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Having just acquired a spankin' new pair of monitors for my home studio, I'm currently in the process of "breaking them in".

Being an inquisitive mind, I started wondering: what is the purpose of this?

For those who aren't familiar with the term: "breaking-in" speakers is simplicity itself and consists in playing music over them for some time - typically 10-20 hours. This period of adjustment in order for the speakers to settle into their optimal working state, that will affect their sound, is recommended by manufacturers and reviewers alike.

Examples:

NOTE - The studio monitors will take break-in time to achieve optimum sonic performance. Under moderate use, play a favorite album between 15 to 25 hours.

Source: KRK Systems ROKIT G3 Series Manual

After setting the filters for my room and an extensive break-in period, they became both punchy and percussive in the low end, as well as fast and “airy” in the upper end of the frequency response.

Source: Neumann KH 120A Studio Monitors Review @ Mix Online

Is this really the case? And, if so: how does it work?

An ideal answer will address the physics involved: does the break-in period affect electronics, the speaker cones, the cabinet, all of the above; as well as the expected changes in sonic qualities following the break-in period. What differences can we expect to hear?

If any studies have been performed, references would be appreciated.

A negative answer ("break-in is a myth", as some claim) would ideally reference studies that demonstrate no measurable difference between "unbroken" and "broken-in" speakers.

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    This makes no sense to me (speaking an a mechanical engineer). If the process has any effect you need to specify what type of music, and at what level (10 hours of thrash metal with the volume turned up to 11 is probably going to have a different effect from 10 hours of music for solo flute!) If there are any significant "burn-in" or "infant death" effects, those ought to be dealt with by the manufacturer, not left for the customer to discover. Maybe the real effect is to "burn in" your own ears to the sound of the new speaker system before doing anything critical with it. – user19146 Jun 1 '17 at 21:36
  • @alephzero The ears getting used to the sound of the speaker is something I have considered - and am treating as a bonus. However, I am interested in something more substantial than a hunch or common sense, as you can no doubt appreciate. – user321 Jun 1 '17 at 22:20
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    “Most manufacturers and reviewers stress that this is necessary”... do they? This could use a couple of clear references... As alephzero says, this whole idea sounds unlikely, whereas it's definitely a good idea to accustom your ears to the monitors. Else there's the risk that you'll “work against the speakers”, correcting for something you attribute to the signal but is really specific to the speakers. – leftaroundabout Jun 1 '17 at 22:25
  • I answered this question instead of voting to close as opinion-based only after lengthy consideration and research. The first web sites I found all confirmed that there is almost always heated argument over whether break-in is real or not. If such an argument begins here I will feel compelled to vote to close as opinion based, as arguments over things that can't be clearly answered with documentation are definitely not part of what Stack Exchange is about. @leftaroundabout I did actually find a manufacturer site that weakly suggested you may benefit from break-in of their speakers. – Todd Wilcox Jun 2 '17 at 0:32
  • @leftaroundabout Added example recommendations of break-in from manufacturer and review. I changed the wording of this section to remove the, perhaps unwarranted, quantifier. – user321 Jun 2 '17 at 4:32
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The only measurements of speaker parameters made before and after alleged break-in periods I could find online support the notion that break-in is almost entirely a myth. The essence is that any physical changes that a speaker undergoes when it is first made to move are almost instantaneous and almost always occur doing factory testing, so any "break-in" done at home after buying a speaker is meaningless.

One thing that does happen is the speaker and enclosure behavior change slightly and temporarily as they heat up, and once cool again the original behavior is restored. A permanent change caused by heat would be considered damage and while it's theoretically possible heat damage could sound better to some ears at first, if continually heated to the same point the speaker will fail.

Here's a link to the best article I found:

http://www.audioholics.com/loudspeaker-design/speaker-break-in-fact-or-fiction

And quotes (emphasis mine):

Required break in time for the common spider-diaphragm-surround is typically on the order of 10s of seconds and is a one-off proposition, not requiring repetition. Once broken in, the driver should measure/perform as do its siblings, within usual unit-to-unit parameter tolerances.

Quite often, spider break in occurs when the driver is tested, before and/or after placement in the cabinet for which it's intended. Driver testing by signal stimulus at some point (or points) in the manufacturing process - if done at levels sufficient to break in the spider - generally makes further break in unnecessary. Hence, a finished system will not - in so far as its drivers are concerned - require further break in by a consumer once taken home from the dealer.

