There are two radically opposing schools of thought regarding the need to burn-in, or break-in, new speakers.

 

First Radical School of Thought:

Speaker burn-in is an utterly ridiculous idea.

This school of thought basically states that our ears become accustomed to the sound of our new speakers (making them seem to sound better) and that the overall performance of a speaker doesn't change perceptively with use.

 

Second Radical School of Thought:

Speakers are only worthwhile to listen to after several hundred hours of burn-in with a white noise generator and increasing amounts of bass-driven music.

This school of thought believes that speakers must be broken in sufficiently and properly in order for the performance of the speaker to be enjoyable to even the average listener.

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

 

FACT

The simple truth is that with the advanced materials being used in the construction of suspensions and surrounds, the performance of a speaker will change slightly over time. Out of the box, a speaker will tend to sound a little stiff, particularly in the bass frequencies, and you may find that the overall response on your new drivers is a little tight or restricted for your taste. After a period of time, you'll notice the speakers open up and begin to sound more natural. This can definitely happen if you've auditioned a pair of well-played speakers at your dealer – at the store they sounded great with a lot of warmth and depth and at home your brand new speakers sound cold and shallow. At the store they had dozens, if not hundreds, of hours on them while your new out-of-the-box speakers are factory-stiff.

 

FACT

According to Dr. Jack Oclee-Brown, our Head of Acoustics: "The suspensions see the largest change, [as] they are made from impregnated textile and at a microscopic level the textile fibres pull apart a little when they are stressed, which leads to a softening. Break-in can take from a few hours to a few days. This depends mostly on the signal used for the break-in. Louder music will break in the drivers more quickly. As typically the bass drivers break in the most, music with more bass will speed up the process too. The same effects can apply to headphone drivers too."

The suspensions and surrounds will deform as signal is applied to the speaker, and that deformation causes the material making up the suspensions and surrounds to soften and become more flexible. It should be noted that the cones themselves do not deform and by "deform" we simply mean "change shape" to accomodate the movement of the speaker cone and voice coil.

 

What About Electronics?

There is a school of thought that semiconductors also require a burn-in period, but that is still widely up for debate. As components warm up they may tend to conduct electricity easier, but once they cool back down they will return to the same state they were in when they were manufactured. Heat kills semiconductors, not age. Vacuum tubes will perform slightly better with age, and certainly better with heat. The opposite applies to transformers and cables in general – more heat equals more restricted electron flow and restricted electron flow means less efficient signal transfer.

To that end, cables do not require break-in, and the elecrons within a cable do not need to be "re-ordered" or conditioned to flow in the proper direction. Electrons within a piece of wire sort of know how to react to an electrical signal without us teaching them what to do. I'm not saying cable break-in is hog-wash, oh wait... 

 

CONCLUSION

Enjoy your new out-of-the-box speakers and smile with the knowledge that no matter how great they sound the first time you play them, things will only get (slightly) better. EDM fans and shredders will require a short break-in period, while fans of piano concertos and folk music may require a few more hours. Either way, we're talking in the neighborhood of thirty hours of playing time to get your speakers playing to their potential.