Speaker damage?
November 30, 2019 11:56 PM   Subscribe

I just bought a new car with an excellent 12 speaker stock Bose sound system. When I connected my phone to it via Bluetooth, the sound was quite low until I turned up phone volume, but then all of a sudden it got really loud. I turned it down within about 2 seconds, but for my peace of mind, is it possible to cause damage to the speakers in such a short time?

They don't sound obviously distorted or anything, but I can almost imagine a little less of a sweet spot, a bit less bass and slightly less clear treble. (Bass and treble controls were only about middle default and volume was not at max, but of all songs for this to happen on it was "Do You Feel Loved" by U2, which is quite "heavy".) I'm fairly sensitive to audio quality and this going to bother me, so is there an actual possibility that it might have been degraded? I've also done this hooking up a computer to my home audio and always wondered about that too.
posted by blue shadows to Technology (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's definitely possible to damage speakers in two seconds but it doesn't sound like you did.

In my experience a wounded speaker will sound obviously crook and they tend to die rather than limp on if exposed to too much mojo. The lesser bass & treble may have been a Fletcher Munson effect. In essence, louder music sounds like it has more treble and bass.

My hunch is that your speakers are fine but if you want to check them further, you could put your ear up to each speaker while listening to something you know well. Go from side to side as there will likely be identical speakers on each side of the car and they are unlikely to have both been damaged, or damaged in the same way.

Don't forget when testing that it is shockingly easy for even careful and smart people to convince themselves that non-existent things are occurring and that they are observing them. Dick Feynman had a bit to say about this and I think he was right.
posted by mewsic at 1:46 AM on December 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Seconding that sure, it's possible, but it would be unsubtle if you had.

Was it just loud music? Unless the designers had fucked up, I'd expect the speakers and amps to be matched in the sense that the speakers could take all the music the amps could dish out as long as they weren't overdriven and clipping. Because why does CarCompany want to buy bigger amps than it needs?

The usual rule with volume and power is that doubling power requires a 10x increase in power, so almost all the power your amp produces is used to turn very loud music into truly deafening music, and even quite loud music might use 5-10 watts.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:48 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

A Bose car system is likely designed so you can’t blow the speakers at full power. I own a similar system in my car and I run it full out all the time with no damage in 5 years.

Still isn’t loud enough for me.
posted by spitbull at 7:38 AM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've seen several blown speakers, and it was *always* due to actual abuse - either hot-plugging a line-level signal from the amp or pushing it with more amplification than it was designed for. You can definitely "over excurse" woofers by feeding them too dramatic a wave form, but as others have said, it would be obvious, and Bose systems aren't really designed to allow it under normal use. Additionally, your signal got passed through the Bluetooth converter on the way in, so my first scenario above is impossible.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:28 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

The amps and speakers will be paired together such that it would be effectively impossible to damage them with two seconds of input from the aux jack. Speaker damage occurs when there is a massive amount of power from an amplifier that's way overpowered for the speakers or when there's an extended period of time where something the in audio chain is clipping (past its capacity) such that the audio wave begins to approach a square wave (think the people that drive around with horribly distorted subwoofers), which will generate heat and eventually damage the speaker.

An integrated car system will be designed to avoid the former and it would take extended time of abusing it to achieve the latter.
posted by Candleman at 8:35 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Bluetooth systems are going to be capped pretty low on volume at a digital level, unless there's an electrical fault, it's very unlikely you could hurt anything with a Bluetooth signal.

Your audio issues are probably just Bluetooth itself distorting your signal. Unless you have one of the proprietary versions like Apples on both your device and receiver, Bluetooth audio is going to sound fairly awful on a top end audio system designed for analog signals. Try plugging in your phone directly into the Aux input and see how it sounds, mine sounds way better
posted by JZig at 8:47 AM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thank you, that is what I was hoping for, that the system would be designed to handle full volume. I switched back to usb and radio for comparison, but once the doubt starts... There certainly is no obvious damage so I was wondering more if it could be only a small percentage off playback, just enough to notice.
posted by blue shadows at 10:19 AM on December 1, 2019

By the way it’s really common for door mounted speakers to get loose in their brackets or to rattle other door hardware. The resulting buzzing sound can be mistaken for audio distortion.
posted by spitbull at 10:26 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

There certainly is no obvious damage so I was wondering more if it could be only a small percentage off playback, just enough to notice

Unless you have “golden ears” to the point where you should really be making a living winning Grammy awards for “Best Engineered Classical Recording”, no. This is entirely psychological. Sudden bursts of volume will either kill speakers dead or produce no noticeable affect. Doing it a bunch over a period of time will wear out speakers faster than not giving them sudden bursts of volume at random, but at such a subtle level that you would only notice that your sound system had degraded after you had replaced the speakers with new ones. (And even then there would likely be a large “New Speakers!” psychological effect to your analysis.)

New car and new gear and you’re understandably worried about damaging your new things, but you’re fine.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:39 PM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

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