How To Break In A Subwoofer – The Ultimate Guide

You have just bought an all-new subwoofer for your home theater – yet you have heard that you need to ‘break in’ the subwoofer. It is a question which has been wavering in the audiophile community for some time. However, is this process really necessary? If so, what is the proper way to break in a subwoofer to unlock its full potential?

This article explains the methods and reasonings to break in a subwoofer as well providing the correct way to do it.

What Is A Subwoofer?

A subwoofer is a loudspeaker designed to recreate low-pitched audio frequencies known as sub-bass and bass.

Subwoofers are made in different sizes. The most common ones are found in the car and home settings. Big subwoofers are usually used by artists in live concerts. The size may be small or big and they are measured in inches. Presently, subwoofers in the market are available in 8, 10, 12, 15-inch sizes. They are also made in different size, shape and designs.

The speaker is encased in a safe structure. It is mostly covered by wood. But any material is good, as far as it can withstand sound defamation and air pressure. 

From Klipsch

How Does A Subwoofer Work?

How a subwoofer works can be a bit confusing. If you’re just using one for the first time, you would notice that they are strong enough to send vibrations which can be felt. They use woofers or speaker drives that are made in a specific size. Targeted audio frequency or subwoofers’ base size determines the size of a subwoofer.

All these contribute to the audio quality. The sensation it produces is because of the components that allow users to boost or reduce the output of the set frequency, which makes sure the speakers all move at the same time and the woofer cones fit into the subwoofer.

Is It Necessary to Break in a Subwoofer?

This is a question that causes some contention in the audio community – however there are valid reasons to believe breaking in a subwoofer has beneficial effects. One way or the other, a subwoofer is preconditioned to undergo a break in its usage. Breaking a subwoofer is recommended so it can perform well and deliver great audio quality to your ears.

If you notice, when you unbox a new subwoofer, it feels stiff. The stiff part is called the spider. The spider is a corrugated coil that is attached to the voice coil and the speaker’s cone. The voice coil which is located at the bottom of the cone expands and stretches the spider when a sound wave is produced. 

The spider does the work of holding some parts of the speaker that moves when audio is played. The absence of a spider would cause uncontrollable rattling of the subwoofers when sound waves are emitted. If this continues, the speaker will eventually stop working as there is no support for absorbing the sound waves that it produces. 

To loosen the spider, you need to break into a subwoofer.

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From Sony

Getting Ready to Break In Your Subwoofer

Now that you have understood the uses and the concept behind breaking in a subwoofer, it’s time to prepare for the actual breaking-in process. Like other types of equipment, there are a series of processes to follow to properly break in a subwoofer. The process might take a while to complete, but the satisfaction after would be worth the wait. This might take days and probably weeks to complete a successful break-in. 

Here are some considerations to take note of on your first break-in:

1. Check the connections: You might feel thrilled about getting a new subwoofer, but be sure to check if the connections hooked up to your subwoofers are correct. There is nothing worse than hooking up a High-Level Cable to reverse phase or even leaving the bare copper wiring making it short out the amp.

Make sure you connect the speakers in phases and if the main amp of the amplifier is designed. Without accurately checking the connections, your subwoofer might become worthless.

2. Play a recording: Play a piece with deep bass. This process needs a regular and deep beat. Ensure there is a high amount of bass that would make the driver move. Reggae tunes might be a good option. Some users use ‘pink noise’. But that doesn’t have a high amount of bass that will make the subwoofer drivers work. 

3. Reduce the volume: Once you’ve set in the tune of your choice and started with your break-in cut, it’s vital to moderate the volume the tune is played for a while. Thereby, making the driver time and all parts of the amplifier to begin to warm up.

Most audiophiles tend to overlook this process. Moderating the volume allows the current to flow through the resins, esters, and power supplies used in the important components like the spider, so they can start moving. This warmup is needed so the speaker can adjust to its surroundings.

4. Make sure the unit is mounted well: Make sure the subwoofer case is right for the unit you have available. There are different kinds of cases available, you can choose the bandpass boxes, ported boxes, or a free-air subwoofer. However, put in mind that each case you choose affects the delivery of the bass. 

