If you have ever had anything to do with audio and sound, then you must have had to deal with sound distortion.
Ever heard a sound and wondered why are my speakers sounding distorted
Well not only you my friend
As an audiophile and music engineer I have had my fair share of dealing with speaker and sound distortion
And believe me when I tell you, it is not a pleasant experience.
Sound distortion in your speakers or audio can kill the vibe and ruin months of audio mixing work.
So in this article, I will be giving you the top 5 reasons why speakers sound distorted and what you can do to ensure that you fix this problem
What does speaker distortion sound like?
The word distortion has a whole lot of different meanings depending on who you ask.
But if you ask me here is my own definition.
Distortion is the sound you hear when there is an unexpected change in the original signal to something else
This is usually as a result of the audio signal being corrupt
And this is usually identified most times when we say something like “that doesn’t sound right” and you are usually right at this assessment.
For some reason, the sound coming out of the audio system has been negatively affected and we need to fix it
What is the difference between Noise and Distortion?
This is one mistake most people make a lot.
It’s very easy to hear noise and then call it distortion
Here is a simple definition to make sure you are guided and do not make the same mistake
Distortion is heard as a result of a change in the original signal to something else while
Noise is mostly an external signal that is added to the original signal
Also, here is a simple and practical illustration for you
If you scream into a mic and mic cannot handle that loud volume, what you have is a distortion of the microphone.
When you run a cable next to an unbalanced cable, what you will hear is noise which is an interference in the signal.
So what is the major cause of distortion in your speakers?
The major cause of distortion in your audio is clipping
Clipping usually occurs when an audio component cannot provide enough power supply and voltage to cleanly and easily handle the signal
This is usually noticed on the channel level, mixer level or the amplifier level.
5 Reasons Why Speakers Sound Distorted
1. The sound source is overloaded with sound
This usually happens when the sound source for example a microphone or your speakers have so much sound/audio going through them.
This distorts the sound that it’s sending into the system
2. Hot signal sent into the system by an instrument
This happens when for example a bassist uses a SansAmp on stage and is boosting the signal so much that it overloads the input.
At this point the signal starts to clip and causes distortion.
For further reading, here is an article i wrote "can cheap speakers sound good"?
3. Your speaker being pushed beyond the limit it can handle
I have seen this particular one happened lots of times
Most times when working with audio equipment, you may be forced to deal with a speaker that is not built to handle high audio volume.
Pushing such speakers to high volumes will lead them to produce sounds louder than they are capable and this will lead to distorted output.
4. Clipping from the amplifier
This usually happens when you have an amplifier that is being pushed beyond its capacity.
5. Faulty equipment
Lastly, faulty equipment is one of the reasons why audio distortion occurs
Your equipment can fail in different ways
For example your effects processor might fail and what comes out through it will be distorted sounds.
How to fix/prevent distortion in your speakers
From the above, you are well aware of the causes of audio distortion
Now let’s look at how to fix or prevent it from happening
1. The most common reason for distortion is an input overload like the microphone overload mentioned above.
Mic’ing an instrument, or even a vocal, is more than sticking a microphone right up to the sound source.
You have to use the right type of microphone for the job.
You also have to set it up in a way that best captures the sound.
A distorted sound can be resolved by placing a greater distance between the sound source and the microphone.
Or, it could be resolved by switching the type of microphone.
For example, let’s say you notice that a condenser microphone is causing distortion
What you can do is to swap it and switch it with a dynamic microphone.
Or you can simply move them a few feet away.
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2. Fixing the speaker distortion
Regarding preventing speaker level distortion, you need to know a few pieces of information; the maximum volume your speakers can handle, the average volume your event runs, and the level of the loudest part of the event.
You can then determine how much headroom you have in your production.
This headroom is the measurement of the difference between the average sound produced out of the sound system and the loudest output level the system can handle.
If your average volume level is 90 dBA and your speakers can only handle 120 dBA then you have 30 dB of headroom.
You can prevent speaker distortion by watching a sound meter readings when you get to the loudest part of the event and then reducing the board volume to keep it under the limit.
You can also use a compressor to do this effectively as long as you aren’t over-driving the compressor which can also lead to a distorted sound.
3. Dealing with Channel clipping
If you find out that you have a channel showing consistent audio clipping and distortion, then it means you need to lower the channel volume or reset the gain structure.
Also here is an article I wrote titled "can in wall speakers sound good"?
4. Faulty Equipment
Lastly this goes without saying, if you have a faulty equipment and it’s causing your audio to distort, then you have 3 choices
Or swap with a spare till you get a new one