Speaker Break-in

If you’ve spent much time on various online guitar forums, you’ve no doubt heard many statements like the following:

“To really know what a (insert speaker here) sounds like, you need to break it in for 50 hours.”

“The best way to break in a speaker is to play every note in every position on your guitar through a looper and then play those back at various output levels. Do this for a few hours and your speaker will better reproduce the full spectrum of guitar tones.”

To get past the urban legends of speaker break-in and learn the truth, I spoke with Anthony Lucas of Eminence Speakers and Dave Noss of Avatar Speakers. My goal was to find out whether or not a speaker needs to be broken in, what (if anything) happens as it breaks in, and if there are any do’s or don’ts for breaking in a new speaker.

"As a speaker is played, physical changes take place that make the speaker sound better. The upper-mids and highs start to sound warmer and smoother and the low end acquires a bit more punch."

The short answer is that a speaker doesn’t need to be broken in. It’s a natural occurrence that happens with use. As a speaker is played, physical changes take place that make the speaker sound better. The upper-mids and highs start to sound warmer and smoother and the low end acquires a bit more punch.

As Anthony stated, “Think of it like wearing a new pair of shoes. I always like the feel of a new shoe on first impression because it will have more padding and support than the old worn out shoe and there’s that immediate sensation of comfort. But as you begin walking around in them the first couple of days, they have a tendency to hurt your feet a bit until they contour to your foot and wear in. The suspension parts of the speaker have to wear in and settle into a “comfortable” position. This includes the cone surround and the spider. This continues for the life of the speaker. The most noticeable amount, though, happens in the early stages, and this is what guitarists refer to as the break-in process. As a hypothetical example, the speaker might change 10–20 percent in the early stages, but only 1–5 percent more in the middle to later stages of its lifespan.”

So how do you take that stiff new speaker and break it in safely? Anthony’s feeling is that the safest method to break in a speaker, and the only one he feels comfortable recommending to someone spending their hard earned cash on speakers, is to play it as loud and as long as you can. It will happen naturally. As for how long it will take, it can vary. Every speaker is different.

Avatar Hellatone 25w Speaker

So, what do you do if you lack the patience to break in your speakers? Avatar Speakers offers their line of Hellatone speakers which come broken in. They have a pretty simple approach to breaking in speakers. They just hook them up to a CD player with a really bassy CD and play it on repeat over night for about 15 hours at a low to moderate volume.

“I always tell guys that the Celestions we sell sound great right out of the box. But because they are brand new, the suspensions are at their tightest and the tone is at its brightest. When they break in and loosen up a little, they have a longer cone travel and softer suspension which causes them to have a deeper and warmer tone.” — Dave Noss, Avatar Speakers

So sure, there are many methods used to speed up the break in process, but they can also damage the speaker very easily and quickly. Avoid methods that speed up the process by abusing the speaker and playing it at frequencies a guitar speaker is not designed to reproduce. The expert advice is that you should break your speakers in slowly so they don't prematurely wear out.

Plug in, turn up, and rock out—that’s what speakers are for anyway. Get in some practice and pay attention to the changes in your speaker’s tone over the course of time.

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