How to tell if your headphones are blown

How to Tell if Your Headphone Driver is Blown?

Your driver can’t technically blow, but it’s a term that’s kind of stuck when your driver speakers just don’t seem to want to work like they used to. The first time this happened to me, I was sure my headphone drivers were “blown”, and it turned out that it was just dust that was affecting the function of the driver. Once I cleaned it, it was working perfectly again.

So, how to tell if your headphone driver is blown?

A headphone driver is blown when you can hear a rattle or distorted sound, or if they won’t work at all. However, it’s actually difficult to blow drivers as headphones aren’t designed for high output power, or extreme volumes. It’s more likely that your driver is dirty or has loose parts.

Audio queues for blown out headphone drivers

If you suspect your headphones have blown, there are a few audio queues that will confirm it, while others could point at a different issue altogether. Let’s have a look at some of the most common audio queues you could be experiencing and what they mean.

▪    Sound is quieter or distorted on one channel

This is probably the worst sign for a blown-out speaker driver. If the sound just won’t go louder, no matter how you up the volume, or if there is a distortion on one ear, effectively making your headphones louder on side – it’s most likely that your drivers are finished.

This could happen for many reasons, moisture, dust, hair, excessive use, or an unfortunate manufacturing flaw have all been cited in various forums.

Now, while a bit of dust and hair is ok if you clean your headphones regularly and properly, we often forget to maintain our headphones. That means dust and hair accumulate and cause irreversible damage to the drivers.

Luckily, if it is your driver that’s gone, you can replace it. Most manufacturers have spare parts available, or you can salvage parts from a recycling facility, or send your headphones in for repair.

Next time, make sure you look after your headphones, you’ll be using them much longer.

▪   You might notice your headphones starting to rattle

Rattling in your headphones is most likely loose parts. It happens, you’re using your headphones and suddenly look up at something, bam – they’re on the floor. Do this a couple of times, and you can be sure something is going to come loose.

If you know how your headphones work, you could open them up and try to find the rattling bit and fix it.

If it doesn’t bother you too much, it will probably only ever happen when you pump up the volume or listen to music with a lot of bass. Just tone it down a bit, and the rattle should subside.

▪   A fuzzy sound, but the bass seems fine, are my headphones blown?

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news – it’s probably just hair or dust. The bad news – if you don’t do something about it soon, you could be saying goodbye to your drivers.

Hair, dust, sand, it can all get into your headphone speakers. The air needs to flow to give you that great sound… so make sure nothing else is flowing with it. If the hair or dust lands on your driver, it can disrupt the flow of electricity and produce a buzzing sound.

Alternatively, a hair could be poking through the foam, basically scratching the driver. Give your headphones an inspection to see if you can find any dirt.

The difference between headphone and recording issues

Another possibility is that the issue lies with the source file. Perhaps there was an issue while recording, or it’s just one of those frequencies that are more prone to trigger this type of rattling effect. One type of track will just hit those frequencies more often, letting you think there’s something wrong.

The difference can be hard to spot, and I found myself with this issue not too long ago. Whenever I listened to anything with a high pitch, my headphones would just go crazy. However, while these frequencies made it worse, I also have to say that my headphones were around 6 years old at that stage… and even when I played something at a low volume, it just sounded wrong and unbalanced. I had to get to the bottom of it.

I started experimenting with different tracks, volumes, two ears, one ear… and that’s when I picked it up. The bass was completely gone on one side. Listening closely, I could hear a sort of buzz for what was supposed to be the bass. Super weird and awful to listen to. That made me realize, it wasn’t just a recording issue; it was, in fact, my headphones.

It was like the driver was hitting something. I wasn’t quite sure what and seeing as in my opinion they were done for, I opened them up. Turns out, my voice call had come undone, and the cone was actually hitting the coil.

It all made sense now; every time I plugged in my headphones; I would hear a loud popping sound. Probably the voice coil hitting the cone.

If you don’t have the loud popping sound, and you don’t think it’s a recording issue, there are a few other reasons your bass could be buzzing:

▪   Too loud music

By playing your music at the max volume, you are essentially forcing the driver to do too much by blasting it with power. A power surge or an amp malfunction can even end up tearing the cone, or ripping the voice coil.

▪   Dust, hair and other dirt particles

As I’ve mentioned before, hair that gets in between the coil and cone can produce a buzzing sound. Make sure you clean your headphones regularly to get the bits and pieces out that don’t belong there. Leave it too long, and you could be saying goodbye to your headphones.

▪   Cold tubes can produce some crackle

If you just plug and play, your driver could need a second to warm up. This isn’t very common with the latest technology, but it can happen.

