When you are listening to music from a movie, your TV, or any other device, it is essential to get the best audio quality if you want the best immersive experience. Many people will choose amplifiers to enhance the sound quality, but there are unfortunate circumstances when the amplifier starts clipping and fails to deliver the audio you want. The problem is more common than you may realize, so it is important to know what clipping is and how to prevent it.
The best way to prevent instances of clipping is by reducing the gain, as well as operating the sound at volume levels of lower than 100% to prevent damage to the internal components.
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What is clipping?
This is when the audio signals go through amplification past the maximum limit an amplifier can handle, regardless of whether you are using an analog or digital system. This is frequently termed as ‘overdrive’, and will result in lower audio quality as well as unwarranted distortion. In technical terms, this is when the output signal loses its rounded troughs and peaks due to the lowest or highest points of the sound being cut off.
When your speakers pick up on this problem, it is jarring and unnatural to your listening experience and can lead to blown speakers.
How can I tell when audio clipping is happening?
Distortion is due to clipping, although it is not always a bad thing. In cases like listening to rock music, the phenomenon is an artistic choice and is always done tastefully, and there are also three categorizations in the music scene: overdrive, distortion, and fuzz.
|Clipping types||What they are and their effects on sound quality|
|Overdrive||This drives the valves in your sound equipment to a slight distorted state, which will mimic the sound you would get from a solid-state amplifier. However, the extent of clipping is minimal, and does not risk damaging your equipment or changing the audio’s tonal quality.|
|Distortion||This is a slightly more aggressive process compared to overdrive, because it modifies the tonal quality and creates a new result. It will also add grit to the tone, regardless of how soft or hard the original audio is.|
|Fuzz||While distortion adds gain to the audio, fuzz takes the audio and clips it extremely and compresses it to create a new, unrecognizable output. The result is a ‘wooly’ audio quality, which can make the amplifier sound broken if you are not used to its effects.|
You will mostly notice distortion and fuzz, as overdrive is the lightest form and can pass unnoticed. Some forms of distortion occurring include pops, clicks, hissing, and unwanted noise, which are absent in the original audio.
Why should you care about clipping?
The extent of audio clipping varies in different circumstances, and most cases are unnoticeable or allow you more room to hear louder audio quality. However, major amounts of distortion in the audio will force you to hear it, and it can also damage your equipment in some cases.
Therefore, it will not just make the music sound bad; the speakers and amplifiers you use in your sound system also have components that react to the audio signals. The volume increases when you increase the voltage when using electronics, and a higher volume means temperatures in the internal components is higher.
If the speakers are left with clipped audio for long enough, they will experience damage and overheating. Since the woofers are reproducing sound through vibration, many clipped parts can result in jarring movements that will ultimately tear or rip the cone’s fabric away from its sides and damage other internal components.
Additionally, clipped audio signals have high frequency harmonics, so tweeters are the other audio component that is vulnerable to damage.
Why does clipping happen?
This problem can happen at any time and any stage of the path the audio signal follows. If the signal is a digital one, it can happen at the master output, the software in use, a plugin, or the converters. If it is an analog signal, it can happen at the speakers, amplifiers, the analog-to-digital converters, the preamplifier or microphone, or digitally in your computer.
This is mainly because each component in your sound system operates optimally at specific volume ranges, and going too loud introduces peaking. To prevent this, audio components will always have multiple gain and volume knobs to help you adjust the volume to its correct levels.
What you should do when your amplifier is clipping audio
If you notice clipping happening in your audio system, the first thing to do is ensuring the amplifier’s RMS power rating matches with the volume levels your speakers can optimally handle. This will not only prevent clipping, but also reduce the chances of permanently damaging the equipment due to overheating.
Reducing the gain
The most straightforward solution is reducing the gain slightly, which will feed less power into the speakers. Additionally, note that volume control and gain control is not the same thing, so place a higher priority on getting the best setting rather than increasing the volume.
It is important to note that once the audio system begins clipping at the earlier stages, future parts will sound disjointed regardless of whether you set correct audio levels or not.
To eliminate the chances of clipping, you may also need to reduce the gain lower than you want, which you can implement through additional measures:
- Upgrading the electrical system in your car using the Big 3 method, which will help you clean up the signal. This is a good solution if the clipping tends to be sporadic. However, it will not fix the issue if your system is underpowered, because it only increases the gauges of essential wires.
- If the clipping is due to electrical system problems and the Big 3 method is not enough to fix the problem, you can change the alternator to an aftermarket type that will give the amp sufficient power.
- Choose speakers that have greater efficiency, as they will allow you to achieve higher volume levels without needing too much power.
Clipping is a common issue and can be due to audio signals that are too high in volume or gain, causing the amplifier to overwork when processing the sound. Fortunately, it is easy to fix as long as you do not allow it to go on for a long time.