Subwoofer Clipping: Causes and Solution

Subwoofer clipping is one of the most common audio problems faced by many.

Simply put, the sound signals sent to the subwoofer got heavier than expected or beyond their mechanical limits.

It causes distortion in the sound referred to as Subwoofer clipping. 

It typically occurs when you experiment with the settings or try to get the most out of your sound system.

Additionally, wiring issues or power mismatch within the sound system can distort sound signals leading to subwoofer clipping.

In this article you will understand what subwoofer clipping is, the causes along their solutions.

What do you mean by subwoofer clipping?

Subwoofer clipping refers to distorted sound waves or a strange sound produced by your subwoofer.

It usually happens when the amplifier sends strong waves of sound to the Subwoofers which are beyond their capacity.

The higher and lower sound waves or signals are clipped and turn flatter from normal curves.

Technically speaking, when the amplifier emits excess sound signals beyond its capacity, it gets clipped or cut off.

It causes the curvy sine waves to become flatter or square at the highest and lowest points.

It results in distorted and disturbed sound waves produced by subwoofers and speakers.

You can refer to the image below that demonstrates the change in the sound signals.

How subwoofer clipping signal looks
Clipped signal – 1

Additionally, overpowering the subwoofer can lead to potential damage to the drivers or blowing out the entire unit.

You should be aware of subwoofer clipping issues and be able to set normal or proper gains on the amp.

What are the causes and solutions of subwoofer clipping?

The causes of Subwoofers clipping depend on several factors such as incorrect crossover settings or the settings on the Receiver isn’t proper.

Additionally, excess sound waves transmitted to the subwoofer through a non-suitable or faulty amp can also be the case.

Finally, faulty wirings or a damaged subwoofer can be a possible cause of subwoofer clipping.

Let us discuss the possible factors responsible for subwoofer clipping along with their solutions below.

Subwoofer Clipping: Causes and Solution

Overdriving the Subwoofer

When an amplifier outputs excess or maximum power, it can overdrive the Subwoofer.

This is due to the increase in the mechanical power that will push or stretch the cone harder.

It will ultimately lead to clipping or cutting off the extra waves that are below and beyond the Subwoofer’s handling level.

It can cause disturbance or distortion in the sound or music.

Additionally, playing music at louder volumes and on the lowest possible frequencies will ultimately overdrive the Subwoofer.

Solution:

Simply adjust the amplifier’s gain or crossover frequency to limit the amount of power being sent to the subwoofer.

You should set the proper gain controls on the amp settings or simply set it to normal.

You can start by keeping the subwoofer amp gain level to the minimum and then turning it up.

Slowly move it until the sound from your subwoofer overpowers the other speakers, without distortion.

If there’s any distortion at a specific level, turn it back until you hear a clear sound.

Incorrect Settings on the Receiver

A receiver sends sound signals and instructs the connected Subwoofers and Speakers (different channels) to output sound at set sound levels.

There can be multiple channels in a sound system (speakers and subwoofers) controlled by the receiver and sound waves are sent according to the modes of music.

Moreover, each output unit or different channel has its own level of control.

Solution:

Make sure your receiver is set to the correct mode, and the right level is applied for each unit.

Avoid setting up the subwoofer’s dB level (SPL) too high to prevent it from clipping.

Typically, the general rule of setting up the individual dB level should be around ‘0’.

If required you can tune the individual units slightly up or down for better sound quality ensuring no distortion.

Improper Crossover Settings

Improper crossover settings are another factor involved in the subwoofer clipping problems.

The Crossover setting enables you to set a specific frequency range that a Subwoofer can output.

Typically, lower frequencies are handled by subwoofers to produce bass.

For instance, if you set the frequency to the lowest possible level for the subwoofer with high volume. It will struggle to reproduce bass or will output too much bass while playing different genres of music.

Solution:

Make sure to set the crossover settings above the lowest possible bass level and accordingly set the volume.

By doing this you can get to the desired settings and play music without distortion whilst enjoying it.

Wiring Issues or Bad connection

Nonsuitable or underrated speaker wires can be another cause.

Additionally, if the wires aren’t connected properly, it will prevent sending the full signal to the subwoofer. Ultimately this can cause distortion and clipping.

