Home Theater System Loudspeaker Troubleshooting

Wooden speaker in a home sound system

Getty Images-iStock Collection / poplasen 

A problem has cropped up in your home theater or audio system: You think that one, or more, of your loudspeakers, has gone bad. The sound intermittently goes out and it seems like your speaker crackles and pops. Does this mean you have a bad loudspeaker? It is definitely possible, but it may not necessarily be the case.

What to Check and Listen For

Before you assume you have a bad speaker in your home theater or audio system, there are several things that should be checked, using the tried-and-true process of elimination approach.

  1. First, connect the suspected "bad" speaker to another channel and see if that speaker still exhibits the same symptoms that you heard previously.
  2. Next, connect one of the other speakers in your system to the same channel (not at the same time, of course) that the suspected "bad" speaker was originally connected to and see if the other speaker also sounds bad when it is connected to that channel.
  3. If it turns out that the suspected "bad" speaker still sounds defective when you connect it to another channel, then you may a have a bad speaker. If so, it may be something as simple as dirty speaker terminals, which can be cleaned or the internal speaker components may be damaged. If you take the speaker grill off (if it is dusty, clean it!) and find the speaker cone is damaged, you can recone the speaker or have it done for you, or contact the manufacturer for a replacement. If it is no longer under warranty, you would probably have to pay for the replacement. However, before reaching into your wallet, double check your warranty papers or contact tech support for the manufacturer of your speaker to see how you should proceed.
  4. If you find that both speakers sound bad when connected to the same channel, but sound okay when connected to another channel, then replace the speaker wire you have using to connect speakers to that channel and see if that makes a difference with the speakers you connected to it. If both speakers sound fine with the new speaker wire (test the wire before you use it), then you have found that the old speaker wire was the problem and you should now be back up and running.
  5. If you have determined that both speakers sound fine on other channels, and you have replaced the speaker wire of the channel where the problem first occurred with good speaker wire, but any speaker you connect to that channel still sounds bad, then the amplifier for that channel may be bad, or a connection is not making proper contact.
  6. In the above case, the problem could be as minor as dirty or broken solder joints at the point where the circuit board of the amplifier or receiver connects to the inside portion of its speaker terminals. Be very cautious if you try to do any solder repair yourself.
  7. If you don't notice any solder joint breaks, the problem could also be a short in the circuit somewhere, or it could be something else in the audio circuitry that requires more extensive repair or replacement.
  8. If you are handy with audio and home theater equipment, you could open the cover lid of your amplifier or receiver (unplug from the power outlet first!) and do a visual inspection. If the interior of the amplifier or amplifier section of the receiver is dusty - using canned or compressed air to clear out the dust. Then, put the lid back on and see if that corrected the problem. If you don't see anything that this noticeably wrong (the inside is clean, and you don't see any disconnected wires), it is time to call tech support to determine the extent of the problem.

To Summarize

  • If the speaker in question is bad, then you need to repair or replace the speaker.
  • If it turns out the speaker wire is bad, replace the speaker wire and you should be fine.
  • If it turns out the amplifier or receiver is bad on a specific channel, then you can opt to have the amplifier or receiver repaired or buy a new amplifier or receiver.

Additional Tip - The Master Volume Control

It is important to note the above tips are designed to troubleshoot problems with individual speakers or channels in a home theater or audio system. If all your speakers seem to be going on and off, and crackling and popping, especially when you raise and lower the volume for the entire system, you may have dirty master volume control.

If the volume control is a mechanical rotating dial, open up your receiver and see if you can access it with some blasts of canned or compressed air, in the same manner as cleaning the internal portion of the speaker connections described previously. This should shake out any dust or dirt that may be causing this problem. If this does not correct the problem, contact tech support for your brand and model of home theater receiver to see how you can proceed.

The Bottom Line

The above speaker troubleshooting tips are based on problems that may occur during reasonable use. If you have a habit of playing your home theater system at full blast (or 11, as Spinal Tap would put it), or you are using speakers that are the wrong impedance for your system's capabilities, you can run the risk of blowing out a speaker or amplifiers in your home theater system. Know the capabilities and limitations of your home theater system.