Headphone Drivers and How Does it Affect Sound Quality?

You are out buying a pair of headphones. The first thing you ask the shopkeeper after giving him a price range is “Does this give a good bass”, or “what is the sound quality” and go on to check out the headphones yourselves. 

Hidden away written in small font on the side of the box is something that goes “14mm drivers” or “32mm neodymium drivers”

While most of us care the least about these numbers, what none of us realize is how important these are to the quality of the headphones.  

What are Headphones Drivers?

A driver unit is a small magnetic disk present in the earbud unit that is connected with small wiring that is responsible for generating sound. An earphone driver unit consists of three major components

  1. Magnet: For creating a magnetic field for the diaphragm
  2. Diaphragm: It vibrates in the magnetic field that creates audio waves
  3. Voice Coils: converts electrical signals into audio

Understanding Drivers of an Headphones

The drivers of an earbud are very essential and crucial in deciding the audio output quality of the headphones. The area covered by the magnet or the size of this field is directly proportional to its bass effect. Bigger magnetic field gives deeper bass or loudness of the earbud’s output.

It does not necessarily mean that the higher the length of the drivers, the better the quality. Often you see or hear brands exaggerating the size of their magnetic drivers but this is not often productive or helpful.

Is bigger always better?

You have to understand that you wouldn’t always wish for loud volume. Different headphones with varied driver sizes give you the maximum sound level at the same volume. It is just that the input energy differs.

A great audio output balances the bass, stereo, loudness and gives you a crisp sound output.

Generally, an earphone driver unit has a range of 8mm to 15 mm or 20 mm to 50 mm. 

headphones have bigger driver units when compared to canal phone headphones. This is because they can simply contain bigger sized units. And by default, over the ear headphones come with bigger drivers than in the ear headphones. 

Different Types of Driver Units

The size of the drivers you choose is always dependent on the type of output you prefer. Depending on the desired output, there are different types of drivers present in an earbud. Let us look at each type in brief detail.

Dynamic Drivers

These are the most common type of headphones and they use the largest of the diaphragms. High bass boost headphones usually tend to use Dynamic Drivers

They are widely preferred in the low end and even in some high-end headphones because of their capability to gain the perfect sound pressure and drive powerful bass at low power input. Therefore, the size of the driver is totally independent and has no impact on the output of the audio in Dynamic Drivers. 

Balanced Armature Drivers

The balanced armature drivers are very small in size and are usually found in the in-ear monitor (IEM) headphones. Their tiny size saves a lot of space within the earbud for more drivers to fit in. Usually IEMs have about 1 to 4 balanced armature drivers per bud whereas custom-built IEMs have upto 20.

Planar Magnetic Drivers

Usually found in high-end headphones, Planar Magnetic Drivers contain a single diaphragm sandwiched between two magnets. A wire is then made to go through the diaphragm in a springish manner to create an electromagnetic field. This field interacts with the magnetic field and thus creates sound waves. 

Electrostatic Drivers

These types of drivers are quite uncommon and very expensive in nature and thus are used in very high-end noise cancellation headphones. Electrostatic Driver Headphones use a very thin diaphragm that is electrically charged and then sandwiched between 2 conductive electrodes/plates. While this generates sound waves, an amplifier is set around it in order to the audio waves.

Hybrid Drivers

Finally, we have the Hybrid Drivers. A relatively new technology, the Hybrid Drivers are a combination of balanced armature drivers and dynamic drivers. Very economical in cost, these drivers give the headphone a perfect balance of bright treble and deep dynamic bass too.

Neodymium Drivers

They are regular dynamic drivers but made out of Neodymium, a rare element that has higher magnetic properties and thus adds gusto to your audio output.

How To Choose Perfect Drivers for your Headphone?

While it is easy to say that the choice of an earbud driver is personal and depends on the individual’s audio preferences, it is important to know which type of driver suits which type of audio preferences. 

As mentioned earlier, all the different types of drivers have different bass and treble balances. But not every earbud consists of the exact same type of driver. Some types of drivers are compounded or hybrid in nature.

For Bass: Go with neodymium drivers or simply dynamic drivers

For Treble: Planar Magnetic Drivers and ElectroStatic Drivers. Both of these have bass boosted but work towards giving you good treble. As they are small, they wiggle into very little space and thus leave room for other bass boosters.

For Balanced Audio: Balanced Armature Drivers and Hybrid Drivers are specifically built to provide ample balance. Hybrid drivers are very new technology and are custom built to cost very less and provide a great value for money.

In Closing:

It is safe to say that the drivers in your headphones are very impactful on the quality of sound output that you get out of your headphones. If you are serious about the sound quality, then it is crucial that you pay enough attention and get yourselves the headphone with the right drivers that suit your audio needs.