5. Time for a Full Break-in: It’s time to increase the volume of the tune you’re playing. Play it twice the volume you had it on earlier. Leave it for at most two hours. The subwoofers get louder during the time you’re playing the music due to the fact that some components are getting more flexible. 

6. Final Break-in: After playing the tune at a mild volume for about 10-12 hours, the process is completed. This time will allow the subwoofer to gain 1db or 2 dB of audio power.

How To Break In a Subwoofer

To start this process, there are a few things you need to set in place. First, find a tune that has a low amount of bass. Second, ensure the load on your speakers aren’t too overwhelming for your subwoofer. A successful break-in can be completed in ways: hard and easy. As you know, it’s best to follow the simpler and easier route. Let’s dive into the process: 

1. Mount the subwoofers properly

2. Play a tune with low bass on moderate volume for about one or two weeks for about 12 hours

3. As you play the music, the suspension of your subwoofer would increase in flexibility. If you keep playing the tune, the sound gets louder even when the volume is still the same.

4. Set the gains and blast away

One way to get the most of breaking in a subwoofer is: practice patience and follow all the steps involved. 

Free Air Method

In cases whereby there might not be enough time to do the three weeks process, you can successfully break in your subwoofer within a day. Just download a tone generator app from the Apple Store or Google Play store. You will also need a jack and external amplifier that gives you the access to connect the subwoofer to your phone.

Place the subwoofer on a flat surface (preferable a flat wood plank), and balance it carefully in the middle of two chairs. You want to make sure the subwoofer is able to move freely and air can move freely with your setup. Also, before continuing with the break-in, place a substance on the board so there will be no movement.

Open the generator app on your phone and set it to play at low-frequency (somewhere between 30 Hz works great). Play the tune for a few hours at moderate volume. Increase the volume of the tune by a little bit, every 2 hours until you have a good excursion. Repeat the process for a day.

Make sure you have power that would run the speakers and the amplifier. The benefit of this process is that 2dB of power is gained by the driver. This means gaining up to 60 – 100 watts in power for a successful break-in. 

Tone Generator (From Tone Generator App)

Dos and Don’t For Breaking In A Subwoofer

1. Don’t use pink noise. Pink noise is a tune that sounds static. It uses a consistent frequency, pitch to create flat noise. Tunes with large bass provide energy displacement and need large-scale movement in order to provide the exercise the driver wants.

2. Use an Allen/hex wrench that fits. An Allen/hex wrench is used to check the tightness of the driver mounting bolts. Tighten the bolts from the East/West to the North/South end then fill in the loose ones. This will reduce the tension and prevent a crank down.

3. Ensure you keep playing tunes with a fairly high bass frequency regularly.

How A Break-In Affects Parts Of a Subwoofer

A subwoofer is made of different parts that work together to deliver great sound. Understanding the importance of a break-in to those parts is important.

Voice Coil: The voice coil is in a cylinder shape and is made of copper wire. Copper does the work of collecting and reacting signals with the magnetic field, thus causing the cone and other parts to move.

The movement in the cone caused by a reaction from the copper accuses sound to form. If the Voice coil is used for hours without rest, it might get hot. This might cause the melt glue, wires, and even the whole cylinder to damage.

Cone: They are rigid structures found in the subwoofer. When they are loosened from the structure, they tend to perform their work better.

Spider: The spider makes sure the voice coil is set in place and also the cone of the subwoofer is connected to the frame. It is a flexible ring that can change its form if it moves faster than normal. 

Surround: Like the spider, the surround is also a flexible ring that holds the cone. Making the movement around the whole cone easier. 

how to break in subwoofer
From Accuracy Pro Audio

There are other parts such as voice coil, backplate, and basket that exist, but these parts are not important for the break-in. The aim of a break-in process is for each and every part of a cone and voice coil to become flexible. It’s like warming up for a run. Stretching your muscles before going in for an exercise prevents muscle tear or injury.

This also works for a subwoofer. When you unbox a subwoofer, the flexible ring (spider)  is stiff. As you start to break in, some parts stretch which is mostly the woven fibers, resins soften and the surround begins to get its elasticity.

