-frequency audio signals to its maximum capacity.
Anything above this capacity will not be streamed. However, while the subwoofer will be maxed out on its capacity, it is not possible for it to go “over the maximum”.
Because of this, the subwoofer itself will not be at as great a risk of damage. So, if you have to choose between underpowering and overpowering your subwoofer, choose to overpower it.
But, if you can simply play it at the appropriate range, then this option is significantly more ideal for maintaining safe, fun, and useful pieces of audio equipment.
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