SPEAKER TONE CENTER
ANTHONY “BIG TONY” LUCAS
Breaking in Your Speakers
So, you love your buddy’s tone and really
dig the speakers he’s been playing for the
past six months! You go out and buy the
very same speakers, put them in nearly
the same rig, but it just doesn’t sound the
same. Your dilemma is not uncommon. Many
variables could be responsible for such a
situation, but most likely it is a result of your
friend’s speakers being “broken-in,” while
yours are still brand new.
Simply put, all speakers are built to meet certain specifications right out of the box. Most
manufacturers work diligently to ensure that
happens, and tolerances are
usually pretty tight. As soon
as the speaker has been put
into service, all that changes
though, and so does the
tone. The sonic results you’ll
hear from break-in are:
warmer, smoother highs, an
increase in overall warmth,
and a slightly deeper, fatter
Players often wonder if it’s necessary to put
the speaker through some sort of break-in
process. Technically speaking, there is no
benefit to the life of the speaker or other
glaring justification for it—other than to
avoid going through a phase where you’ll
notice changes. Often, it’s even fun and
enlightening to experience playing through
the break-in period. However, you wanted
your tone to be like your buddy’s, so you’d
like to get there now, right? If that’s the
case, you may want to consider some sort
of procedure to get your speaker sounding the way it will be expected to for the
in relation to the top plate. This is not breaking the speaker in, but likely changing the
intended tonality of the speaker forever. The
stiffness of the suspension components hasn’t
changed with this method, right?
4. Variacs are variable AC voltage controls
with distortion-free output. This source will
get the speaker moving, typically at 60Hz. If
you can get your hands on one, it is a great
way to break a speaker in.
5. Noise signal generators are my personal
preference, accompanied by a multimeter
to read the output voltage,
and a frequency counter to
read frequency. I’ll play a
20Hz–30Hz sine wave through
the speaker with 15V–20V for
four to eight hours. It’s an
effective method, but pretty
abusive. You have to use very
good judgment in setting it
up. I’ve been known to burn
up a voice coil by mistake.
This is likely not a practical
solution for most people,
because the equipment is not
The components making
up the speaker’s suspension
are primarily responsible
for such changes: the spi-
New speaker (red) versus heavily used speaker (blue).
der (the lower suspension)
and the cone edge (the upper suspension). majority of its usable life cycle. Let’s talk
As the speaker is used, these components about how you can do that.
start to lose some of their compliance or stiffness, which results in changes to parameters
mentioned above, as well as to tonality. The
stiffness of the cone can also be impacted
over time by use, but plays a subordinate role
in the phenomenon known as “break-in.” The
frequency response graph shows how a speaker might change during this process.
1. Recorded music is one of the most common methods to induce break-in. A good stereo receiver playing music at moderate volume for several hours or even days is a safe
and reliable method. Use good judgment,
and don’t overpower the speaker or feed it
tons of low-frequency material. If it is distorting, you’re probably damaging the speaker.
Get as much cone movement as you can, but
you will know when you’re going too far.
6. Just playing it is a safe and
reliable method. Play it hard and play it loud
to shorten the time required. Don’t damage
your hearing by any means! Fifty to a hundred hours should get you to the point that
you no longer recognize tonality changes.
A good way to characterize speaker break-in
is to consider it as a curve. It begins with the
first note you play and progresses fairly rapidly through the first several hours, or days, of
playing. Changes in the speaker will continue
throughout its usable life cycle, but they slow
down dramatically and become unnoticeable to
even the most seasoned ears. In other words,
the curve is initially pretty steep, but becomes
much flatter after several hours of use, and
even flatter over an extended period of time.
The noticeable amount is where the term
“break-in” or “broken-in” is commonly used.
Look for more on this topic in future installments. We’ll take it a step further by breaking
in speakers of the same model using various
methods. We’ll use some loudspeaker measurement systems to track our progress and
resultant speaker changes. Maybe we’ll solve
all the mysteries!
2. Physical movement certainly works, if you
have the time to sit there and work the cone
up and down. I don’t recommend it, though.
You could damage the speaker—or reinforce
your significant other’s view that you’ve taken
this guitar thing way too far!
3. Hanging speakers face down is often suggested as an option. In reality, that promotes
suspension sag, which can displace the coil
Anthony “Big Tony” Lucas
is a guitarist and Senior Lab Technician at Eminence
Speaker LLC, where he specializes in guitar-speaker
design and customer support. Big Tony has been with
Eminence for over 10 years and is responsible for many
well-known guitar speaker designs.