Why Subwoofer is Clipping at High Volume

Subwoofer clipping is a problem that crops up when the settings of the various components of your audio system are not in sync with each other. If you are not new to this world, you have probably heard the phrase before. Or maybe your new sub just blew up and you have no idea what went wrong.

But if you think back, you will realize that it had been making some funny pop and crackle sounds before it graduated to distorted audio. Yes, that’s the result of subwoofer clipping. Here’s all you need to know about it.

What Is Subwoofer Clipping?

Subwoofer clipping is something that happens when the amp is overpowered. The way it works is that the amp has a maximum capacity for sending an audio signal. You know this by looking at the RMS rating in the specs. But when the signal is larger than what the amp can receive, the additional burden gets cut off. This produces distorted output and is known as clipping.

For instance, when a vehicle enters a tunnel and it is taller than it should be, the extra height gets chopped off or clipped if you will. This causes the truck to come out distorted. That is essentially what happens with the amplifier and the audio signal.

What Happens to the Sub When the Signal Is Clipped

The obvious result of subwoofer clipping is the distortion in the output sound as mentioned before. But that is not the only consequence. If this problem goes unchecked, it can damage the subwoofer altogether.

Now, here’s how that gets tricky. The output of a subwoofer often gets cut when the volume is too high. Users tend to think the sub is underpowered which is incorrect. When you hear the subwoofer clipping sound, there are a couple of other things to take note of. Let’s take a look.

When the sound gets distorted, the sub works harder to correct that aberration. This can cause the sub to overheat and be damaged. The simplest way to avoid this problem is to make sure all the parts of your audio system have the right specs so that the amp is never getting too little or too much power.

But we will go into that in a minute. In these situations, prevention really is better than whatever cure you can find in the aftermath. So, let’s look at how you can identify the problem even before it becomes one. That inspection starts by checking the quality of the overall sound.

How to Tell If My Subwoofer Is Clipping And/or Going to Overheat?

You have to pay close attention to the sounds coming from your amp if you want to notice when things are about to go south. That starts by watching out for pop and sizzle sounds.

These are trademarks when a subwoofer is not getting enough power. As a result, the music output will not have the detailing it should have for the equipment at hand.

The problem is that when this happens, the amplifier goes above and beyond its job description to subwoofer clipping sound it. The clipped output signal then puts strain on the subwoofer to over-perform. Now, subs are not meant to extend these services which causes them to overheat or burn out and eventually get torn.

Pop or Thump

Subwoofer popping is usually an indication of the fact that the cone inside the subwoofer is moving too much. The cone is a moving part of the subwoofer that is powered by the voice coil’s oscillations.

Each of these oscillations makes sure the cone gets pushed and pulled just the right amount to make sure that the sound waves get enhanced the way they were designed to.

When the cone moves a bit too much or too quickly, it makes a pop sound. It means that the signal inside the cone is trying to move at an infinite speed which is not possible.

When it does that, the sub gets overheated and might tear itself. Another possible result is that the cone’s violent movement ends up jamming the voice coil. Either way, you will end up with a damaged sub.

You might also hear a thumping sound that happens when you change the input parameters on the audio video receiver or AVR which sends the signal to the sub to be reproduced. When you change the receiver settings, the sub just replicates the same.

Speaking of pop sounds, sometimes the receiver mutes all the jacks briefly when it loses its input audio signal. That’s another reason why you are hearing a pop and this has nothing to do with the sub.

If it does not get muted you still hear a pop sound when you change the “mode” of the music on your equipment. But this isn’t a big problem to worry about but it might mean that the receiver’s circuit has taken a hit. Just make sure you get it serviced to contain the problem. And once that happens, you won’t hear the pop sound again.

In the meantime, you can adjust the bass levels in the receiver to match the gain levels on the subwoofer to reduce the pop sound a little. Doing that is actually quite simple.

Look at each input device and note down the settings. All you need to make sure is that none of them is on “auto-detect” or “auto” and is instead set to the specific signal for the desired output.