Improper or bad grounding can also lead to subwoofer clipping issues

Solution:

Always use standard wires for connectivity suitable to your sound system.

Additionally, inspect if all of your connections are secure and free from any corrosion or oxidation.

Nonsuitable Amplifier

The amplifiers should match your subwoofer’s power handling capacity.

Any difference will lead to overpowering or underpowering the subwoofer unit.

Additionally, a faulty amplifier can also lead to transmitting uneven signals to the subs resulting in clipping sounds.

Solution:

It is important to match the power ratings of your amplifier to your subwoofer in terms of power output and sensitivity.

Also, inspect the amp for any faults. For any confusion, seek advice from an expert before buying them.

Burnt subwoofer or damaged components

If all the connections and settings look good then there can be a problem with your subwoofer.

A faulty or burnt subwoofer can lead to clipping or distorted sound.

Over time, the moving parts of the sub can wear out and cause sound distortion or clipping.

Parts such as the voice coil, cone, surround, spider, etc., are responsible for producing sound with the help of mechanical energy.

Solution:

Get the Subwoofer inspected by a service professional to determine the possible faults if any.

You can get it repaired by a service professional in most cases, however, for major damage or faults it’s better to get it replaced.

Other Factors

Another factor to consider can be your room size v/s listening distance.

If you have a small room, you may be too close to the subwoofer for it to accurately reproduce sound at lower frequencies.

Conversely, if you’re too far away from the subwoofer, you may not be able to hear some of the midrange frequencies it produces.

Solution:

The ideal listening distance typically depends on the size of the room and the type of music you’re playing.

Accordingly, you can check by moving the sub or yourself to find the sweet spot.

How can you determine subwoofer clipping?

The best way to determine subwoofer clipping is by simply listening to the sound produced by your subwoofer. However, you can also use devices or tools available to detect audio distortion.

Let us discuss them in brief.

Listening

listen to determine subwoofer clipping

In most cases, distortion or disturbance in sound can be easily recognized by listening to the music in your sound system.

Hence, listening is the best way to determine distortion in sound that is clipping issues.

However, it can be difficult to make out the fine clipping in sound waves.

Hence it’s best to determine the same with the help of a few tools.

Distortion Detector

There are several distortion-detecting devices available in the market especially built to monitor audio waves.

Additionally, these tools also help you set the best dB levels (Volume) on the sub and accordingly you can set the desired gain.

You can research more about such devices online or at local stores and accordingly make your choices.

Typically these devices will signal you with a blink as soon as distortion is detected.

Oscilloscope

oscilloscope device
Clipped signal – 3

An oscilloscope is a device through which you can check the waveform of the audio signal.

This particular device can be a handy tool to determine the clipped sound waves in the range of the waveforms.

Oscilloscopes can be found available on online platforms such as Amazon.

Additionally, these devices come with detailed instructions for operation that can be helpful if you are unsure about the steps.

Multimeter

Use multimeter
Clipped signal – 3

Multimeters are another handy device that can let you monitor the voltage of the audio signals.

If there’s sound distortion or clipping, you can check if the multimeter is detecting a fluctuation in the voltage (such as too high or too low).

Final Thoughts

Subwoofer clipping is the disturbance in sound waves due to excess audio signals received through an amp.

It can be irritating especially when you play your favorite music at higher volumes.

You can avoid or fix subwoofer clipping by setting up the gains below the excess output level.

Faults with wiring or damaged components causing the issue will require an expert’s attention.

To avoid most issues with manual settings, you can opt for active subwoofers that have built-in amps to automatically adjust power and other settings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does voltage cause audio clipping?

Fluctuation in the power will lead to an increase or decrease in the voltage supply and can result in audio clipping due to uneven power transmission.

Can bad grounding cause audio clipping?

Yes, there’s a higher possibility of audio clippping due to poor grounding because your amp won’t be able to draw the current it needs. It will ultimately have insufficient power to transmit audio signals and can cause audio clipping.

Armed with a Diploma in electrical engineering and a remarkable 12 years of expertise, he excels in rejuvenating music systems, washing machines, dryers, and laundry-related appliances. Manish's profound insights and practical know-how establish him as a credible authority in appliance and music system repairs. Contact: manish.singh (at) subwooferblog.com. He's always ready to lend a helping hand!