Nothing is quite as irritating as setting up your new speakers only to be confronted with static noise. From crackling to hissing and everything in between, it can send you on a wild goose chase to find the cause. And you may resort to blaming the speakers themselves. But in most cases, the speaker is not to blame.
This guide covers the most common types of speaker interference you can encounter. Plus, we cover a range of solutions and troubleshooting steps you can take to ensure you are getting the absolute best performance from your speakers.
Types Of Speaker Interference
The first step is to identify the type of interference you are experiencing. It can be a vital clue as to what solution you should explore first. Below we cover the most common types and the most likely causes.
Crackling & Popping
Crackling is a common piece of interference. Issues with the connections usually cause this. It could be damaged wires or loose connections. Sometimes, it could be due to a damaged voice coil within the speaker. But you’ll unlikely experience this with a brand new set of speakers.
Popping is a similar type of interference that can often accompany crackling. Once again, it is likely due to poor connections. In some instances, it can also be due to broken connections within the speaker. This can occur over time if the product initially had poor soldering of the electronics within the cabinet.
Hissing & Humming
Hissing is a white noise that is also quite common. It is often a 60Hz hum that is deep and low. A wide variety of potential issues cause this electromagnetic interference. It could be a problem with the amplifier itself, or it may be more external.
Once again, one of the most common culprits is issues with cables and wires, even more so if you are using unbalanced cables.
Another commonly overlooked potential culprit of hissing and humming is interference from other electronics. Smartphones, Wi-Fi modems, your PC, or any electrical device could contribute to the issue.
In some situations, the hissing may not be as much of a concern as you might think. Many high-end Hi-Fi speakers are incredibly sensitive and display a hissing sound when not playing music. But the hiss will disappear once you feed them an audio signal. In this case, it is not an actual issue that you need to address.
Buzzing is another prevalent issue that can be frustrating and often the most irritating as it can be a high pitched noise. It is usually a 120Hz loud buzz that is instantly recognizable, but there are many variations of this issue. The likely culprit here is a grounding issue. Luckily it is generally relatively simple to resolve these ground loop issues.
In some cases, the buzzing might be due to the playback volume. Some speakers, when placed under pressure, may exhibit buzzing from the speaker.
In other situations, it might be that the speaker has blown. This is where there is a tear or hole in one of the critical moving components like the cone, spider, or surround.
While you may now know what type of interference you are tackling, it can be challenging to narrow down which specific issue is causing it. In some cases, it may be multiple issues working together. Below are some troubleshooting options to explore to eliminate static noise from your speakers.
One of the first steps is to consider the source material you are playing with. There can be several factors involved which may have nothing to do with your speakers or even your wiring.
The most obvious is low-quality audio files. These may inherently have noise within the recording itself. The easiest way to check this is to play the material on another device. If you hear the same problems, it is likely the file itself. Try a different, preferably high-quality file to see if there is any difference.
Sometimes, even high-quality recordings may have audio that includes some crackling or hum. The artist may use this as an aesthetic choice to inject warmth and character into the recording. This is especially prevalent in lo-fi hip hop, where vinyl crackle is often added to create ambiance within the track.
Check The Cables
Sometimes the cause of interference is a damaged cable or a poor connection. Before exploring grounding, speaker, or amplifier issues, it is best to check each cable.
You should replace damaged cables immediately.
Each cable should be securely connected and not loose within the socket. When you connect an audio cable to a plug, there should be a satisfying click or tight fit, and it should not protrude from the connection.
When checking each cable, keep an eye out for any damage. Exposed wires and any damage to the shielding can cause several issues. Interference will be the least of your problems if you use a damaged cable. The potential for electric shock is high with a damaged cable; you should stop using it and replace it.
How To Check For Ground Loops
If the source material is fine and all the cables look in good order, the next step is to check for what is often the most common cause of static noise, a ground loop.
A ground loop causes a 50-60Hz hum, a prevalent type of static noise. Ground loop hum results from multiple components plugged into different wall sockets and combining the electrical signal via one output device. This creates an antenna that attracts noise. Thankfully a troublesome ground loop is one of the most manageable problems to identify and fix.
You want to ensure the AC main power is consistent in any audio system. The easiest fix is to ensure all the devices connect to the same AC outlet. A power strip is the quickest solution. But be mindful not to plug too many devices in as this can cause other electrical issues. A high-quality power board with surge protection is the best choice.
Using multiple outlets in a signal path can create a ground loop.
The goal is to break the ground loop by avoiding using different AC outlets. You might need to run some extension cables depending on the distances involved.
In some cases running multiple extension cords might not be feasible or practical. In this instance, you may want to invest in a hum eliminator like the EBTech Hum X.
Keep in mind that ground loops can form from a variety of devices. If your speakers are part of a TV setup, ground loops can form from the coax cables coming from your cable box or even from antenna plugs. If you plug your antenna cable straight into your TV and don’t hear any hum, your cable box is to blame and could be faulty. But if you still hear some hum, it is best to pick up a ground loop isolator for your antenna cable.
A ground loop can be annoying and sometimes force you to rethink your connections and layout. But, no matter what, don’t consider removing the grounding pin in the connections. This can lead to a host of safety issues, including electric shock.
Addressing AC Line Hum
Most households will have many electronic devices plugged in at any moment. From coffee machines, blenders, washers, fans, hair dryers, and vacuum cleaners, to name a few. There seems to be an electronic device for everything now. And with increased usage of smart home devices, this trend will continue.
Electronics that feature a motor can introduce AC Line Hum. But it can also present itself from failing fluorescent lights and dimmer switches. Once again, this type of electrical noise will show in the form of a hum that is not dissimilar to a ground loop hum.
