Sunday, November 9, 2008

Blown Tweeters

Few audiophiles are aware of a lurking danger that may be very costly. I've know about this danger for several months now, but was re-energized to write about it over the weekend. I was listening to the Raconteurs through the new Bryston BDA-1 DAC at a pretty high volume. My music server was booted to Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit. I stopped playback for a second, made a few changes to the Windows audio settings and hit play. As soon as I hit play a very loud tone blasted through my speakers and sent Chloe, one of the Computer Audiophile cats, running away very puffed up. I jumped up to turn down the volume on my preamp. My heart was racing and I couldn't stop saying to myself, "What the heck just happened?"



The Danger

Put simply, you can blow your tweeters using Windows if you're not careful! Fortunately my speakers survived the weekend. On one hand I totally knew what had happened, on the other hand I couldn't believe how it happened. The whole problem revolves around losing clock which causes either white noise to blast through the speakers or a tone like the emergency broadcast system here in the United States. Two verified instances that I know of happened when listeners tried to changed the name of a song while listening to music. My friend using TAD M1 loudspeakers was listening through MediaMonkey on Windows XP. He tried changing the name of a song and a blast of white noise came through the speakers. The very expensive TAD tweeters were blown. This same friend has reproduced the problem, at much lower sound levels, through many different procedures. In my opinion doing anything other than listening to music is dangerous. If you want to change settings in Windows or your playback application you need to be very careful. Another instance I am aware of where someone very respected in the high-end industry almost blew his tweeters involved Windows Media Player. The person changed the name of a song, lost clock and briefly experienced the white noise issue. The people I am talking about are not novices when it comes to this stuff. They are recognizable names in the audio world.

Over the weekend I was testing Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit with a number of applications and configurations. After several changes, that I certainly did not keep track of, I tested the output of Windows audio through my Lynx card. I heard a small blip instead of the typical chimes in the left and right speakers. By this time I was knee-deep in all the changes and was not thinking about the possible danger to my speakers. I started MediaMonkey with an ASIO driver. As soon as I hit play I heard the aforementioned very loud tone. This circumstance was vastly different than the previous two where the listeners tried to change the name of a song during playback. I have also heard of similar issues when using Windows Remote Desktop, but I haven't been able to reproduce the issues (fortunately).

No matter what the causes of this issue are we can be certain that a number of listeners will damage their speakers this way. If the cause is user error, a software bug, a firmware problem or even by design this is a serious problem. In fact this issue may be one that old school audiophiles use to keep music servers out of their listening room or retail stores.

It would be fabulous if we could find a definitive cause and spread the word about how to avoid damaging loudspeakers. I hope many of you can post comments about similar experiences and methods to avoid the potential damage.