When you buy a new pair of studio monitors, people might recommend that they need to be “broken in”, “burned in” or “run in”. What does this mean? Is “breaking in” important? Do monitors need some time to reach their full potential? Or is breaking in speakers a myth?
Breaking monitors in or breaking speakers in, simply means playing audio through them for a period of time before they reach their full potential. However, this is an area of some contention among musicians and music producers.
Most music industry pros and many speaker manufacturers agree that breaking in speakers does improve the sound and that each set of speakers and monitors requires a period of time to reach their full potential.
In this article, we will take a closer look at this theory, ask some manufacturers for their thoughts, and try and work out if this is a myth or reality.
Where Does The Breaking In Speakers Theory Come From?
So what is the thinking behind the idea of breaking in speakers? Why do speakers need to be broken in?
The theory is that a run-in or break-in period loosens the components and “evens out” the frequency response of speakers. During this time, the speaker cones are said to loosen (along with other electrical components) and the magnet strength modifies.
The theory relates to the speakers “settling” in a new environment and being used for the first time.
It is easy to dismiss the break-in period because of the lack of scientific studies on the issue. In fact, some of the criteria for whether speakers sound better aren’t easily measurable. So we’re left with anecdotal evidence.
The number of people, and even businesses, that say that this period of time helps, surely can’t be a coincidence though. Other than the electricity required to run them, you don’t have much to lose by breaking speakers in.
The “New Shoes” Comparison
This is a simple analogy, and while it doesn’t feel very “scientific” it is something we can all relate to.
When you buy new shoes, the first couple of times you wear them they are unlikely to feel quite right. Are you adjusting to the shoes? Are the shoes adjusting to you? Either way, after 10 hours of wearing them and walking around in them, the shoes are likely to feel much better.
If we were to explain the concept of breaking monitors to a child then this is definitely the example we would use. Rather than feeling like new, blister-inducing shoes, the speakers should feel like the old, comfortable pair that seems to slip on with ease.
Real World Manufacturer Examples
The internet is full of debate on this question and so we wanted to try and find out what some of the manufacturers of the speakers say. We scoured the manuals and got on the phone to them to see what they say.
Yamaha are one of the most popular manufacturers of studio monitors for home music studios.
After checking the HS7 manual for any mention of burning in, breaking in, or running in we couldn’t find anything. So we sent an email asking ‘do Yamaha speakers including HS5s HS7s and HS8s need breaking in?’. Yamaha replied saying:
“We can confirm that you should not need to perform any period of using to ‘run in’ the speakers however we would recommend that you consult the location precautions within the manual to ensure that the speaker is positioned correctly”
So Yamaha doesn’t say breaking in speakers is a myth but they do not recommend it for their specific speakers. They clearly think my bad sounding speakers is due to my poor positioning knowledge!
Focal Solo6 Be
The Focal Solo6 Be are at the higher end of studio monitor speakers in terms of price. And this time the manual DOES discuss the ‘running in’ of the speakers.
This is a huge and widely-respected brand. If breaking in had no benefit then it is hard to believe they would include information on how to perform the break-in within their manual.
The manual explains that “the drivers need some run-in period: they are mechanical elements demanding a little time to settle and adapt to the climatic environment”. The instructions also go on to explain how best to break in the speakers.
Klipsch are another well respected monitor speaker manufacturer who mention the process directly in their manual by stating:
“Your speakers contain several moving parts but prior to use, they’ve never actually moved before. Essentially, pieces of the assembly like the spider and the surround will be stiff at first. Due to the rigidness of your new speakers, they will not be as dynamic until they have had a chance to move and become more flexible.”
Adam Audio went as far as to produce a video on the subject within which they do also recommend burning in the monitor speakers.
The host of the video explains how when the speakers are brand new the suspension system is often stiffer and inhibits the movement of the speaker which can cause unwanted distortion. They, therefore, recommend burning the speakers in to stress the materials towards the desired behavior.
Is Breaking In Speakers a Myth?
So we’ve heard what the manufacturers say, but what does the science say? Is this simple a big conspiracy theory conjured up by these companies?
There is some interesting reading on the other side of the debate, with people comparing both the anecdotal evidence and performing some tests on the speakers. This fascinating forum post by the founder of Audio Science Review does show the argument against breaking in speakers.
The Audio Science Review take seems to be pretty scathing, even verging on cynical. “Manufacturers either genuinely believe in the speaker break-in myth, repeating what they have falsely concluded like audiophiles. Or are hoping that if you don’t like the speaker at first, you hang on to it longer to lose the motivation or option to return them later.”
The audio benefits are up for debate. However, it is categorically not a myth that capacitors and dielectrics will alter their characteristics during a breaking in period. Whether this has an audible benefit is a matter of opinion.
This does seem like a slightly cynical view of manufacturers and it would seem odd for so many of them would all get together behind the theory.
The general consensus seems to be that most engineers recommend it and with many speaker manufacturers offering advice on breaking in their speakers, this points to there being something in the break-in theory.
With big brands like Klipsch and Focal, with plenty of experience, seeming pretty certain of the benefits. For this reason, it is hard to claim that it is a myth.
How to Break In Studio Monitors
So, having decided that a break in period is a good idea, it’s time to work out how to do it. What is the method of breaking in studio monitors?
This is a contentious subject, there are a lot of different methods out there.
Luckily, most engineers will agree that it doesn’t matter too much how you do it as long as you stick to a few basic rules to protect the monitors and get the most out of them:
- Don’t push the speakers too hard early on. When you are playing speakers to break them in, start at a low to moderate volume, enough to “warm-up” and impact upon the monitors, but not at volumes that could risk damage.
- Break in all of the frequencies. This can be done by playing music that has a wide frequency range. Alternating between playlists of well-mixed music with a wide variety of instrumentation will, in theory, test and loosen all of the frequency response of the monitors. Ensure some of the music on the playlist is very bass-heavy.
- Give the speakers around 20 hours of break-in time. Different manufacturers recommend different timespans. The reality is you will probably be good to go after 8 to 10 hours but there is no harm in being cautious.
If you aren’t in a rush to get producing final releases, then you can gently and slowly increase the volume over time. It doesn’t have to be all in one sitting.
Top tip: point the speakers face to face and invert the signal for one of those speakers. This will cancel out the bass frequencies in particular and so you won’t have angry neighbors who think you are throwing a 10-hour party!
Do Monitors Only Need to be Broken In Once?
When you buy your studio monitors, this is the crucial time to break them in. However, there is a school of thought that after a period of time not using them, the “loosening” effect will wear off.
It is unlikely studio monitors will need breaking in more than once, but if you go a long time without using the monitors materials may stiffen up and so it might be a good idea to leave the speakers on overnight again in order to replicate the “break-in” effect.
Summary – Should You Break In Your Speakers?
The concept of breaking in speakers largely comes down to anecdotal evidence. This is part of the fun of producing music and learning about different techniques. There are plenty of producers with decades of experience who will claim that you should always break in studio monitors. Other engineers claim it is a total myth and that benefits will be minimal.
Our advice? Don’t get too hung up either way. You don’t have much to lose by just putting a playlist on overnight for a couple of days. It isn’t going to make or break the quality of the speakers, but it might give them an extra boost, and turn them into that “comfy pair of shoes”.
There is a chance that breaking in speakers can improve the sound. The process is not a myth, nor is it a concrete and provable concept.
If you’re going to become a music producer, you better get used to some of these matters of opinion. They’re not uncommon when discussing equipment and techniques. In this case, we would conclude that spending some time running in the speakers is worth trying to ensure you are getting the most out of them.