Several options are available if you notice noise in your audio equipment when using these appliances. The first method is avoiding using those appliances when listening to something. But to be fair, that isn’t the most practical of solutions.
A UPS is a great investment if you have expensive audio equipment.
The second method to address AC line hum is to invest in a UPS (Uninterruptible power supply). This will clean up the AC line hum and protect against power surges and outages. Be warned, these can be expensive, but they are a worthwhile investment if you have spent thousands on audio equipment.
Moving onto the third method, you may want to consider an isolation transformer. Using electromagnetic induction, isolation transformers regulate the power supply for consistent performance. This consistency is paramount for sensitive medical equipment, which is the most common use for an isolation transformer. But its ability to eliminate AC line hum makes it an ideal candidate for audio equipment.
Between these three methods, you should be able to eliminate AC line Hum comfortably.
Dealing With RF Interference
Radio Frequency Interference is another common cause of static noise in your speakers. Many modern electronics like smartphones utilize radio signals to transmit data. Wi-Fi connections and Bluetooth are usually to blame. There is a limited amount of radio frequencies available. Too many RF signals on the same frequency will result in noise in your audio device.
The audio signal will display humming or hissing when coming into close contact with this type of electromagnetic interference. To test this, move the potential causes away from your speakers and see if it resolves the issue. You’ll know you are dealing with RF interference if the static noise is eliminated.
Wireless signals can cause interference in your speakers.
The simplest way to eliminate this static noise from your audio system is to keep other electronics away from your speakers. But this is not always a practical option. In these situations, the ideal solution is to invest in some RF filtering.
A ferrite noise suppressor sleeve is one of the easiest and most cost-effective options. These clip onto your speaker cables and provide shielding from stray radio frequencies.
Keeping your cables shorter is another viable option. The more cable length there is, the greater the chance of interference impacting audio signals. Other options include shielding your devices in metal. This is often why an amplifier will feature a metal case instead of plastic.
The combination of removing devices, using filtering, and exploring shielding options should eliminate the vast majority of noise in your speakers.
Are The Wires Crossed?
This is another potential cause of noise in your audio system. But, there are some misconceptions out there that we need to address.
First, you can cross speaker wires or cables with other speaker wires and cables. This will not introduce any electrical interference to your audio chain. But it is still best practice to avoid multiple cables or wires crossing each other. But this is more to keep things tidy and prevent strain and pressure on cable plugs.
Keep unbalanced cables away from power cables to prevent interference.
The type of cable crossing you do need to keep an eye out for is when the cable from the speaker crosses with a power cable. This is only an issue if you use unbalanced connections like RCA or TS. Balanced cables like TRS and XLR won’t be prone to this type of interference.
When a power cable crosses with an unbalanced cable, the power cable will act as an electromagnet and introduce interference with adjoining cables. This can even occur if the cables are running parallel to each other.
To avoid this issue, pay extra attention to any unbalanced cables in your chain and keep them away from power cables. If this is not a practical option, you can cross the cables but aim to keep it at 90 degrees to minimize the amount of interference introduced into your audio chain.
Balanced VS Unbalanced Connections
I’ve touched on cables in the section above, but it is worth highlighting it again. Where possible, always opt to use balanced connections.
Balanced connections will feature three components. A positive and negative AC signal and a third for grounding. Unbalanced cables won’t feature the grounding and, as a result, become susceptible to interference.
Where possible aim to use balanced cables.
If you suspect your unbalanced cables are experiencing interference, aim to avoid crossing them with power cables. It is also advisable to keep the distance as short as possible. This will minimize the potential for distortion.
But by far, the best option is to switch to balanced cables for as much of your audio system as possible. If your speaker has the option for TRS or XLR, it will simply be a matter of using an appropriate cable. Good quality cables are inexpensive, and you do not need to buy into the hype of buying super expensive cables as the differences are minimal.
Computer Based Interference
One often overlooked cause of distortion is the potential that your computer is to blame. Much like any other electronic device, they can be susceptible to noise. If you are running audio from your computer, a few key things could introduce issues in your audio signal.
External audio interfaces are ideal for managing digital audio signals.
The most apparent issue is a low-quality sound card. Aim to use a PCI or PCIe card. Other options include using a high-quality external audio interface to manage your computer’s and speaker’s digital audio signal.
Finally, USB can leak stray currents. Once again, this comes down primarily to shielding, so using a noise suppressor sleeve is also applicable here. Another option to deal with USB noise is to invest in a USB noise filter that will dissipate the current and prevent unwanted noise.
Addressing all these areas will eliminate computer noise as a problem in your audio equipment.
Check The Volume
One final thing to watch out for is the volume level you are listening at. All loudspeakers will begin to distort and introduce noise if pushed beyond their limits. Always allow for some headroom throughout your sound chain. If you enjoy listening to loud music, invest in a higher-quality speaker that can handle high SPL levels.
Is It The Speakers?
If you have run through all of the troubleshooting options and are still experiencing issues, there is a chance it is the speaker itself.
A blown or damaged speaker can exhibit sound issues. In some rare cases, the speaker might have experienced problems during the manufacturing process. If that’s the case and your speaker is still under warranty, you should look at having it fixed or replaced by the manufacturer.
Only attempt speaker repairs if you know what you are doing.
If it is out of warranty, you can attempt to fix it yourself. A torn speaker cone is repairable but will require some technical know-how. Re-soldering components can also fix loose connections in the circuitry. Only attempt this if you are confident in your abilities.
Pure Clean Sound
Popping, crackling, humming, hissing, and other noise in your signal chain are frustrating to deal with. But if you have gone through all the potential causes and applied solutions, you can experience pure, clean sound without a hint of noise. It makes listening more enjoyable and is an issue worth resolving. Good luck!