Can the Vibrations of Loud Music Damage Your Speakers?
Nobody wants to dole out money for shiny new hardware only for it to be broken within a few weeks or months of use. There are situations where shoddy manufacturing processes are to blame, and in those situations, you should be able to get your items replaced or refunded under warranty, but what about when you are the reason they broke?
Speakers don’t tend to see much action in terms of being moved around or having things dropped on them, so outright breaking a speaker is pretty rare. Unless you’re very clumsy or like to rest your coffee on top of one of your speakers. But they do vibrate—it’s fundamental to how they work—and if they vibrate, could that vibration damage your speakers?
In other words, if you crank the volume up too loud, is it bad for your speakers?
How Speakers Work
Before we can answer this question, we need to go over how speakers work, otherwise, none of this will make sense. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an audio engineering white paper on how speakers work, we’ll keep it simple.
Depending on the features your speakers have, there can be a number of different components that are part of the arrangement. That being said, the basic design of a speaker is more or less the same throughout. And, for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to stick to the four main components in a speaker that allow it to produce sound.
The Cone, or Diaphragm
This part of the speaker is probably the bit you would recognize most readily, as it is the largest and most visible part of most speakers. It is often made from a kind of paper pulp and is attached to a flexible medium that allows the cone to move up and down.
The vibrations of the cone’s movement are what creates the sound you hear, and the shape of the cone projects those sounds outwards.
If you’ve ever had a speaker out of its cabinet and found your keys or other metal items sticking to it, you’ll probably already know there is a magnet back there. And quite a powerful magnet at that. This magnet is crucial to the operation of the speaker, and we will explain why next…
The coil of a speaker is attached to the base of the cone and acts as an electromagnet. It takes the signal from the audio source—which itself is just electrical current—and with that signal, it generates electromagnetism.
That electromagnetism then interacts with the magnetic field from our strong magnet, pushing or pulling against the field. The frequency of the signal coming from the audio source causes the coil to move at a specific rate, which in turn makes the cone move, which then produces the vibrations that create the sound you hear.
The Housing or Cage
In order for the above mechanism to work, everything needs to be held in place relative to each other. The cage, or housing, is typically a metal framework around the cone.
The strong magnet will be attached to the housing at the very back, and the cage will then flair up and outwards in a funnel shape. At the wide rim of the funnel, the cone attaches to the housing via a flexible material.
How It All Works
The strong magnet remains fixed in place at the base of the speaker housing, while the cone or membrane is attached to the other end of the housing through the flexible material we mentioned. This allows the membrane to move up and down. To bounce, essentially.
In the middle of all this, the coil sits attached to the cone, suspended above the magnet. When a signal is piped in to the speaker, it causes the coil to be attracted to or repulsed by the magnet, pushing or pulling the membrane up and down, and creating the vibrations you need for sound.
Is Playing Loud Music Damaging to Speakers?
So, now that you have an understanding of how speakers work, we can not only answer the question posed in the title—yes, loud music is damaging to speakers—but we can also tell you why!
Depending on the speaker, if you can pipe enough volume into it, you can damage it in one of two common ways. The first is by melting the coil. The voltage passed through your speakers is very low, and there is a pretty fine margin of tolerance, so if you increase that voltage far beyond what the speaker is intended for, you can overload the coil, causing it to heat up and melt.
The other main way in which loud audio can damage your speaker is by shredding the flexible material around the outside of the cone. If the movement of the cone is too energetic, it can damage the material that is supposed to be holding it in place.
Is This Common?
Speakers being damaged by too much volume is becoming less common as audio hardware and speakers become more advanced.
It is still possible to have an arrangement of audio gear that could damage your speakers, but for the most part, if you are buying a complete system, it should not be possible to overload the speakers that came with that system. This is thanks to many technological tricks, such as limiters that cap volume at a certain limit.
It is certainly possible to damage a speaker by playing music too loud, but a lot of it would depend on the speaker and the audio equipment being used to drive that speaker. Generally speaking, if you have decent audio equipment and your speakers are appropriately rated for the power being pumped out, you will struggle to damage those speakers just by turning the volume up.
It’s also worth noting that the build quality of the speakers will make a difference, with cheaper speakers being more likely to suffer from something like the membrane ripping free than higher-quality ones.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 John Bullock