What Is Subwoofer Clipping - An In-Depth Guide To Sound Clipping

You can have the best audio setup in the world. But if you don't have the right settings dialed in, you can run into several issues. One such issue is subwoofer clipping.

Subwoofer clipping pops up when various Hi-Fi components are not in sync. If you've ever heard your subs making a weird crackling sound that later turns into a fully distorted sound - that's subwoofer clipping.

In this article, I'll cover everything you need to know about subwoofer clipping, what causes it, and how to avoid it.

What Causes Subwoofer Clipping?

Speaker close-up

In the intro, I've hinted at what may cause subwoofer clipping, but now it's time to get into the nitty-gritty. Subwoofer clipping occurs when the audio signal overpowers your amplifier.

Your amp has a maximum capacity for sending an audio signal. You can find your amplifier's max audio signal output by checking its RMS rating. 

The additional burden gets cut off when the signal is stronger than what your amplifier can handle. When the signal gets cut off, you get distorted output, commonly known as clipping.

A great analogy is a truck entering a tunnel shorter than the truck. The extra height will be chopped off when the truck enters the tunnel.

This is the same thing that happens to the audio signal. And just like the truck from the analogy, the signal gets all chopped up and distorted.

What Happens To The Subwoofer When The Audio Signal Gets Clipped?

Black and white subwoofer

If a subwoofer receives a clipped or distorted audio signal, the result is pretty obvious - you get choppy, distorted sound output. However, this is not the only consequence. If left unchecked, this problem can damage your subwoofer.

Here's where things get a bit tricky. Subwoofer output often gets cut off if the volume is too high. 

People often think this happens because the sub is too underpowered. But this can't be further from the truth. When you notice your subwoofer is clipping, there are a couple of other things you should take note of.

When it gets a chopped, distorted signal, the sub works harder to correct this. This can cause it to overheat and even crack. The best way to avoid this issue is to ensure all parts of your Hi-Fi system has the right specs so that your amp isn't getting too little or too much power.

When you notice your sub is clipping, I recommend you turn everything off and start troubleshooting. After all, preventing this issue rather than risking your sub getting damaged is always a better option.

So, let's look at how you can recognize your sub is going to overheat and how you can prevent it.

How Can I Tell If My Subwoofer Is Clipping Or Going To Overheat?

Red Speaker

You can tell if there's something wrong with your sub by simply listening to it.

For instance, if your sub isn't getting enough power, it will produce pops and sizzles. On top of that, the overall sound quality will be pretty muddy and lack any accurate detail.

The real problem pops up when the amp gets an overpowered signal.

The clipped sound signal will strain the sub and cause it to overheat. An overheating subwoofer produces two distinct sounds - pop and thump. 

Let's cover these two sounds in more detail.

Can I Use A Subwoofer For Bass?

Wharfdale speaker

Of course, you can use a subwoofer to add more bass to your listening experience. 

While a woofer can output a little bit of bass, a subwoofer is made for deep bass. These speakers usually operate in frequencies between 20 and 200 Hz.

The lower the frequency is, the more powerful the bass. Hip-hop, trap, metal, and grunge all sound phenomenal if you can hear (and feel) the low frequencies.

However, not everyone is a fan of deep bass. This is why you can set up the sub to produce frequencies from 60 to 200 Hz.

Some subwoofers can even produce infrasound, which is a fancy way of saying they can pump out frequencies below 20 Hz. You're not able to hear this kind of bass, but you can certainly feel it, which is why these frequencies are often used in horror movies.

What Does It Mean When My Subwoofer Is Popping/Thumping?

If your sub is popping, that's usually an indication that the driver cone is moving too much. The cone is a moving part of the sub's driver powered by the voice coil's oscillations.

Voice coil oscillations ensure the cone gets pushed/pulled the right amount to ensure the sound waves are enhanced the way they were designed. 

When the cone moves too much or too quickly, it produces a popping sound. This means the signal inside the cone is trying to move at a speed and distance it wasn't designed for.

Letting the cone pop like that will overheat the sub and cause it to tear. You are also risking jamming the voice coil. Either way, you can end up with a broken subwoofer.

Your sub may also produce a thumping sound. This happens when you change the input parameters on your audio receiver.

When you change the receiver settings, your sub will try to replicate them as best as it can. To avoid this issue, you can adjust the bass levels to match the sub's gain levels.

Ensuring the gain and the bass levels are in sync is pretty simple. Look at each device and note the settings. Ensure the settings are not set to "auto detect" and instead set to a specific signal for the desired output.

As I mentioned before, it's better to prevent these issues than to deal with them when they come up. So, here's what you need to do to prevent any subwoofer clipping and overheating.

How Can I Avoid Subwoofer Clipping?

B&W Speaker

The best way to prevent your subwoofer from clipping is to manually configure the signal levels for the sub on your audio receiver and the sub itself. Depending on your device's specs, you'll need to either increase or decrease the signal strength.

To do this, you need to check your subs and audio receiver's RMS ratings. Once you've done that, you need to configure the audio receiver output and the sub input, so the sub doesn't receive too strong of a signal. 

If you have an amplifier with a higher RMS rating than your sub, you'll need to dial down the subwoofer signal strength. The only rule of thumb is that the input shouldn't be more than what the sub can handle.

You can also get a signal converter that will handle this automatically. However, they can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars and are not worth it if you're not a hard-core audiophile.


Subwoofer close up

As you can see, subwoofer clipping happens when the amp receives an overpowered signal. The amp will clip and distort the signal so it can send it to the sub. The sub will then reproduce a clipping, popping, and sizzling sound.

The best way to prevent this is to manually check your amp or audio receiver channel levels are in sync with your subwoofer.

Barry Allen

About the author:

Barry Allen

I grew up to be a self-proclaimed stuck-up audiophile, and I – partially – blame Pinnacle Speakers for it.

The whole point of me starting this website was to keep the tradition going. Although the means have changed, the mission remains the same: Bringing „sterling sound“ as they once put it into home theaters and sound systems worldwide! 

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