Break­ing It In

Sound & Vision - - LETTERS -

Sound &Vi­sion and other au­dio mag­a­zine prod­uct re­view­ers of­ten mention a break-in pe­riod be­fore eval­u­at­ing speak­ers, and I’m cu­ri­ous how this pro­ce­dure is ac­com­plished. Are speak­ers sim­ply left on play­ing con­tent at a mod­er­ate level for a pe­riod of time? If so, how long is enough, and are other elec­tron­ics also given a sim­i­lar treat­ment be­fore eval­u­a­tion?

James Mitchell Via e-mail

The need for prod­uct break-in is well ac­cepted in the high-end au­dio com­mu­nity, where lis­ten­ers claim some­times quite sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in sound qual­ity over time.

But the sub­ject has al­ways been some­what con­tro­ver­sial, with the more ob­jec­tive camp dis­miss­ing the no­tion out­right or claim­ing that the dif­fer­ences in pre- and post-break-in son­ics are over­stated. In our pages, you’ll some­times see our re­view­ers mentioning the break-in of speak­ers, which are, af­ter all, elec­trome­chan­i­cal de­vices with mov­ing parts re­quired to com­press air, whether these are pis­ton-like cones (typ­i­cally at­tached with a flex­i­ble spi­der at the voice coil and a sur­round at the perime­ter) or a film- or rib­bon-based di­aphragm. With thou­sands of read­ers count­ing on our opin­ion, it’s only log­i­cal (and fair to the man­u­fac­turer) that our re­view sam­ples should be loos­ened up for at least a few days be­fore any se­ri­ous eval­u­a­tion is done. There’s no real for­mula for it other than to run some steady con­tent through the pipes for as many hours as you can at mod­er­ate to loud vol­ume. The speak­ers don’t need to be played con­tin­u­ously, though a re­viewer might just do that to clock hours faster and get on to the work at hand. You can loop full-spec­trum pink noise from a disc or dig­i­tal file, which works the broad range of fre­quen­cies, or just put on some fa­vorite con­tent that ide­ally has a bit of bass en­ergy to help en­gage the woofers. For a plain old au­dio­phile bring­ing new speak­ers home, just en­joy­ing them over time will break them in, and if you’re an ex­pe­ri­enced lis­tener, you might hear them evolve as they set­tle.

The value of a break-in pe­riod for elec­tron­ics is more ques­tion­able. Com­pe­tently de­signed au­dio elec­tron­ics, by na­ture, will never show the same po­ten­tial dif­fer­ences in sound qual­ity you get with trans­duc­ers like loud­speak­ers or phono car­tridges. From time to time, you’ll see a re­view in S&V that men­tions a per­ceived change af­ter an ini­tial lis­ten­ing pe­riod. My view on break-in for elec­tron­ics has been the same as that for au­dio­phile ca­bles: My ex­pe­ri­ence is that it de­pends very much on the sys­tem and the com­po­nent un­der test. High-end sys­tems that dis­play pow­er­ful res­o­lu­tion tend to make dif­fer­ences more ob­vi­ous for ex­pe­ri­enced lis­ten­ers. But while I do be­lieve firmly that elec­tronic com­po­nents can have their own sound, made all the more ev­i­dent by the qual­ity of the sys­tem around them, hear­ing a sin­gu­lar piece of elec­tron­ics evolve over time in any mean­ing­ful way (be­yond what might oc­cur dur­ing the ini­tial warm-up af­ter turn­ing it on) tends to be rare. An ex­cep­tion is tube gear, which re­quires ad­just­ments as the tubes age to main­tain op­ti­mal per­for­mance.—RS

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