Perhaps you’ve got an eye on a second speaker on sale with a great deal, or you simply want to know if your pair of speakers sound as good as it was when you first bought it. For years, many audiophiles and music lovers have been curious to know if speakers degrade or go bad.
Since I happen to be one of those people, I took it upon myself to do some research and answer this question once and for all. So here is what I found.
Do speakers wear out? Short answer, yes. Speakers do wear out over an extended period of usage. Speaker parts such as the surround, cone, capacitor in the crossover, and ferrofluid in some tweeters degrade over time, and that reduces the overall sound quality of the speakers.
Some components of the speaker are more prone to degradation than others. And when these components wear out, it affects the overall sound quality of the speakers. So, coming up, we’ll take a look at the components of a speaker that go bad with time and then talk about the factors that contribute to a speaker’s degradation.
Later in the article, we will talk about where to find replacement parts for worn-out speaker parts. I’ll also give you tips on how to maintain your speakers and use them for years without any issues. Let’s get into it.
Components of a Speaker that Wears Out
Most of the components in a speaker barely degrade. You will probably not notice any significant change to them even after many years of using them. However, there are a few components that wear out after a while. Although they are few, it definitely affects the speaker’s performance. Let’s take a closer look at these speaker components that wear out.
The surround refers to the part found on the edge of the speaker’s cone. It is the material that binds the cone to the chassis of a speaker. The speaker’s surround determines how far the speaker cones travel. It also absorbs the remaining energy in the cone when its limit is reached.
If all of this sounds gibberish, feel free to check my brief explanation of how a speaker works.
The surround is usually the first component on a speaker that wears out. That’s because they are more exposed to the elements than all the other components on this list. Two materials mostly used for making surrounds are foam and butyl rubber.
Foam surrounds are the easiest to deteriorate over time. After years of usage, they tend to stiffen. And after they stiffen, they become brittle and begin to break.
Speaker surrounds made of butyl rubber last much longer than foam because of its properties. Firstly because it’s much more flexible than foam, it has an excellent temperature range, and it is resistant to sun rays, water, and many chemical reactions.
However, regardless of all its qualities, surrounds made of butyl rubber also degrade over time. After years of usage, they begin to dry out and harden.
When the speaker surrounds begin to wear out, you’ll notice a change in the sound quality of the speakers. The first thing you may notice is the speaker will sound distorted. Also, there will be a change in the speaker’s frequency response.
Sometimes the change in the sound quality will be drastic, and you’ll notice it right away. In other instances, the change in sound will be slight, and you won’t notice it until you compare it with fresh speakers of the same model.
Crossover is an essential part of every speaker. It splits the audio into two or more frequency ranges so that it can be sent to the speaker driver designed to play those frequencies. For instance, the crossover will filter out audio frequencies below 200Hz, which will then be sent to the subwoofers, and then filter out frequencies above 2kHz, which will be sent to the tweeters.
Crossovers can achieve this with the help of resistors, inductors, and, most importantly, capacitors. However, capacitors wear out over time.
Capacitors in a crossover may degrade due to a couple of reasons, including aging, material wearing out, or even mechanical damage. There is no way to stop this because it’s going to happen eventually.
When a crossover capacitor degrades, there will be a change in the frequency response of the speaker. It can also lead to phasing issues.
Fortunately, when a crossover capacitor wears out, it’s not the end of your speaker’s life. That’s because there are replacement crossover capacitor kits that you can purchase to replace your worn out capacitor. We will talk about that later in this article.
Ferrofluid in Tweeters
In the early ’90s, ferrofluid was used in almost every tweeter. Although they are not as popular today, they are still used by few manufacturers. If you don’t know what a ferrofluid is, it is essentially a fluid with magnetic particles colloidally suspended through it.
Ferrofluid is used in tweeters to dampen the resonance and to cool the voice coil. Overall, it helps improve sound quality and prevents the voice coil from overheating.
The disadvantage of ferrofluid is that after a while, they begin to dry up. After about ten to twenty years, all of the ferrofluid in a tweeter will evaporate, leaving behind the magnetic particles in the tweeter.
This can cause a lot of problems. The most common one is, the leftover magnetic particles after the fluid dries can choke the tweeter’s voice coil and prevent it from moving. Essentially, this means the tweeter will stop working, and at that point, your speakers will begin to sound dull. That’s because it won’t be able to playback all those high frequencies.
Speaker cones are usually made of paper, plastic, aramid fiber, and sometimes metal. Although these are materials that rarely wear out, certain environmental conditions can cause them to go bad over time.
