Speaker Break-Up and how to reduce his distortion


Loudspeakers, despite their crucial role in sound reproduction, can introduce unwanted distortion.

One significant contributor is cone break-up, a phenomenon related to the moving material (diapragm, cone..) resonance at high frequencies.

This article dives deeper into the science behind cone break-up, its impact on sound quality, and explores filtering techniques to mitigate this issue.

Causes of Cone Break-Up

Cone break-up occurs when the loudspeaker cone resonates at high frequencies, causing it to vibrate in unwanted ways beyond its intended pistonic motion. Several factors influence this resonance:

Impact of Cone Break-Up on Distortion

When the cone breaks up, it generates standing waves that distort the original audio signal.

These distortions manifest as harmonic distortion, perceived as a coloration or harshness in the sound, a H3 distorion at 1khz, so create by a 1khz signal alone, will create sound at 3khz (3 times fundamental).

When a violent break-up occur at 1500Hz, we have a H3 rise-up at 500Hz (1500/3), so even if we cut at 1kHz we will have the distortion associated to the break-up in the signal and when we will play 500hz we will have an unwanted signal at 1500Hz.

Breakup will also bring temporal problems and out of plane wave radiation behavior, expecially visible with compression drivers in horns.

Cone Break-Up and Electrical Current

The speaker cone is a mechanical system. When it encounters its resonant frequency, it tends to vibrate in uncontrolled ways – this is cone break-up.

This uncontrolled motion is related to the electrical current flowing through the voice coil.

As the cone vibrates, it generates a back electromotive force (EMF) that opposes the current flow and create current distortion in the voice coil.

Inductance and Impedance

An inductor opposes changes in current flow. When you increase the inductance in the circuit (like the inherent self-inductance of the voice coil or by adding an external inductor), the overall impedance of the circuit also increases.

Impedance acts like electrical resistance for AC signals like audio.

How Increased Inductance Helps

Here’s how increased inductance tackles cone break-up:

However, it’s important to consider these points:

Filtering Techniques for Break-Up Reduction

Several filtering techniques can be employed to address cone break-up and reduce associated distortion.

As it’s based on impedance rise-up, an EQ in DSP will not have an impact.

The result is depending of woofer’s motor but it will impact mainly the H3 in most cases. It depends on the design of the motor, the voice coil and the inductance value, the lower and more linear it is, the less there is current distortion and distortion in the medium (i.e. a plateau distortion which is not linked to the excursion), which explains why a notch has no effectiveness on the distortion of compressions and tweeters as well as other speaker as 18Sound AIC speakers.

It’s important to note that these filtering techniques are most effective when the break-up rise up in frequency (one or more big peaks) and/or when woofer is rising up in his final box. If the breakup is already damped, so more or less flat and the woofer has already a flat response in box, it will useless to try something about it.

Each with its advantages and limitations:

Notch Filters

These passive filters use a combination of inductors (L) and capacitors (C) to create a high impedance at the resonant frequency. This effectively reduces the current flow at that frequency, minimizing cone excitation.

However, precise tuning is crucial and if certain components are placed in parallel with the circuit, this will bypass the impedance effect and make the notch effect on breakup distortion ineffective. So it will work well in conjunction with active filtering, less in passive filtering.

Here is the H3 of a Dayton RS52 with and without LC notch :


First-Order High-Pass Filters with active filtering

These filters, often implemented with a single inductor, allow lower frequencies to pass through while attenuating higher frequencies, including those near the break-up point. This approach offers a simpler design and also linearize the woofer, it’s the easier solution.

It will increase gradually the impedance and linearize the woofer in the same time, it works very well if the woofer is already rising up in his final box and need linearisation.

The inductor must be an air core inductors and not an iron core inductor otherwise it will adds H3 in the low ends.

Here is the H3 of a SbAcoustics WO24P with and without air inductor in serie :


Compensation Networks

More complex networks can be designed to address specific break-up modes. These may involve additional components and require detailed analysis of the cone’s behavior.

Self Inductance

While not a filter in the traditional sense, the inherent self-inductance of the voice coil can also contribute to a rise in impedance at higher frequencies.
This can have a similar effect to filtering, potentially mitigating break-up to some extent.

However, it’s often a secondary effect and may not be sufficient for significant break-up control.


Cone break-up is a significant factor in loudspeaker distortion, impacting sound quality.

By understanding its causes and employing targeted filtering techniques like notch filters or high-pass filters, speaker designers can achieve smoother, more accurate sound reproduction.