Having to listen to continuous humming sounds can be annoying at best and potentially harmful at worst. If your speakers are making hissing noises in certain circumstances, you should get to the bottom of the issue as soon as possible. So before I can tell you how to stop your speakers from buzzing, you’ll have to learn what could be causing the noise.
Why Are Your Speakers Buzzing?
If you’re hearing a persistent buzzing sound coming from your speakers, you may assume that the issue is electrical. That assumption may even be correct and there’s a simple way to prove it. Try to eliminate the noise by replacing the cords connecting the noisy speaker to an electrical outlet or a sound source.
On the other hand, two other things could cause humming sounds. One of them is structural — a blown speaker could sometimes produce a buzzing kind of noise. The other is software-related. For example, if the audio drivers on your computers are out of date, you might hear strange sounds coming from your speakers.
With that in mind, let’s try to figure out exactly why each of these scenarios could lead your speakers to start buzzing.
The cables that connect your speaker to the audio source are the first thing you’ll need to check. If they’re causing the distorted noise, it will persist even without audio output. What’s more, the buzzing will get worse as other electrical devices come near the speakers.
The underlying problem here is that the cords you’re using are unbalanced. Both RCA cords (the kind with red and white plugs) and sturdier instrument cables can be unbalanced. It simply means that there are two wires instead of three inside the cable. That makes them vulnerable against outside interference, which often results in a low buzzing noise around 60 Hz.
Of course, that’s not to say that these kinds of cables don’t have their uses. Most commercial speakers, whether they come with built-in or separate cables, have unbalanced wires. Even though they’re susceptible to picking up noise due to outside interference, those cables work perfectly well in quiet environments.
But if interference is the problem, couldn’t you take it out of the equation? Well, depending on your computer or studio setup, that may not be as easy as it sounds. You see, any device with a magnetic field can cause interference — your phone, your mouse, even some lighting devices. Still, we’ll discuss a solution to this problem later on.
There are two kinds of cables that are connected to your speakers. Aside from the audio cables we’ve discussed, there’s also the power supply line that leads from the speaker to the nearest power outlet. Any noise that results from that cable is usually to do with grounding.
A power cord typically has two kinds of plugs on either side — that is, if one of them isn’t attached to the speaker. The plug that goes into devices like studio monitors and computers is a standard IEC-C13 female connector. But in this case, the issue is probably on the male end, which goes into the power outlet.
There, you’ll probably find three pins. Two of them are your AC power conductors while the third provides grounding. Grounding prongs exist for a good reason — but they can also cause a high-pitched buzzing around 120 Hz.
Unfortunately, many people take it upon themselves to physically remove the grounding pin. After I offer some alternative solutions, I’ll explain how unsafe that is.
If your speaker suddenly starts buzzing, the cause is most likely electrical. However, if the cords aren’t to blame, you may have structural issues on your hands. Physical damage in the outer components of a speaker can cause a humming or buzzing noise as air escapes the speaker.
The circular component at the front of a speaker has three distinct parts. The bubble in the middle is the dust cap. Its main purpose is to keep dust out of the speaker. Surrounding it, you’ll find the cone or diaphragm, which can be made of paper, plastic, metal, or fiber.
The outer edge of the diaphragm is connected to the speaker with a surround — a rubber foam suspender which allows it to vibrate freely, adjusting to the movements of the coil inside the speaker.
If the foam suspension cracks or the firm diaphragm sustains physical damage, the speaker may develop various acoustic anomalies. When the damage first occurs, you may hear a popping sound. After that point, the speaker will produce rattling, hissing, and buzzing noises every time you use it.
Faulty or Outdated Audio Drivers
Lastly, you might discover that the noise wasn’t caused by a physical component at all. Instead, it could be a software-related matter. Your speakers could be perfectly functional, but they may be producing the wrong sounds because of a computer error.
Fortunately, this problem is easy to troubleshoot. You’ll have to go to your computer’s Device Manager program and check if all relevant drivers are up to date.
How to Stop Speakers From Buzzing
Now that you know everything that could be causing the annoying buzzing noise coming from your speakers, let’s see what you can do to get rid of it.
Update Your Drivers
Since we were just talking about software, let’s get that out of the way first. While you’re in your Device Manager program, find your speakers on the list of devices and right-click that item. If the program finds updates for their driver online, you’ll see the option to update it in a pop-up.
From there on, you pretty much have to let the computer do its thing. When it’s done updating the relevant drivers, you’ll have to restart it before the changes can take effect. Once you do, you’ll probably know if that solved the issue right away.
While you’re fiddling with the software, you might want to take a look at the Sound properties as well. First, find the speakers in the Playback tab of your Sound settings. After right-clicking the device, go to the Enhancements tab and disable all enhancements. The buzzing noise could be the result of features like virtual surround, room correction, or bass boost.
Lower the Volume
It may be a bit optimistic, but we should make sure we’ve covered all our bases here. So I have to ask: have you tried lowering the volume of your speakers? Sometimes, the buzzing noise is only evident when your speakers are left on high volume when you’re not using them to listen to anything.
There’s a simple way to confirm and resolve this particular issue. Just turn that volume dial counterclockwise. Again, depending on your setup, the dial will either be on a separate audio interface box, the subwoofer, or the back of each studio monitor. Ideally, the volume should never be above 75% anyway, at least not if you care about the structural integrity of your speakers and your ears!