Taken together, it's clear the volume of air confined within the sealed cabinet of the enclosed box loudspeaker system moderates any measurable and/or audible changes that might arise as a consequence of driver compliance changes.

When the test series was run to completion, the resulting amplitude response graphs indicated that an end user would likely encounter larger system-to-system amplitude response differences (~1.04 dB Spl) owing to normal driver variances than would be encountered breaking in raw drivers.

Cease stimulus and the driver's compliance will return - in most cases within seconds or minutes depending upon surround design, material composition, ambient temperature and so on - to its pre-stimulus value; the compliance changes are temporary. So too are the changes that occur in all the other driver parameters that are effected by compliance, hence the changes in fs , vas, etc.

Four years after the system had been installed in the theater, I had the opportunity to go back and take some measurements. I availed myself of the opportunity and found that the amplitude response plots made that day matched to within a fraction of a dB those made when the system was first installed. Four year's worth of "breaking in" hadn't affected the system to any significant degree.

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    Just make sure you do break in your Monster cables before turning up the volume. Those electrons need to build their ideal pathways along the metal strands. [yes, this is a joke, you humor-impaired dopes!] – Carl Witthoft Jun 2 '17 at 13:15
  • @CarlWitthoft Thanks for calling me a dope. It adds a lot to my answer. – Todd Wilcox Jun 2 '17 at 13:17
  • I didn't call you a dope -- unless you actually bought Monster cables! – Carl Witthoft Jun 2 '17 at 13:18
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    @CarlWitthoft - I thought the way to break in Monster cables was to tow a car a certain distance with them... – Tim Jun 2 '17 at 15:32
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    I never understood monster cables: monsters don't exist, why would I need cables for them? – Yorik Jun 2 '17 at 15:52
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Here is some rationalization (without empiric support): speaker cones are basically paper, glue and coating. In that respect they are similar to accordion bellows. Accordion bellows need a bit of "breaking in" both when new as well as when unplayed for days: when opening and closing them, they will make rustling noises at first.

Now obviously there are significant differences: accordion bellows do not work like springs, the creases are quite sharper, behavior does not need to be linear, the glue used is quite different and so on.

And when we are talking about monitors with non-trivial quality, they have had to go through testing (and deliver good results) before being shipped, and you cannot really afford materials that will require newly breaking in after every larger pause.

At any rate: if the speakers still smell when they get delivered, glue has likely still evaporated during shipping and the results might loosen up a bit under load still.

As I said: purely speculation on my part, but I'd imagine something like that being the rationale for such advice, whether or not it's actually snake oil.

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    "Speaker cones are basically paper, glue and coating" - Yes, back in the 1960s, but not any more - except for those who want to use 1960s technology to create its own characteristic sound. But the OP was asking about studio monitors, not reproductions of 50 year old guitar tube amps and cabinets. Modern speaker cones are more likely to be made from Kevlar, carbon fiber, rigid plastics, or even aluminium or titanium than paper and glue. And horn-loaded piezoelectric drivers don't even have "cones" at all. – user19146 Jun 2 '17 at 10:11
  • Yep. You can break in a guitar or a violin by playing on it for a couple of months, or (as many luthiers do nowadays) by attaching a driver to the bridge and vibrating it at various frequencies for a day or a week. This makes a difference because there are all kinds of places on an instrument that get loosened up with use. But especially a modern speaker cone and its suspension is not going to change (unless it's defective) substantially by any playing-in due to the nature of its design and materials. – Scott Wallace Jun 2 '17 at 13:07
  • @ScottWallace it's not just "loosening up," there's the general aging of the wood and the varnish on/in the wood. As you probably know, this is an area of great controversy over in bowed-instrument-land, where there is no argument that nearly all instruments play much better after a few years. ("few" being anything from two to 200) – Carl Witthoft Jun 2 '17 at 13:17
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    I think @Carl Witthoft may need to treat 'there is no argument that nearly all instruments play much better after a few years' as a misprint and change it to 'there is NOW argument that nearly all instruments play much better after a few years'. – Laurence Payne Jun 2 '17 at 16:13
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    Had to downvote, I'm afraid. Such unsupported speculation doesn't really contribute anything, – user321 Jun 3 '17 at 11:29

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