Speaker Break-In - What Physically Changes During Break-In To Enable Better Sound?


Have seen people and manufacturers mention that speakers need to be played for a while to break-in / open up.  Would like to know what physically happens to the speaker components to enable better sound during the break-in period.  Please share your wisdom on this.

You're dealing with a mechanical device with moving components. It's a bit like a pair of new shoes. They're designed to flex and move, but that sure isn't how they come from the factory. 
I have no way to prove any of this, but I "believe" that after listening to my speakers for awhile, they sound better after 30-40 minutes or so than they did at the beginning.  Perhaps the drivers become more compliant (?) or warm up a bit.  Whatever it is, the sound seems to fill the room better, the stage opens up a bit more, and the music becomes more involving.  As for break-in of brand new speakers, the crossover certainly may undergo some changes, although one could argue that certain manufacturers do test runs of new units at the factory to rule out any problems before they ship them out.  But as it is with my present system, with the preamp and amp already in "standby" mode, I have to believe that it's probably the speakers that go through a warm-up period.
The capacitors, resistors, inductors, internal wire, solder joints and binding posts. Capacitors alone take up to 500 hours to sound their best.  
Like kosst_amojan said, the diaphragms of speakers are stiff "out of the box." In my experience, shipping in cold weather will make them stiffer (or reverse some of the break-in); and full-range drivers seem to require more break-in. Complete break-in for some drivers require many hours and even weeks and months depending on how much they are played.
Physically you get older!!  I think it is a combination of our getting in tune with the different sound and I am sure what grannyring pointed out. And I strongly feel my system which is solid state sounds better after about 20 minutes playing. Could be just me thinking that though and it is not really happening. 
It all depends on design. Big motors and acoustic suspension will dominate response on high quality drivers - spider and surround compliance being negligible. On low quality drivers then you can fully expect the manufacturer to recommend a break in period - this is because the response of poor quality cheap drivers will be affected by minor things like spider and surround.

On high quality speakers the drivers should be ALREADY broken in by extreme stress testing like in these two test examples (especially watch the second test on a small driver which is totally extreme)


The following video shows how drivers are built and individually tested from the ground up.


Many speaker manufacturers are simply using mass produced OEM parts often they don’t even run multiple tests except a go no go (it works or it doesn’t). Mass produced parts produced for a large market of speaker builders are designed to be easy to build and reliable with low reject rates. This means performance and tolerances are much looser with design considerations weighted towards reliability and ease of manufacture rather than pure performance. These speaker manufacturers may indeed recommend break in as parts may not have settled thermally and mechanically....having never been tested thoroughly until you receive your speaker.
What sort of a chimeric abomination is a "michiganbuckeye"?  Have you no shame!
+1 onhwy61 I didn't catch that. Get rid of the buckeye part and will get along fine.
The capacitors, resistors, inductors, internal wire, solder joints and binding posts. Capacitors alone take up to 500 hours to sound their best.  

In addition to what Bill stated, IMHO, the mechanical side, (spiders, surrounds, voice-coils, etc.)  is just as important to break-in.
Nothing changes *physically*. What changes is your ears and perception. Try the same thing with second hand speakers. You'll swear they too are breaking in. Balderdash.  If the compliance of all mechanical parts "broke in" over several hundred hours, that *degradation* in materials would not magically stop at the precise point at which they magically reach their best sound.  It's not magic, it's accommodation <erects flameguard>.
Two key factor's regarding break-in why one should wait 60 to 100 hours.
If you purchased a truly high end 3-way floor stander, where the crossover is on three separate boards, combined with very exotic drivers, then more time is needed for burn-in for the crossovers. The piston's in a new mid-range and woofer are somewhat stiff and should be broken in slowly to avoid off center piston alignment, and play at low volume for at least 60 hours for the piston's to break in to maintain perfect alignment.
If you take a brand new high end speaker right out of the box and crank it at full volume for an extended time, bad mistake. You could permanently throw your piston's out of alignment that could impact the quality of sound especially from the woofer. 
Keith, you've got a severe break in logic at work there. You're assuming "breaking in" is degradation. Everybody knows an engine requires a breaking in for parts to seat and wear property if undue degradation is to be prevented. Practically every complex mechanical device is like this. 
I’m inclined to believe that the thing that’s changing is ourselves i.e. we are becoming accustomed to the sound of a new and unfamiliar device, rather than anything "burning in", or whatever.
I knew someone would say that. I just knew it!

that's more likely your electronics warming up after this 20/30 minutes period and it's actually quite normal. 

it sure does sound better after warming up... some systems take even more than that to reach optimal working temperature. 

