Troubleshooting a Failed Speaker Channel

Spend less than 20 minutes to get your stereo speaker system working

Stereo speaker next to a couch

IvanWuPI / iStock

Stereo or multi-channel systems tend to fail in predictable ways, so it makes sense to follow a consistent approach to troubleshooting. The steps below will help you isolate operational problems in a specific component or area where the problem begins. 

Troubleshooting Speaker Channel Problems

  1. Check to see if the speaker channel is inoperative with all sources

    If one speaker channel won't play no matter the input, you can more confidently narrow the problem source to a speaker problem.

    For example, if the problem exists only with DVDs and not any other source, such as a radio or CD player, then it's possible that either the DVD player or the cable connecting it to the receiver or amplifier is bad. Replace that cable with a new cable or swap it with a known-good cable to see if that works.

    Verify that the balance control is centered and the volume is high enough to be heard.

  2. Work backward to check for breaks or broken connections

    Starting from the speaker and moving towards the receiver or amplifier, thoroughly check the entire length of the wire for any breaks or broken connections. It doesn't take much force to cause permanent damage to most cables.

    If you encounter splices, make sure that the splice is maintaining a safe, proper connection. If something looks questionable or you are unsure, replace the speaker wire and check the whole system again. Verify that all wires are securely connected to the terminals on the backs of the receiver/amplifier and the speaker. Check that there are no frayed ends touching any metal parts — even one stray strand can cause a problem.

    If the speaker wire is in good condition, yet the channel in question still won't work, then the problem likely exists within the receiver or amplifier itself. It may be defective, so check with the product manufacturer for warranty or repair options.

  3. Swap the right and left channel speakers

    This is a quick and simple way to test whether one speaker is truly bad or not.

    For example, let's assume that the right channel does not work when connected to the right speaker, but the left channel works fine when connected to the left speaker. After switching them, placing the left speaker on the right channel and vice versa, if the left channel suddenly does not work when connected to the right speaker, then you know the problem lies with the right speaker itself.

    If, after the swap, the left channel does work with the right channel speaker, then the problem is not the speaker. It has to do with something else in the stereo system — either the speaker wires or the receiver or amplifier.

    Klipsch 7.1 Channel Speaker Setup Diagram Example
    Klipsch 7.1 Channel Speaker Setup Diagram Example. Image provided by the Klipsch Group
  4. Make sure the hardware isn't defective

    Electronics can malfunction or die out at any time, often with little or no warning. If replacing the cable in the previous step didn't fix things, then the problem may lie with the source itself.

    Swap out the source product for another of the same type, connecting it to the original receiver or amplifier and speakers. If the new testing shows that all speaker channels now play as they should, then you know it's not the speaker, but the device — time to shop for a new device.

  5. Review each device's operating manual

Some devices may require non-standard, non-intuitive configurations or they may house "hidden" problems like fuses or jumpers that require replacement or reconfiguration.