For instance, aramid fiber cones don’t do well in humid environments. That’s because they absorb atmospheric moisture. Over time, they become weak and then deteriorate. Paper cones behave the same way.
Also, ultraviolet rays from sunlight have the potential to damage speaker cones after long exposure.
Factors that Affect Speaker Degradation
Two main things come into play when it comes to how speakers wear out. And you have to know about them. Let’s get into it.
1. Material used for speaker parts
Not every speaker is built the same way. Every speaker manufacturer decides which materials they should use to make the components of the speaker. Most of the decisions regarding the choice of materials depend on the budget and the final price of the speakers.
There is no denying the fact that some materials last longer than others. For instance, as I mentioned earlier, butyl rubber is a much better material for speaker surrounds compared to foam. That’s because it will take them a much longer period for it to go bad.
Similarly, some manufacturers use cheap capacitors in their crossovers that tend to wear out much faster than expensive high-quality ones. Cheap capacitors will work just fine, but only for a short while. Expensive and high-quality capacitors have much better build quality because of the materials used, and it takes a long time for them to degrade.
This concept does not apply to only the speaker surrounds and the crossover capacitor. It holds true for all the materials used in making the different parts of a speaker.
2. Environment speakers are kept
Where you keep and use your speakers plays a vital role in how long it takes for the parts to wear out.
As I mentioned earlier, speakers generally don’t do well in sunlight. The UV rays emitted by the sun damage the speaker cones or grill fabric on speakers over time. Also, direct sunlight can heat up the speaker’s voice coil and possibly cause it to overheat and burn while the speaker is working. Here is an article on how speakers overheat and I think you’ll find it very interesting. Feel free to check it out.
I recommend you check if your speakers get hit by direct sunlight. Sunlight could be hitting your speakers or other A/V equipment through the windows, and you certainly don’t want that.
Also, if your speakers are kept in a humid environment, that can speed up the speaker’s degradation. Moisture will not only wear out the cones and surrounds over time; it can also corrode the metallic parts of the speaker. Moisture can also cause a short-circuit and possibly damage the power amp or speaker drivers. Read my article on how cold temperature and moisture affect speakers.
Another thing that can potentially wear out speakers over time is heating radiators. Don’t get this wrong; there is absolutely nothing with using speakers in a room with a radiator. As long as the radiator is emitting too much heat, they should be ok.
However, I found that many people place their speakers close to heating radiators, and this can lead to some problems. The most common problem is that the speaker cabinets, surrounds, or cones can warp over time, and you know for sure that will affect the speakers’ sound quality.
How Long Do Speakers Usually Last?
Speakers usually last for 10 to 50 years or even longer before they show any signs of damage. How long a speaker lasts mostly depends on the material used for its construction, the environmental condition the speaker is used in, and the power amp that drives it.
It’s no news that some speakers have much better build quality and can withstand many environmental factors for a longer period. Similarly, there are speakers made with cheap materials and will easily break in no time when exposed to harsh conditions.
In essence, environmental conditions definitely affect how long a speaker will last. However, the choice of materials used for constructing is the most important factor that determines how long a speaker will last before it damages.
Replacement Parts for Worn-Out Speaker Parts
When your speakers degrade, that’s not the end of its life. In fact, there are replacement parts for every component of the speaker that wears out over time. So if you notice your speaker sounds bad, don’t throw it away just yet.
One of the easiest speaker replacement parts you’ll find is the surround. Obviously, that’s because it’s usually the part of the speaker that degrades faster and more often. Check out this big list of speaker surround repair kits (on Amazon). I recommend you go through the list to find a kit made specifically for your speaker model. Else, find something that has the same dimensions as your speaker’s surround.
You can also pick up a new crossover capacitor to replace your degraded capacitor. OCR Electrolytic Capacitor Kit (on Amazon) is an excellent capacitor for any crossover. Although you’ll get an overwhelming number of capacitors, you’ll find the right capacitor with the same rating as to your degraded capacitor. As soon as you replace the old capacitor with the new one, you’ll get a much better sound quality from your speakers.
How to Maintain Speakers
Here are my tips on how to keep your speakers in good condition for a long time. Follow these tips, and you’ll have your speakers sound as good as new for a long time before they begin to wear out.
- Keep speakers away from sunlight or direct heat
- Keep the speakers in a dry, no humid room
- Keep the speakers in a dust-free area
- Keep the speakers well-ventilated
In summary, speakers degrade over time. There are some components of the speaker that don’t last forever. And when they wear out, they affect the speaker’s sound quality. However, when a speaker degrades, that’s not the end of its life. In fact, you’ll find a replacement part for almost every worn out part of the speaker.