Replace the words “high end” in your post with “low end” and you are right. Only crap low quality speakers have a high risk of “off center piston” misalignment. High quality speakers made of high quality parts are not only built with far higher precision, they are rigorously tested far more extremely than you could ever expect at home.

Please take a look at my previous post with videos demonstrating the type of testing done by serious speaker manufacturers (of which there are a few).

Once again requirements for an extended “break in” is simply an excuse by marketing and sales staff for crap quality products. Products that vary audibly from one production model to the next right from the get go. Also if a product is still drifting audibly in performance after 60 hours then it just speaks to the terrible sloppy build quality - likely this sloppy wide tolerance type build will never settle properly even after 1000 hours and just continue to sound worse gradually with time (poorly aligned parts don’t magically cure themselves).
No, break in requires more time for the extra large caps made by companies like Jupiter Condenser and Duelund. Values for passive crossovers from 5-10uf are the size of Coke cans. These windings take 500 hours of run in and experience from pros proves this out.
Caps should be reformed before you receive them if the speaker maker chooses such caps that require it. Otherwise this is not high quality production. High quality designs will also avoid passive crossovers for a multitude of obvious reasons.

Capacitors don’t have windings. You are thinking of transformers.

The choice of “fancy” crossover parts in a speaker with cheap OEM drivers is the oldest marketing game in the book. Of course OEM speaker manufacturers dwell on this because the box and the crossover are often the only things designed by the manufacturer, the rest being assembly of OEM parts. Again design choices can be made to build to tight overall reliable tolerances or driven by marketing claims by installing fancy stuff between ho-hum drivers.

Where do you get this silliness you speak of? A new pair of jeans needs broken in. New shoes need breaking in. Engines need breaking in. A new bed needs breaking in. New tires need heat cycling. A new bike needs breaking in. Musical instruments need breaking in. But a complex mechanical device like a speaker just pops out of the factory perfect? That's so obviously wrong. 
There seem to be two issues being mentioned.
First is NEW speakers/crossovers/ electronics needing time to settle or work into the better sound. Speakers in particular the cone speaker surround, for Magnepan the mylar needs to stretch a little, and all need capacitors in crossovers to break in.

Second is the apparent getting better after turn on of many components.
I agree with both happening.
Anyway, I leave all my stuff on 24/7 to avoid the warm up hour.
(I am retired and listen all day every day anyway)
The one component I leave turned off  still does take about an hour to sound better. (Preamp I have I use only for LP playback)

Did you watch the videos?

You might learn something if you did.

Not all speakers are just thrown together using OEM parts and go out the door with only a go no go test. Some drivers are rigorously built and stress tested individually (extreme amplitude response as well as thermal) and tested against an “ideal response” reference and tested again together in the final assembly. These speakers are already broken in when you receive them. Drift over the life of these speakers is negligible due to the entirely different design philosophy to other manufacturers. We are talking true reference type speakers (with commensurately costly manufacture process) even if the word “reference” is way over used to market nearly every speaker.

True reference is not a “silly” concept it is however expensive and very few speakers are built to such a high standard and this is why many low quality manufacturers will warn you that their device needs to settle and break in at your home for up to hundreds of hours.
.... We are talking true reference type speakers (with commensurately costly manufacture process) even if the word “reference” is way over used to market nearly every speaker. True reference is not a “silly” concept it is however expensive and very few speakers are built to such a high standard and this is why many low quality manufacturers will warn you that their device needs to settle and break in at your home for up to hundreds of hours.

I’ll agree with you @shadorne that the term REFERENCE is used a bit loosely in the case of audio gear.

In my case, I have Golden Ear Triton *reference* speakers. I certainly knew prior, during and after purchase that in the context of the "absolute pinnacle of best possible performance", the speakers would NOT match a "reference" criteria, despite the use of the word "reference". Same can be said for my Emotiva ERC-3 CD player, which has the label "reference" printed on the face of the unit. However, I would expect "very good to better than very good performance, and exceptional value with respect to what TRUE reference would mean/cost".

