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A Quick Guide to Thermal Aging Of Hi-Fi Audio Components

Denon Amp Thermal Aging

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Over the years, I have changed many components of hi-fi audio equipment, each set uniquely and accomplishing a different purpose.

While normally, the damage is simply because of wear and tear, or I am simply looking for a replacement to ensure that the speaker remains at its best. 

In the midst of all the wear and tear, there is one very specific type of damage that can have long-term implications on your hi-fi audio equipment as well; thermal aging.

If you are careful about your hi-fi speaker usage, you may not see many thermally aged parts, but in the heat of the party, people are seldom careful. 

In this article, I will discuss thermal aging, its effects on hi-fi audio equipment, and how you can prevent it from happening to your beloved speakers.

What is Thermal Aging? 

Simply put, thermal aging is the degradation of a material due to prolonged exposure to elevated temperatures.

The effect of this damage depends on the material in question, but for our purposes, we will be focusing on the effects of thermal aging on hi-fi audio equipment. 

While many materials can withstand short periods of high temperatures, over time, this exposure will cause irreversible damage to the material.

When I bought my Denon AVR-x4500h, one of the comments from existing owners was that it ran hot.

To mitigate this I bought an external USB PC fan (something like this) which helped but was something I didn’t want running all the time.

It just sat on the top of the amp and feed a stream of cool air in to the Amp.

Denon HiFi Amplifier full body
Source: JumpStory

This is due to the molecular structure of the material changing when exposed to elevated temperatures over long periods of time, causing it to become brittle and break down. 

The type of damage caused by thermal aging is not always immediately apparent and can take months or even years to show itself. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the potential for this type of damage and take steps to prevent it from happening. 

Thermal aging is most commonly seen in electrical components, as they are often exposed to high temperatures during use. However, any type of material can be affected by thermal aging, including plastics and metals. 

Effects of Thermal Aging on Hi-Fi Audio Equipment 

Thermal aging can have a number of negative effects on hi-fi audio equipment, all of which can lead to decreased performance and longevity. 

Insulation Damage

One of the most common effects of thermal aging is the deterioration of insulation materials. This can cause a number of problems, including shorts, ground loops, and increased resistance. 

Tolerance Loss

Another common effect of thermal aging is the loss of tolerance in electronic components. This means that components will no longer be able to function within their specified operating parameters, which can lead to degraded performance or even failure. 

This, in turn, also means a loss of impedance in the hi-fi speaker system and, therefore, poor quality audio. 

Damaged Solders/Joints

Thermal aging can also cause metal parts to become brittle and break. This is often seen in solder joints, which can crack and cause intermittent problems. In extreme cases, this can even lead to fires. 

As a result, thermal aging can cause plastic parts to become distorted or cracked. This is often seen in speaker cones, which can crack and distort the sound produced by the speaker. 

Nixon speaker on the beach
BlueTooth Speaker in the Sun – thermal aging occurs from the inside and outside – but don’t change your party plans. Source: JumpStory

Preventing Thermal Aging Avoid High Temperatures

The best way to prevent thermal aging is to avoid exposing hi-fi audio equipment to elevated temperatures for prolonged periods of time. Whenever possible, keep components at room temperature or below when not in use. 

If you must use hi-fi audio equipment in a hot environment, be sure to allow adequate ventilation and cooling. This will help to prevent the components from reaching elevated temperatures and suffering damage as a result. 

Inspect Regularly

Be sure to regularly inspect hi-fi audio equipment for signs of thermal aging. This includes cracks, breaks, or other damage to components. If you notice any of these signs, be sure to replace the affected component right away to avoid further damage. 

Avoid Overuse

Another way to prevent thermal aging is to avoid overusing hi-fi audio equipment. This includes using components within their specified operating parameters and not pushing them beyond their limits. 

If you do notice any signs of thermal aging, be sure to take a break from using the affected component to allow it to cool down.

In addition, be sure to regularly inspect hi-fi audio equipment for signs of damage and replace any damaged components right away. 

What Audio Components Get Damaged From Thermal Aging?

Some of the most common components that end up getting damaged from thermal aging include, but are not limited to:

Amplifiers

When amplifiers overheat, you can start hearing a buzzing sound from it, even when there is no music playing. Eventually, this can lead to the amplifier shutting down completely. 

Capacitors

Capacitors are one of the most vulnerable components of thermal aging. When they overheat, they can start to leak electricity and eventually fail entirely.

Also, I should mention (from personal experience) overheated capacitors also run the risk of exploding and therefore damaging other equipment in the process. 

Connectors

Connectors can become loose or even melt when exposed to high temperatures. This can lead to intermittent problems or even complete failure. 

Disk Drives

Disk drives are sensitive to heat and can overheat easily. When this happens, the disk drive can become corrupted, and data can be lost. However, since most new HiFi systems don’t come with disk drives it reduces the risk of thermal aging.

Some newer streaming units have internal components that provide files on demand, this takes effort and therefore, heat.

Power Supplies

Power supplies can also suffer from thermal aging. When this happens, they may not be able to provide enough power to your hi-fi audio equipment, which can lead to degraded performance.

It is important to note that thermally aged power supplies often require you to change them. Otherwise, it can damage other audio equipment due to surges or low power input. 

Other audio components that can suffer from thermal aging include:

  • Preamps 
  • Receivers 
  • Turntables 
  • Speaker membrane
  • Cables and
  • Switches 

Thermal aging is a serious problem that can damage hi-fi audio equipment and lead to decreased performance and longevity.

By taking steps to prevent thermal aging, you can help ensure that your hi-fi audio equipment will last many years.

Conclusion 

Thermal aging is a type of damage that can have long-term implications on hi-fi audio equipment.

The effects of this type of damage can include decreased performance, shortened lifespan, and even fires.

Furthermore, even if the damage is not apparent, one aged component can also damage other components over time. 

If you don’t do anything about it, there is a good chance that other parts will also age over time, and the damage will start stacking up.

When you eventually get around to replacing the parts, the cost may be as high as buying a new hi-fi system! 

A passion for writing and ongoing research projects gives Catherine an incredibly broad knowledge of all things. She has authored an incredible number of articles and can be found in the wilderness when not attached to technology or listening to podcasts.


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