So it’s best to maintain the important parts of a subwoofer by breaking in. A report by REL stated that a subwoofer gains 4-6 dB and an octave range after a successful break-in. 

What If I Don’t Want to Break-in My Subwoofer?

Using your subwoofer right from the box without a break-in can lead to a shorter life span of the subwoofer or an unrepairable distortion. Users who do not break in their subwoofers often run into this problem:

  • Burned coil: The subwoofer voice coil might heat quickly if there is no cone excursion. Little or no excursion gives the coil small room to allow heat and dissipate. An increase in heat build-up increases the potential for the coils to burn.
  • Bad suspension: Forcing the subwoofer to work too early might strain all the components of the woofer. This might cause the basket from the whole structure.

What Subwoofers Do Not Need Break-in?

Regardless of articles and YouTube videos available, there are some subwoofers that play audio to their fullest potential right from the box. This might be due to two reasons:

1. The drivers are tested and speakers are broken in right at the factory. The speakers are tested at the maximum and minimum output, plus the test covers a long period of time enough for the spider to fully stretch. 

2. If your ears are adjusted to the sound, the speaker is broken-in. This means that the ear is capable of measuring the audio output.

3. Impatience – some users after burning the subwoofer wouldn’t care to modify and build the enclosure before allowing it to blast away.

Mistakes People Make While Installing a Car Subwoofer

Wire Problems

Ensuring the speakers have a good equal amount of polarity is vital to get a good sound quality. If the polarity is not equal, the speakers might not work togther. While one speaker brings in sound waves, the other drives out, this means they would not work together properly. The integration piece in the subwoofer functions just as the line output converter must have the same polarity.

If the overall polarity is good, another thing to check is the wiring of each speaker. There might be incorrect wiring at the factory. Both negative and positive terminals might not be labeled well. A polarity test might come in handy in this situation. The AUTUT Polarity Test Phasemeter can be used to check for polarity and wiring issues. 

From Audio Legion

Phase Issues

If your subwoofer is running a tune at around 30-90 Hz range and sounds that are above 90 Hz are played by other speakers. However, both speaker and subwoofer are usually not placed in the same place in the car. sound waves produced from both devices might tend to mov against one another. Here’s how you can solve that problem:

  • Change the position of your subwoofer: try placing your subwoofer in different positions and check the audio produced before permanently installing it.
  • Change the polarity: Generally, no two subwoofers and speakers have the same polarity. But switching the subwoofers polarity can correct the polarity issues.
  • Digital Signal Processor (DSP): A DSP processor like the AudioControl DQDX Digital Signal Processor gives users the access to stop the front speakers from workong, so that sound from the subwoofers can reach the front of the car. The processors might be too pricey so we suggest you try out the first two methods first. The DSP works by time alignment.

Bad System Design

Every component of your subwoofer and amplifier must work perfectly. A large powerful subwoofer would not produce full audio quality when paired with an average amplifier. Your delivery system should be able to handle the power the system requires.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1) How Do You Break in a Subwoofer Fast?

Begin by determining a proper subwoofer connection. Then, play deep bass music at low volume for around a week, 12 hours daily. Afterward, tweak the gains and crank up the volume.

2) Do You Need to Break in a Subwoofer?

While some find it unnecessary, breaking in your subwoofer guarantees quality output. This way, you loosen the spider, which makes the subwoofer stiff when new. Subwoofer break-in is particularly crucial for car units, as most are low compliance.

The flexibility of a break-in prolongs the subwoofer’s ability to provide optimal performance over time.

Regardless, woofers that work with RMS wattage may lack significant improvement pre and post-break-in.

Conclusion

Although some people believe that subwoofers do not need a break in, most experts recommend otherwise. Breaking in a subwoofer allows it to develop a great amount of flexibility and maximum intrusion while reducing the power your subwoofer will need. Thereby allowing you access to a wide range of power with more volume.

If you choose not to break-in your subwoofer, there is a high chance of damaging some important parts of the subwoofer. You can also risk damaging the coil and damaging the spider.

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