The aforementioned stated, neither of two manufacturers recommends any kind of extended break in period. In the case of the speakers, Sandy indicates the crossovers, capacitors and mechanics of the drivers needs a little time to "heal", and we are speaking of approximately (only) 50 hours of usage.

In fact, in the case of the speakers, I have good reason to believe that Golden Ear DID consider a TRUE reference product (speaker), however, "cooler heads prevailed" when they determined that the cost to the consumer would be in the 80K/pair range.
Some caps need as little as 50 hours. It depends on the construction design and physical size.  For example,  Jantzen Superior Z caps need only 50 hours, however Duelund copper foil (PIO) caps need all of 500 hours.  Just the way it is.  
shadorne..Disagree with your assessment on burn-in. In the Spring of 1994 I purchased a used pair of Camber 3.5ti's from a member of the Washington Audio Society. At the time I had a Carver system and one of the two very best CD player's from Denon. Several day's after purchasing, I settled down for a long listening session, and was ticked off since one of the woofer's had severe break up and distortion at low frequencies. The titanium tweeter and woofer were from SEAS. I called the seller and he admitted the first day he had them, he drove them very hard with a low powered tube amp and a high powered solid state amp.
I took the speaker's to a speaker repair service company in Bellevue and was told the piston was damaged and the woofer had to be replaced. The cost of the woofer and repair came to $115.00 and the seller refunded the cost for repair. For those who plan to put speaker's in storage for an extended time, store the speaker's face down. Since the piston is suspended hanging off the back of the cone, the piston will sag if inactive for several years and storing them face down will keep the alignment perfect.

No worries. The videos I linked to are about ATC testing process. I know ATC are delighted that most manufacturers use mass produced OEM Seas drivers. ATC would not have an enjoyable niche producing higher quality parts in house for higher quality speakers if every speaker manufacturer built to such high standards. It is a good thing that other manufactures believe in using cheaper parts and telling their customers to expect significant audible break-in. In a way, you are supporting a tiered speaker market which keeps everyone happy.
Shadorne-Your not making any sense whatsoever. You need to do more homework.
A piston is a piston, doesn't matter what brand it is if its deemed high end. And unless its burned in at the factory before boxing, which most speaker companies do not have the time for, it will always need to be burned in to loosen up the throw motion of the piston.

This is a speaker forum not a car forum. There are actually no pistons in a speaker. I hope this makes sense.
Even if a mechanical device ( high end or other) is pushed to its limits for testing purposes within a short period of time that the factories time constraints allow, it does NOT mean it's been through its break in cycle. It's no different than any combustion engine or any other (electric or other) motor . Porsche with its gt3 used to recommend a 1000 mile break in, before pushing it to its limit or before a full output is realized. Do you think they use inferior parts in that motor? I don't see how any properly designed and build  driver will operate with full efficiency until it has been thoroughly broken in. This is physics, not marketing.
shadorne-Hmmm...now let me see..when watching a close-up video on YouTube of a mid-range driver excursion test the cone is constantly moving back and forth on a suspended surround. The constant back and forth motion is caused by a piston moving constantly in and out working just like a car piston which is why the inventor of this type of driver, Edgar Villchur, called it a piston driver in 1952. You really need to do your homework.
Speaker break in is correlated to how many hours you spend in the listening chair. As you sink in your chair over the hours waiting for the drivers to come of age, you will fall slightly below the initial elevation of listening axis. This is called SLOUCH EFFECT. Thus, as the speaker becomes relatively taller to your ears, you feel the sound improves. It’s properly known as SPEAKASS BREAK IN. So, in actuality, it’s your listening chair that breaks in, not the speakers. ;)
shadorne..I neglected to add that the God's were not with Edgar Villchur when he invented his piston driver, he experienced one of the greatest tragedies of all time in audio history and would have been the Bill Gate's of audio and the richest man in high end audio. In 1958 his patent was challenged in Federal Court in New York City and was denied by a federal judge. Since he lost his patent, it prevented him from licensing his patent all over the world to every speaker company and by the early 60's speaker companies everywhere grabbed his design and ran with it. He got so depressed he quit the speaker business in 1958 and made a bundle designing the best hearing aides in the country. His remaining partners that year started up another speaker company called KLH.