How to Identify a Blown Speaker

Identify a Blown Speaker

It’s not always obvious if a speaker is malfunctioning. I was back at a church six months ago for my once-a-year tune up. Nice d&b speakers, fairly new and all networked through Dante. But something didn’t sound right.

They’ve got a small center line array and a point-source on each side to cover the wings. The center line array usually has more high-end than the side speakers. The last time I was there, I was able to get all three speakers sounding about equal with even coverage across the room. This time it was impossible.

No matter what I did to the EQ or the speaker processor, I couldn’t get the room to sound right. I walked the room listening to first the center line array, then to the right speaker. Sure enough the EQ was uneven.

I went back to the board and tweaked the EQ settings then took another walk. Now the right and center sounded even. But the room still sounded weird. Walked over to the left speaker, and to my surprise, all I hear is highs. No bottom-end whatsoever.

The Setup

It’s important to note they have subwoofers but they also have three-way speakers (highs, mids, woofer). Using subs, they wouldn’t need three-ways but that’s what they installed.

The Identification

I go back to the board and turn off the subs and sure enough the left three-way speaker has zero lows. These are powered speakers, so my first thought is maybe a breaker got tripped on the speaker. Get a ladder out and check. No joy. I asked the worship leader and the tech team if they noticed that the left side of the room didn’t sound the same as the center or right side. Nope. So I had them call their speaker vendor and see about getting it fixed.

I’ve also been at churches and events where it’s really obvious that a speaker has barfed its speaker guts all over itself. All you hear is a buzzing or really distorted and muffled, rattling sounds coming out of what used to be a normal speaker. And yet, you can’t just make the assumption that because you’re hearing what appear to be death throes from the speaker that a speaker is blown. It could be an amplifier, wiring or mixer channel (red-light peaked).

Don’t focus on the manifestation of the problem but follow a full diagnostic before you determine that the speaker indeed has gone to speaker-heaven. Moving on, I’m going to assume that you’ve narrowed it down to the speaker.

A Blown Speaker

A “blown” speaker can look like several things. If the speaker is really old it could be the foam surround on the speaker cone has deteriorated and fallen apart. It could be the actual speaker cone has torn or the speaker could have been ripped from the voice coil. It could be that the voice coil has welded itself together. It could be a loose wire or a blown fuse.

To check out the speaker, you’ll need to remove the grille. Some things like the ripped cone or foam surround disintegrating will be pretty obvious. Other things like the voice coil and the speaker cone separating will probably need a more focused look-see. If the speaker is flown, take it down for inspection instead of perching on a ladder or on a lift.

The first thing to do is have the system on and listen up close to the speaker. Listen to all drivers individually to narrow down if it’s the whole speaker or just one of the drivers. If there’s no sound coming out of the speaker check the fuse or circuit breaker on the speaker. Then pull the grille off and do a cursory inspection. Then pull it down to firm ground.

Depending on how expensive the speakers are or what brand they are, you can purchase replacement speaker foam surrounds or speaker cones or even speaker repair kits. If the voice coil is shot, you’ll need to replace the driver itself. If you can’t get a replacement from the manufacturer of the same make and model as the driver, you’ll either need to replace it with another similar driver as well as replacing the same speaker in the other cabinets. If you don’t, it will be hard to match EQ unless you are OK with tweaking an EQ on each individual speaker—and assuming you have the setup to do that.

The number one sign it’s time to replace the speakers

If the speakers were made over 30 years ago, it’s time to replace them. It doesn’t matter how good or expensive they were. Music styles have changed drastically since then and with today’s emphasis on kick and bass, those old speakers may not be up to the task. Even if they are, there’s a good chance the foam or speaker cone material has become brittle over the years and the speakers can’t articulate as well as they did when they were new.

If the speakers distort at the level of the music that you currently play at, it’s either time to replace the speakers or the amps or both. Switching music styles from a traditional choir to an electric band will cause speakers that used to be OK to be hopelessly outclassed.

If the speakers have 87 generations of spiders living inside and around the speaker or if there’s about an inch of dust covering all the interior components, chances are things aren’t working as well as they used to or you’re in a really dirty and dusty environment.

If the speakers sound lifeless no matter how much EQ you put into them, if you can’t drive them to a level louder than the spoken word, if they distort or parts are falling off of them, it’s time to replace your speakers.

If the speakers are flown by some well-intentioned person that just screwed eye-bolts into the speaker or your speaker is being flown by the handles then it’s time to replace your speakers.  

The Next Steps If you need help selecting replacement speakers, or any type of equipment replacement, check out our guide:

Equipping Your Church for Audio