Headphones 101: Choosing the Right Type of Drivers

Share on Facebook Tweet Share Reddit Comment
Headphones 101: Choosing the Right Type of Drivers
Headphone technology isn't quite as simple as you think it is. The most important components in a pair of headphones are the drivers. These are the driving force (no pun intended) behind the audio capabilities of a pair of headphones, and convert the signal into audible sound. Drivers aren't simple either; there are various different types of driver technologies that make a difference to the kind of sound that headphones deliver.

(Also see: Tech 101: Things You Need to Know Before Buying Headphones)

Today, we explore all there is to know about various driver types, and what you can expect from them. Different drivers have different benefits to the user, and knowing a bit about the main component of your headphones will help you to pick the right product, depending on your needs and budget. We've also recommended a few headphones for every type of driver. Read on to find out more about the different kinds of headphone drivers.

headphones101_drivers_sennheiser_hd800.jpg

Types of drivers

Dynamic (moving coil)
The most commonly used type of headphone driver, dynamic is the easiest and most affordable to manufacture, and is used in the majority of headphones today. Using magnetic technologies to cause a flexible diaphragm to 'move' air and produce sound, dynamic drivers are usually capable of louder, tighter bass and more attack, without using too much power.

Dynamic drivers come in various sizes, with in-ear headphones usually using drivers that are about 8-15mm in size and on-ear headphones using drivers that are generally 30mm or more. It's a myth that the size of the driver matters, and larger drivers do not necessarily equate to more bass or louder volumes. Even 8mm drivers are capable of the same quality as 50mm drivers, and the size is important only from the perspective of design, and ensuring that the driver fits properly within the casing.

Most dynamic-driver headphones can be comfortably driven without additional amplification, and are thus ideal for use with smartphones and portable media players.

Our recommendations for dynamic driver headphones

In-ears under Rs. 5,000 - SoundMagic E10S (Review) - Rs. 2,199

On-ears under Rs. 5,000 - Audio Technica ATH-M30X - Rs. 4,268

In-ears under Rs. 10,000 - Shure SE215 - Rs. 6,589

On-ears under Rs. 10,000 - Audio Technica ATH-M50X (Review) - Rs. 9,999

In-ears over Rs. 10,000 - RHA T20 (Review) - Rs. 18,999

On-ears over Rs. 10,000 - Sennheiser HD800 - Around Rs. 94,990

headphones101_drivers_rockjaw_kommand_ndtv.jpg

Balanced armature
Balanced armature drivers are much smaller than dynamic drivers, and use a perfectly centred magnet to produce sound. When an electrical force is applied, the moving magnetic armature moves and rotates slightly, which pivots and moves the diaphragm to produce sound. Since the small size of the driver is its biggest advantage, balanced armature drivers are commonly used in in-ear headphones. Additionally, it's possible to have multiple balanced armature drivers within each earpiece, allowing each driver to cater to a different frequency response range.

Most balanced armature headphones have between 1-4 drivers in place, while custom-designed monitors can have as many as 20 individual armatures. The technology behind balanced armature drivers is still somewhat expensive, so these headphones are not as affordable as dynamic-driver headphones. Additionally, many in-ear headphones use 'hybrid' drivers, where balanced armature drivers are used alongside dynamic drivers within the same unit, with the dynamic drivers focused on low frequencies and the armature drivers catering to the upper-range.

Balanced armature headphones are considerably more expensive than dynamic driver headphones. Most balanced armature headphones will cost you over Rs. 5,000, with prices increasing exponentially when multiple armatures or hybrid designs are involved. However, power and amplification requirements are low, making these headphones easy to use with portable devices such as smartphones and media players, so these are a good thing to look for if you've got a slightly bigger budget.

Our recommendations for balanced armature/hybrid driver headphones

Sony XBA-A1AP - Rs. 6,990

Trinity Audio Delta (Review) - GBP90 (Rs. 9,100 approx.) + shipping and duties

Rock Jaw Kommand (Review) - GBP95 (Rs. 9,600 approx.) + shipping and duties

Fidue A73 (Review) - Rs. 10,468

headphones101_drivers_audeze_lcd3_ndtv.jpg

Planar magnetic
Planar magnetic drivers are used in high-end headphones. Using a large membrane with an embedded wire pattern which is suspended between opposite-aligned magnets, the membrane reacts when a current is passed through the wires by the magnetic field. This causes it to move and produce sound. The quality of the sound produced by good planar magnetic headphones is considered to be excellent, and is usually extremely open and full-bodied.

Due to the high cost of manufacturing planar magnetic drivers and the large size of the drivers themselves, planar magnetic headphones are priced at a considerable premium. They are also often too large to use outdoors and may, in some cases, be open-backed. Additionally, planar magnetic headphones usually require dedicated amplification, and are thus meant for home use. These are obviously high end devices for audiophiles, and not something people would routinely be shopping for.

Our recommendations for planar magnetic headphones

HiFiMan HE400S - Rs. 23,999

Oppo PM-1 - Rs. 84,999

Audeze LCD-3 (Review) - Rs. 1,34,900

headphones101_drivers_stax_sr009_ndtv.jpg

Electrostatic
The most expensive of the commonly-used driver technologies, electrostatic drivers consist of a thin, electrically charged diaphragm suspended between two electrodes. The electrical sound signal is applied to the electrodes creating an electrical field, causing the diaphragm to be drawn towards one of the electrodes. Air is forced through the perforations; combined with a continuously changing electrical signal driving the membrane, a sound wave is generated. Electrostatic headphones are relatively rare, due to the high price, but also generate sound that is generally free of distortion.

Electrostatic headphones are often the least convenient to own, because of the large size and complex amplification requirements. These headphones require special amplifiers that are capable of powering them, with high-voltage power sources. Well-designed electrostatic headphones are capable of a far better sound than any other types of headphones, but they are pretty expensive.

Our recommendation for electrostatic headphones

Stax SR-009 - $4,450 (Rs. 3,00,000 approx.) + shipping and duties

That's it for this edition of Headphones 101. Do you have any recommendations within the different types of drivers? Let us know via the comments.

Affiliate links may be automatically generated - see our ethics statement for details.
Comments

For the latest tech news and reviews, follow Gadgets 360 on Twitter, Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Ali Pardiwala

Ali has over eight years of experience in the technology space, specialising in writing about all kinds of audio gear and TVs. He’s reviewed all kinds of headphones, speakers, audio gear, and televisions over the years, and is the in-house expert on all gadgets with screens and audio drivers. He is of the firm belief that truly wireless earphones are the future, and will always recommend a 4K TV, but not necessarily a smart TV. In his spare time, Ali likes to watch TV shows and movies ...More

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals: 17 iPhone and iPad Games Available at Amazing Prices
Thanksgiving Marketing Hits the Web, Awkwardly
 
 

Advertisement

 

Advertisement

© Copyright Red Pixels Ventures Limited 2019. All rights reserved.