All About Headphone Drivers
If you want a perfect audio listening experience, and want an audio experience that you like, then there is no shortcut to choosing the best headphone for yourself. You will have to spend some time knowing the technical aspects of a headphone. By doing so, you will be able to select a headphone that is per your needs.
In this article, I have discussed most of the essential information about headphone drivers. What are they, and what are the types and benefits of different kinds of drivers?
What Is A Headphone Driver?
Headphone drivers are units that produce sound by vibrating and moving air into your ear canal. This driven air is the sound that you pleasantly hear from your favorite pair of headphones.
They are known as transducers because they convert electric energy into acoustic or sound waves. You can think of them as tiny loudspeakers within your ears.
A headphone driver unit is a physical electric component of your headphones that transforms electrical signals into audible sound signals and drives them to your ears. These units vary in size as per the size of their headphones.
Talking about their types, they come in planar magnetic, dynamic, electrostatic, and a few other headphone drivers, each of which has its own sound signature and quality. I have talked about this in detail later in this article.
So, while you are still here, I am sure you want to feed your curiosity regarding headphones’ drivers. But before I jump to its types, you should know about the components through which these tiny headphone driver units work.
Components In A Headphone Driver
A magnet creates a magnetic field and converts electrical energy efficiently which can directly affect the overall quality of the audio produced. Headphone drivers require this magnetic field that attracts and repels the diaphragm to function properly.
As mentioned earlier, they are responsible for sound quality. This means your sound can be enhanced or spoiled as per the magnet’s performance in the magnetic circuit. Neodymium magnets are the strongest type of magnets and are the standard for headphones, speakers, and other audio transducers. These permanent magnets are made from an alloy called NIB (neodymium, iron, boron).
Headphone manufacturers use alnico alloys that have aluminum, nickel, iron, and any one element from cobalt, titanium, and copper and are used to produce permanent magnets for headphones and other audio devices.
- Voice Coil
A voice coil is a wire attached to the wide end or on the edge of the speaker cone. This cone is made up of paper, metal, or plastic. The voice coil supplies the critical force to this cone by moving the diaphragm to generate sound via the reaction of the magnetic field to the current passing through it. The power of the voice coil does not at all affect the quality of the audio, but it can certainly influence the loudness of the audio coming out from the speakers of the headphone.
It plays a crucial role in transforming electric signals into acoustic sound signals. A voice coil is made of different materials like PCOCC(Pure Copper by Ohno Continuous Casting) and Hi-OFC(Oxygen-Free copper) to enhance audio quality other than copper wires, some of the coils also contain an adhesive.
The diaphragm is a transducer that rapidly vibrates and converts mechanical energy into sounds. It is a thin, semi-rigid membrane that creates sound waves that can be picked up by human ears.
Its physical motion coordinates with the acoustic or sound vibration emitted or received. They are made of flexible materials like paper, paper composites, and plastic fabrics like polypropylene, which can withstand extreme thinness and great strength.
Types Of Headphone Drivers
Audiophile nerds start their musical quest by learning about headphone drivers. While in-depth detail might confuse you, I have tried to explain six different drivers and their working mechanisms. These drivers follow a different pattern for moving air. Keep your eyes glued to this article while I highlight their types and functions in detail.
- Dynamic Drivers
These drivers work on the principle of magnetism and electromagnetism to create sound. They have a membrane diaphragm that is extended along the magnet and the voice coil which comes into motion when an electric current is provided to the magnet.
It’s the dynamic driver’s membrane material that determines the sound quality. It works by magnetizing the voice coil that generates a magnetic field. This in turn brings the voice coil into forward and backward motion.
The diaphragm attached to this voice coil vibrates and displaces the air around it that produces sound. The higher the volume, the greater the amount of air displaced by the diaphragm. So, now you know what causes high volumes in your dynamic driver headphones.
These drivers are famous for offering a great bass response, with a greater slam and punch as they efficiently displace air and create sound. Dynamic drivers are the most common type of headphone drivers you can find in stock iPhone ear pods, wireless AirPods, and Galaxy Airpods.
Benefits Of Dynamic Drivers
- Easy to produce sound
- Easy to power
- Compact and lightweight
Planar Magnetic Drivers
These headphone drivers have a thin, flat diaphragm and a wire running through it. They work by magnetizing the coil-attached disc-shaped diaphragm that is placed between magnets.
This diaphragm has a wire embedded that creates an electromagnetic field that interacts with a magnetic field when a signal is passed through it and creates sound waves through this mechanism.
Thus, it creates sound by moving the diaphragm with magnets and producing sound. That’s how these drivers got their names, ‘planar magnetic drivers’ which means a movement of the magnet over a flat plane”.
The planar magnetic headphones offer a deep bass response. Audeze LCD-5 has a wide sound stage and incredible details. Their sculpted earpad design provides enhanced upper mid-range frequency response. it used fluxor magnets and patent pending parallel Uniforce™ voice coils. Thus, planar magnetic headphones provide reduced distortion and improved sonic resolution.