Fix the Blown Speaker Component
Speaking of the structural integrity of your speakers, let’s deal with the next most obvious issue that could be causing the buzzing sound. If your speakers have sustained physical damage, you should dress those wounds before they expand. After you figure out which area is defective, you’ll be able to order replacement parts.
Before you do anything else, find out who made your speakers and make note of the device make and model. After you see which part needs repairs, go to the manufacturer’s site and try to find the replacement for your exact speakers. If you can’t, you may still be able to find universal replacement parts on Amazon according to your speaker’s measurements.
On the other hand, if you only find a small hole in the firm conical diaphragm, you may be able to patch it up. Paper cones would be the easiest to fix. You could simply apply paper tissue and Elmer’s glue, as I’ve explained in my article about fixing blown speakers.
Plug the Speakers Into Different Outlets
Next, let’s deal with the issue of faulty power supply. The first thing you ought to try to see if the problem is electrical is plug the noisy speaker (or speakers) into another outlet. Sometimes, the power strip you’re using can become overwhelmed, making it necessary to split your electric demand between several ports.
Make sure you try different arrangements — don’t give up if this trick doesn’t work on your first try. First, disconnect the speakers and plug them into another power strip. If that doesn’t stop the buzzing noise, switch the position of the speakers and the computer. Lastly, try plugging the speakers into an outlet in another room.
If the noise goes away when you plug the noisy speaker into an outlet in another room, you’ll know that it was caused by faulty grounding. There are several ways to go about fixing that, but to begin with, you could get a new power strip. Some people specifically recommend the kind with Type E sockets as they tend to have fewer grounding issues.
Of course, you’d have to get a matching two-prong power cable with a Type E, F, or C male plug. The other end would naturally have to be compatible with your studio monitors. However, if your speakers have a built-in power cable, this solution won’t be viable.
Get a Grounding Adaptor
If you’re unable to switch to a two-prong power cable, you could use a three-prong to two-prong adapter. Figure out the type of plug you have and find an adaptor that will fit it and your power strip. But beware — eliminating that third prong could cause issues if you don’t use the appropriate outlet.
Use an Audio Ground Loop Isolator
Another way to rid yourself of that interference we were talking about would be to get an audio ground loop isolator. This solution will be particularly effective for speakers that use 3.5 mm jack cables, which are notorious for picking up electrical interference. Fortunately, a ground loop insulator will make that an issue of the past.
Best of all, the device should be pretty easy to find and install. Put one end of your 3.5 mm jack, if you have one, into the female port on the device, and the other end into your speaker. That should isolate the electrical noise before it can pass from the amplifier to the speakers.
Get a Hum Eliminator or an Isolation Transformer
Several pieces of hardware can help you break the ground loop that could be causing the buzzing sound. If you need a professional solution, you should get a hum eliminator like this one from Ebtech. Alternatively, you could get a pricier piece of equipment like an isolation transformer.
Both devices can achieve a similar result in terms of noise. However, while hum eliminators usually don’t lift the ground, isolation transformers do provide floating AC output. Since transformers break the ground loop, they make noise coupling impossible.
Use a DI Box
Most musicians use unbalanced cables to connect their instruments to the rest of their equipment. But you don’t often hear the kind of buzzing sound during concerts — or at least not during professional gigs. That’s because most of them use a DI box to essentially make their cords behave like balanced ones.
A Direct Inject box can take the unbalanced signal coming through the cable and convert it to a balanced one. If nothing else, DI boxes are generally cheaper than the previous two devices I’ve mentioned. However, they’re not the best solution for people who just want to enjoy their shows, music, and games without hearing the persistent buzzing sound in the background.
Get Balanced Cables
Rather than trying to imitate balanced cables with DI boxes, why don’t you purchase balanced cables in the first place? If the audio cords in question aren’t built into your speakers, you should be able to switch them out without an issue. Some studio monitors even have separate ports for unbalanced and balanced cables, as you’ll see in this video.
So what’s the difference between these two kinds of cables? Well, the balanced ones have three, rather than two conductors in the connector, and three wires inside the cord. Two of them are signal wires and one is a ground wire, which shields the cable against interference. But that second signal wire is what makes balanced cables less noisy.
You see, both of those signal wires carry the same audio signal. However, one of them carries the signal with a reversed polarity. That inverts the buzzing sound, in a way that’s similar to active noise cancelation technology, causing it to disappear.
Call an Electrician
Ultimately, if any of the symptoms you’ve noticed worry you, you could always call an electrician. They’ll be able to tell you if there are any underlying issues you need to address in your power grid. After all, that buzzing sound may not be completely benign. With that in mind, let’s talk about what can happen if you mess with these components without consulting a specialist.
Should You Remove the Ground Pin From the Power Plug?
Now, I only have one question left to answer. Is removing the ground pin from the speaker’s power plug a good idea? If you’ve seen video demonstrations, you know that it’s an incredibly effective solution. It makes the buzzing sound disappear — but it’s far from safe.
Many videos that demonstrate this technique will tell you to take a pair of pliers and twist the third prong out of the male end of the power cord. But as I keep stressing, the ground pin is there for a reason. Namely, it’s there to protect you against power surges, which can result in electrical shocks. Additionally, as if that isn’t dangerous enough, unexpected power surges could even cause a house fire.
So instead of potentially triggering a colossal disaster, stick with the solutions I’ve listed above. If grounding issues are behind the noise, which they may very well be, get a grounding adaptor or an audio ground loop insulator and call it a day.