No it's definately a physical thing. And it usually takes a long time depending on the speaker, partly the electronics, but mostly the speaker surrounds, etc.
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Lake, since speakers are mechanical, it certainly seems reasonable to expect some break in time. I believe you're correct that the first 50 hours leads to more of a difference than the next 50 since the old law of diminishing returns seems to be about everywhere.
I also agree that the mind will focus on different things at different times. Just as you get used to one thing, you notice another. If we noticed everything all at once all around us, our minds would overload. The brain tends to ignore stuff that is the same so it can focus on the differences. There's a term for that, but I don't remember what it is. Selective something?
There's a mechanical break-in, an electronic break-in (e.g., cross-overs) and a mental break-in -- or, in my case, a mental break-down ;-) They are all there.
Depends on the speaker and associated parts. I have owned speakers that sounded fine after 20 hours and speakers that required 600 hours before they really began to perform.
The U, A and M series Sound lab, Kharma Exquisite 1De and the Dali Megaline are all examples of speakers that require long break in.
I have a good sized audio group, all these guys own high end electronics and speakers and have keen ears. When I'm breaking in speakers and someone misses two weeks and then returns and describes EXACTLY what changes the speakers have gone through, it's enough for me.
On the same topic, It's possible to accelerate break in. Sean, who posts here frequently suggested I play music with lots of bass, dynamics and at a high SPL. He sent me three demo discs and along with my Ayre and Purist Audio break in discs, there are substantial changes in sound after working the speakers out.
Temperature and relative humidity can have an impact on various materials used in loudspeaker drivers.
For example, if a speaker is stored in a cold warehouse for a few months prior to being shipped, the internal temperature of the cabinet will have dropped well below the ambient temperature in a typical home environment.
This might take a few days to equalize, similar to thawing out a turkey.
Playing dynamic music through the speakers will help speed up the process, and will flex the spiders and surrounds so they reach their nominal compliance.
Electronics shouldn't be subject to mechanical factors, but there might be some kind of audible electron flow phenomenon, though I doubt it.
I've seen several threads on this topic. Personaly, I'd let the speaker evolve at its own pace at normal listening levels and sit back to enjoy the process. Patience is a virtue. You'll discover a little bit of this and that every day that prompted you to buy them in the first place.
And I'm taking my Thanksgiving turkey out of the freezer one day earlier this year.