▪   Source and audio file issues

A quick check of your DAC or source player could shed some light on the cause of the issue. If you’re using an old PC sound card, a portable CD player, a dedicated DAC, it can all have an effect on the sound quality.

A common source issue is when devices pick up each other’s frequencies, giving that dreadful shrill sound. It’s also possible to get a strange interference if cables are touching each other.

As for the file, just play another audio file from the same device to see if it persists.

A few solutions you could try to check if your headphone drivers have blown:

▪   Try a different device

Plug your headphones into a different device; if the problem is resolved, you know where the issue lies. I have a great article on how to resolve these types of issues.

▪   Play better audio files

Perhaps you’ve been listening to some poor quality audio. By playing something you know has to be good, you can check if the issue lies with the audio file. You need something with a clean sound, no rock, hip hop, metal, etc.

The best option would be Jazz with some solid bass, classical music or crazy instrumentals. They tend to test all frequencies, which you need for checking your headphones. If it sounds better now, the sound is clean even when you turn up the volume; you should be good to go.

How do headphones drivers get blown?

There are a few things you can try to avoid in order to protect your drivers from blowing. While the likelihood isn’t high, it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is especially true if your headphones are old.

That being said, you could potentially blow your drivers by:

▪   Increasing the volume above what your headphone drivers can handle

While no one is going to deliberately make themselves deaf, you could accidentally increase the volume of your headphones remotely.

This has happened to me a few times, my Bluetooth headphones are still connected, and I’m outside on my phone, I try to listen to a video, but nothings happening… I keep increasing the volume. Full blast, no sound. And then it clicks. MY headphones are blaring away inside.

This can put excessive strain on your drivers, and yes, they can eventually fail.

When using your headphones with stereo gear or studio equipment, the outputs can be much higher, making it possible to push your headphones to much higher levels. With frequent use at increased volumes, there are a few things that can go wrong. For one, it certainly isn’t good for your ears, and driver damage can occur.

Avoid this by keeping the volumes moderate, and if you do use Bluetooth headphones, always keep it in mind when the sound just doesn’t seem to want to play.

▪   Physical damage can blow out your headphone drivers

Probably one of the most common causes of driver damage would be physical damage. If you drop your headphones, throw them into your bag followed by a few books, or accidentally step on them in your messy room, you can be sure that over time or even instantly, you could be saying goodbye to your headphones.

On the positive side, if this is the issue, you could just have the drivers (and any other broken bits) replaced. On the other hand, if you drove over your headphones or the dog chewed them up, it’s straight to the electronics recycling bin.

▪   Your amp could damage the headphone drivers

Amps (short for amplifier) are there to enhance. If you enhance above what your headphones can handle, there could be some negative consequences.

Depending on the amp you use, the power output can be way more than your headphones can handle. A blown driver can also be caused by a faulty amp, which has been the case for many of my friends and fellow forum users.

And, while it’s never bad to have the extra power that comes with an amp, you have to remember the wise words of Spiderman’s Grandfather… “with great power comes great responsibility”. Don’t blast it if you don’t have to, keep your settings moderate, and when you’re in the mood for something more, rather play it through your box speakers.

Buying an amp that doesn’t have power just to protect your headphones doesn’t make sense either, you need the legroom, but just use it wisely.

Your amp volume dial has a broad range of motion and offers excellent fine control, so small movements when your adjusting stuff and rather unplug in your headphones while your adjusting stuff

If you did manage to blow your drivers through your amp, you’re probably looking at a burnt or fused voice coil (resulting in no sound), or a tear in the cone/ diaphragm/ membrane, resulting in distortion and an “off” sound.

▪   Dust or hair could get stuck inside the driver

I’ve touched on dust and hair a few times, but it’s because people don’t realize just how damaging they can be. Even if you don’t experience any issues with your headphones, basic hygiene is a must. After that, a deep clean every now and then will really prolong the lifespan of your headphones (and if you’re anything like me, you’re pretty attached to them).

A deep clean would include using a pressurized air can to blow out any hair and dust and really get into those areas that are just impossible otherwise. You also DON’T want to use anything sharp or made of metal. It can do more harm than good when it comes to the delicate pieces of the small speakers or the magnets.

So, what can you expect to hear if there is some dust or hair stuck in there? Anything from a buzzing to a rattling sound can be caused by a hair lodged where it shouldn’t be. Don’t underestimate these little suckers.

As for the dust, it can result in a scratching strangled sound when it clogs up the magnet cavity. Left there, it will do irreversible damage, and you might have to eventually replace the speakers.

All in all, it comes down to taking care of your headphones. Drivers don’t just blow, and if you look after them, they can last quite a few years. If you do pick up any strange sounds, do something sooner rather than later.

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