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Microphone Month 5

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (If You Don’t Know Why)

Q: I have heard the term “speaker breakup” plenty of times, mostly in reference to guitar amplifier speakers, but also in reference to PA systems. My understanding is that this happens when a given speaker cannot handle a given amount of power (in watts). Is this correct?

A: A speaker may produce distortion in a certain way if it’s overdriven, but true “speaker breakup” actually depends upon the cone density and the relationship between the top plate thickness and the actual winding height of the voice coil. Unfortunately, manufacturers do not publish specifications for the individual “breakup” point of a given speaker. You may have to try several different speakers with your amp to find the one with the characteristics you are looking for. Generally, manufacturers do that homework for you and voice their speakers with the breakup point in mind, to maximize the best overall tonal qualities for a given product. If you are trying to find a good speaker cabinet for, say, a ’64 Fender Bandmaster, then you can either try to find a Bandmaster cabinet (good luck there) or try out a variety of other new or used cabinets until you find one that is pleasing to your ears.

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