The problem with this setting is that it takes longer for the receiver to detect the input audio signal. In the meantime, the jack gets muted and you hear a thump from the sub.

As mentioned before, prevention is a lot easier than cure in these situations. So, here’s what you can do to avoid clipping even if you’re not an audio expert.

You might be interested in: What is the best car subwoofer?

How to Avoid Subwoofer Clipping?

The best way to make sure that none of these mishaps happen is to take care of the signal levels of each of the components of your audio equipment. You need to increase or decrease the strength of the signal by determining your individual device’s capacities.

The first detail to check is the RMS rating. This is the best way to decide its capacity and check what else needs to be adjusted. Now, you can get an amp with a higher rating than the speaker but in that case, you need to adjust the settings to make sure they are both in sync. The thumb rule or the only rule really is that the input should be more than what the speaker can receive.

You can get this done by getting equipment that is specific to the setting where you will use it. That means not using car equipment for your home theater.

The other way of handling the signal is to use a signal converter that keeps an eye on all the levels. But if you add components to your existing audio system it is best to monitor and perform tests to make sure the levels you set are working the way you imagined.

You may also want to read: Top 4 best powered subwoofer for truck


What Causes Clipping in a Subwoofer?

At certain high volume levels, the required amount of continuous power changes. If you don’t pick the right RMS rating, it can result in the sub overheating and long-term subwoofer clipping.

Apart from that, you will also hear distorted output audio because the equipment has deviated from the waveform that it is supposed to create for the input signal.

Does Clipping Hurt the Amplifier?

Yes. It is irrelevant which part of the entire audio system is failing. It could be the amplifier or the mixer or a third part that is causing the audio clipping. If it persists, the sub might tear itself and the speaker will get ruined. This might happen even if the amplifier isn’t overperforming (at its maximum output capacity).

Can Bad Grounding Cause Clipping?

A: If the amplifier is not grounded properly, there is a good chance that the audio equipment might be permanently damaged. Now, this is not something that happens suddenly which means you will get several warnings. This includes but is not limited to overheating, subwoofer clipping and the audio suddenly switching off.

What does subwoofer clipping sound like?

Clipping is the result of amplifiers being pushed to the point where they can no longer control the speaker and bringing it back to zero for the next cycle of an audio signal in analog systems. The sound becomes muddy and unintelligible in an analog system. You won’t have to ask anyone if it’s digital clipping because the sound deteriorates into very obvious crackling and popping. Clipping is defined as a signal or sine wave that is beyond the working conditions but may only reproduce part of it, causing the ends of the sine to snap.

Subwoofer clipping at high volume?

If you’re noticing a sudden change in the sound of your music, or if it’s starting to sound like there are loud pops and crackles, then you’re probably experiencing clipping. Clipping occurs when an amplifier is pushed beyond its limits, causing the audio signal to be distorted. This can damage your equipment over time, so it’s best to avoid clipping at all costs.

The Bottom Line

Sometimes you get an amplifier hoping that the music quality in your car increases a great deal. But it’s not enough to get the equipment. You need to know a couple of things about their settings to make sure not just that you get the best results but that you are able to play your music for a long time without interruptions or damaging other parts of the car.

One of the big questions when it comes to taming the sub is to decide whether to over or underpower it. The answer is neither.

But if you have to pick an option and you have an amp that has more capacity than the sub’s maximum, overpower it so that it still streams your low-frequency signals.

The sub will do its best and you will have managed to minimize the risk of damaging it. Ideally, you should match their levels so that there are no disappointments.

Last Updated on October 23, 2023 by Brian Beasley

Written by Danny Reid

Hey, I'm Danny, and I know how hard it can be to find the perfect audio gear. Need a new stereo, amp, speakers, or subs? Don't worry – my blog is here to help you cut through the noise! My mission is to give you the best reviews, so you can make the right decision for your audio needs. And if you ever get stuck thinking, "Where does this blue wire go?" don't worry – I've got tons of cool tips to help you out of any jam. So come along with me on this fun, sound-filled adventure, and let's find the perfect audio setup to make your tunes really sing!