What Happens If Speakers Are Under-powered?

We all know that most  speakers need to be powered in order for them to work optimally. In this post I’m therefore going to discuss what your speakers would happen like if they were getting insufficient power running through them.

This will help you sort out any power issues that may cause trouble for your audio experience, which is even more important for people that work in audio production.

With that said, what happens if speakers are underpowered?

 The common fear for most people is that underpowering speakers can damage them but this is not usually the case. If underpowered, speakers will produce distortion and clipping as you increase the volume.

Speakers essentially need enough power for them to work appropriately. Underpowering them simply refers to pairing them with an amplifier that doesn’t meet the wattage requirements.

With that said, let’s look into some ways you can figure out whether your speakers are underpowered or not.

Amp Rating vs. Speaker Specs

The first place to look is at your amplifier rating. This can be found on the physical device itself or in the specifications.

Essentially, all you’re looking at is how much power they output.

Once you find this power rating, you can then go ahead and check the required power by your speakers which can be found in their specifications.

If the amp has a lower amount of power that it can output with regard to the speakers. Its probably best not use it with your sound system because that could easily lead to distortion and clipping.

Driving a low amount of power to your speakers lops off the wave forms of the audio signal.

Understanding specs

You need to understand amp specifications so you don’t get confused.  You need to know the power an amp can deliver per channel.

For example, if a sound system has a wattage rating of 400 Watts per speaker/channel, an amp that outputs 250 watts per channel and 500 watts total would essentially underpower your sound system.

Therefore it’s important to have a close look at your amplifier specs.

If at all you’re not well versed in the world of audio equipment, you can easily speak to a sound system expert that can help you get the right amplifier, that can drive enough power to your speakers.

Clipping

In audio engineering, the term “clipping” is a word that is used quite often.

Clipping is something that you’ll encounter if your amp underpowers your speakers.

So, let me give you a simple explanation of what clipping actually is.

The waveform of normal audio, that is, audio that isn’t clipping usually looks like a fish bone or a sine wave that is characterized by rounded peaks.

When a waveform is clipped, these rounded peaks become flattened on top which makes audio sound a lot more forced and hard on the ear.

Therefore, the harder the amplifier is pushed beyond what it is meant to handle, the more the sine wave gets flattened out and “clipped” by the limits of the speaker.

The reverse is also true: if the power is too low, a wave has trouble forming at all.

Speaker coils

Let’s now get into a brief description of speaker coils.

Essentially, speakers have what are called voice coils. When you drive a high powered amplifier through these voice coils, they’re supposed to handle a specific amount of current.

As more and more power is driven into these coils, current dissipates in the form of heat.

The speaker cone vibrates, which basically helps to cool the coils based on the airflow created by the internal vibration.

Clipped waveforms often lead to less vibration of the cone, preventing the airflow from being created.

With too much power, the coils basically get hot faster than the cones airflow can cool them.

However, with too little power, the coils don’t overheat, but they don’t have a good enough audio signal to generate sound that isn’t distorted but sounds clean.

Even if your speakers are able to support three to four times the power being provided, a signal clipped from low amplifier power will not damage them.

Extreme clipping is actually more likely to damage your speakers when powered by an amplifier that meets or exceeds the speaker’s requirements.