Will playing clipped audio damage speakers?

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Will playing clipped audio damage speakers?

Permanent link to this post Posted by classic35mm » Mon Mar 12, 2018 10:47 pm

I have a track of audio (speech) that has some instances of clipping. Here's an image of the waveform of the track, with instances of clipping shown in red (View > Show Clipping):

trackclipping.jpg (294.37 KiB) Viewed 78 times

I understand that clipped audio is distorted -- it is "chopped off" with loss of information, hence the term clipping -- and will not sound "good."

But will playing back this audio damage a typical device speaker, such as a built-in laptop speaker or a built-in tablet speaker?

The audio at the positions marked in red sound fine (or at least acceptable) to my ears, so as far as audio quality is concerned, I'm not going to worry about the clipping. But do I need to worry that I could damage speakers if I play back this audio on my laptop or tablet?

Thanks for your help. I'm running Audacity 2.1.3 on Windows.
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Re: Will playing clipped audio damage speakers?

Permanent link to this post Posted by steve » Mon Mar 12, 2018 11:44 pm

In my experience, laptop speakers are pretty robust, and the built-in amplifiers do not produce sufficient power to damage the speakers. Disclaimer: There may be some laptop somewhere where this is not the case.

Playing clipped audio through a hi-fi or other equipment "could" cause speaker damage. Typically when playing normal audio, only a small proportion of the signal is sent to the tweeter, so, for example, for a 20 Watt system running at half power (10w) there could be around 1w going to the tweeters. When audio is clipped, the high frequency content is dramatically increased, so for the same system at the same power output, the amount of power being sent to the speakers could be many times higher than for "normal" audio, and that higher proportion could be enough to "fry" the tweeter. It's all a matter of "power". If the power rating of a speaker is exceeded, the risk of damage is high.

Occasional clipping as shown in your screenshot is (in my experience) unlikely to cause damage unless you are really pushing the playback system (which could cause damage whether there is clipping or not).
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Re: Will playing clipped audio damage speakers?

Permanent link to this post Posted by jh90s » Tue Mar 13, 2018 1:55 am

My one Dell Latitude D620's speakers got damaged after I amplified some music a bit more than I should have, though the speaker in the D620 is mono so that could've contributed to it.
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Re: Will playing clipped audio damage speakers?

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Tue Mar 13, 2018 3:20 am

it is "chopped off" with loss of information

Loss of show information. At the clipping points, the waves no longer follow the instruments or voices in the show. But the system doesn't just give up and go home. Any abrupt, sharp change in direction of the waves makes new tones and they universally go up in pitch. Further, this damage almost always happens at full volume.

So that gives you a burning hair smell and sudden muffled, dull sound.

I agree occasional clipping isn't likely to do that and it's not likely to happen on a small sound system, but nothing good happens when the system is exceeded.

Don't deliver clipping to a client.

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