Benefits Of Planar Magnetic Drivers
- Low distortion
- Easy to drive
- Words best with added power
These headphone drivers work on the principle of static electricity. They contain a thin and almost weightless diaphragm made from a PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) film, a durable thermoplastic polymer film. This diaphragm is suspended between two electrified stators or metal plates that allow air displacement and produce sound.
These two stators have negative and positive charges that generate an electric field when sound waves are applied. This mechanism leads to the to-and-fro movement of the diaphragm from and towards the plates.
Sound waves are generated by a continuous flow of an electric signal that drives the diaphragm that pushes and repels between these plates, allowing air displacement through the perforations.
The electrostatic headphones work through an electrostatic amplifier that charges these drivers and delivers a detailed and distortion-free audio experience. The VOCE Electrostatic Headphones are a classic example of electrostatic driver headphones. They have an 8mm driver for enhanced and rich bass that can go down to 10 Hz. They have a complete metal construction and a super-thin pair of metal stators added for enriching audio resolution.
Benefits of Electrostatic Drivers
- small in size
- wider frequency range
Balanced Armature Drivers
They are small, rectangular-shaped drivers that use a miniature metal “arm” inside a coil of wire that is balanced between two sets of two magnets while the diaphragm is attached to the metal arm. The magnets control the arm movement in these balanced armature drivers.
The metal, or armature, is attached to the central point and revolves around these two magnets that encircle it. This armature pivots towards either of these two magnets when an electric current flows, which moves the diaphragm and produces sound.
They do not displace air to produce sound, and there is a moderate bass response in balanced armature driver headphones. Thus, in in-ear monitors or IEMs, multiple balanced armature drivers and a single balanced driver are added to increase their bass effect.
Benefits Of Balanced Armature Drivers
- Small in size
- Tons of clarity and detail.
- Ideal for IEMs
- Can handle high frequencies
Magnetostriction Or Bone Conductor Drivers
They employ the piezoelectric property of the temporal bones, enabling sound vibration flow through them. They transmit sound waves along the jaw and cheeks instead of traveling through the air.
They are designed to be placed on your cheekbones. You get clear audio quality directly reaching your inner ear while surpassing the outer and middle ears.
These headphones help hearing-impaired people with hearing issues in their middle and outer ears. Bone conduction headphones can make you listen to ambient sounds while being aware of your surroundings.
These headphones do not block your ears, so you can hear everything that is going on around you without having to pause or remove them. So, when you see military personnel communicating to receive commands in movies or web series, know they would be seen using bone-conduction headphones.
Benefits Of Bone Conduction Drivers
- good for people with hearing issues
- Allows for being in touch with surroundings/Situational awareness
- Good for listening to ambient sounds
They combine and use a combination of balanced armature drivers, dynamic drivers, or other drivers in a single headphone to deliver superior sound quality and rectify the shortcomings of one driver with the other.
They have a solid bass response from a dynamic driver, and the mids and highs are delivered from balanced armature drivers. So, you get the best of both worlds and listen to clearer and crisper sound quality at different frequency levels. When it comes to representing the sound frequencies, they work pretty well, as they have a combination of two drivers.
Benefits of Hybrid Drivers
- Vibrant sound
- good bass quality
- A good representation of different sound frequencies
- great sound stage
I hope that you were able to understand one of the most basic and essential components of a headphone which is a headphone driver. While selecting a headphone, you need to make sure that you know all about the driver that has been used in the headphone. This is because headphone drivers are a set of components that actually decide the audio quality that your headphone will produce. Hence, knowing about them is pretty essential only then will you be able to choose a headphone that is as per your requirements.
Which Driver Type Is Best For Headphones?
Planar magnetic drivers are best for headphones because they keep the diaphragm between the magnets affected by the magnetic field to produce sound. They are the preferred choice of audiophiles for open-back and over-ear headphones.
Do Bigger Driver Means Bigger Sound?
Yes, bigger drivers deliver bigger sounds as a large diameter offers better sound quality, showing the size of its diaphragm. Thus, the larger the size of the diaphragm, the bigger would be the diameter of the drivers, giving them superior sound quality.
What Does 40mm driver size mean in headphones?
40mm sound driver unit is the right size for headphone drivers and falls in the clear audio range, which is between 20mm to 50mm. For earphones, this range can be between 6mm-15mm.
How Fragile Are Headphone Drivers?
Headphone drivers are extremely fragile as they are made of thin material, which makes them unstable while kept on headphone stands or desks. Try to avoid heavy impacts, as they can ruin this delicate component.
Which Type Of Headphone Driver Should I Go For?
If you are a party lover, you should go for dynamic drivers for better punch and bass action. Gamers should choose balanced armature drivers that have simple bass and mid-lows. An audiophile can choose planar magnetic drivers that offer a thumping bass and minimum distortion at high volumes. For a true audio purist, if budget isn’t your concern, try electrostatic headphone drivers that produce the most natural and acoustic sound and can fulfill your curiosity.