What is clipping?

I've heard from people and from manufacturer's websites that clipping is bad. My receiver has a clip indicator. What is clipping? what are its affects on my speakers? what do i do about it?
Clipping is the term for the graphical indication (on an oscilloscope) of the waveform of the signal (music) being deformed because the amplifier has reached and exceeded its maximum power. Said a simpler way, it's the product of any ampifier stage simply running out of power. The waveform squashes--deforms--and the sound quality then varies from not good to absolutely horrible depending on degree of clipping.

Clipping produces, generally, highly distorted sound with too much high-frequency distortion--again, depending on degree of overdrive--that CAN damage speakers.

If you're seeing your clipping indicator blink just occasionally, probably you need do nothing. If you see it blinking frequently, you need to turn down the level several decibels--unless you want to damage a speaker. Of course, the solution to this entire problem is buying more power--and not just a little more. If you're seeing the indicator blink often, you need probably at least 3dB and maybe as much as 6dB more power; 3dB is double what you have and 6dB is 4 times what you have.
Hi Rajmago,

Your speakers have a “recommended” power rating as stated in their literature. These figures are only guidelines for matching to your amplifier or receiver. The speakers can actually accept much more peak power than the specification indicates as long as the power (wattage) is undistorted or “unclipped”. IT IS EASIER TO DAMAGE THE SPEAKER WITH TOO LITTLE POWER RATHER THAN TOO MUCH!

The music that your system plays normally requires very little power to provide a reasonable volume level. The rest of the amplifier power waits in reserve to allow for dynamic peaks in the music – the crescendo of an orchestra or the impact of a drum or bass guitar. These types of passages cause the amplifier to put out many times the amount of power it does during the softer sections.

If the amplifier does not have sufficient “dynamic power reserves” or “current capability” (the muscle behind the amp’s power rating) the amplifier can go into a condition called “clipping” where the power becomes distorted. This clipping distortion is seen by the speaker as heat and can damage the fragile wires in the voice coil sections of the speaker elements. With severe clipping these wires can separate from each other or literally burn and char. If this occurs, the sound will become distorted or you will hear a scraping noise. In some cases a damaged driver will not make any sound at all. If you are concerned about your amplifier’s current capability you should contact your dealer for advice.

Best Regards,

Barry Kohan

Disclaimer: I am a speaker manufacturer.
Clipping occurs when a circuit runs out of power. That is, the signal requires more output than the power supply can deliver to the output stage OR when the output stage itself is saturated. The end result is an increase in multiple types of distortion and the resultant decrease in sonic quality. You can avoid this by buying the biggest, most robustly built "gonzo" amplifier that you can find and / or by running highly efficient speakers that are easy to drive and / or keeping your volume down to something below a roar. The level of "acceptable roaring" will be dictated by the individual power capacity of the amp, the sensitivity and reactance of the speakers and the size of the room that you're trying to pressurize. Sean
Clipping is one of those non-intuitive electronics terms that basically means the amplifier has exceeded its maximum power output. When this happens, an oscilloscope will show the waveform with the top part of the audio signal "clipped off" (imagine an upside-down, U-shaped curve with the top section flattened, or "clipped"). When an amplifier "clips" the waveform, it produces a substantial amount of distortion until the power supply recovers sufficiently, or the volume is turned down. Severe clipping is quite audible, and if not corrected you can burn out the tweeters (which are the drivers most susceptible to damage from clipping-induced distortion), and sometimes the mid-range driver as well.

Clipping is a problem when you have a low-power amp, or very inefficient speakers that require a lot of power to drive them. There are three solutions:
1. play the speakers at lower sound pressure levels (volume) to reduce the demand on the amplifier;
2. get more efficient speakers (every 3db increase in efficiency reduces by half the amount of needed amplifier power);
3. get a more power amplifier (remembering that a 3db power increase requires a doubling of amplifier power).
thanks guys. much clearer now.
Clipping happens when an amp receives an INPUT signal beyond its capability.

There are two theories why a clipping amp overheats tweeters: excess harmonics & compression.

The older theory, excess harmonics, suggests that the clipped low frequency signals create higher frequency harmonic multiples of themselves which overload the tweeters.

The compression theory suggests that, although the low frequencies have become limited due to a shortage of power, the unclipped high frequencies overload the tweeters.

Odds are both theories are right. Both rest on the tweeter's greater efficiency relative to the low frequency drivers.

So what's to blame for the tweeter damage? The wacky sounding distortion? The amp's evil heat ray? Neither! The overdriven speaker coil spending too much time outside the gap with its magnet structure loses the heat transfer game and so overheats and burns.