If you’re on the hunt for quality earphones, you’ll be surprised at the many different brands and styles available on the market today. This might make it harder for you to choose the right one, especially if you are buying for the first time. And browsing the specs sheet doesn’t make things any easier.
Earphones specs are complex and very technical and may make it hard for you to spot the right one by just looking at the specs. In this post we’ll cut through the jargon to shed more light on one of the common earphone components, the driver, and how it affects audio quality.
What Is an Earphones Driver?
The driver is the most important unit in earphones. That’s because it’s the component that converts electrical signals into sound. In other words, it creates the sound you hear. Think of earphone drivers as tiny loudspeakers inside your ear.
A driver unit is composed of three components:
- A magnet – creates a magnetic field
- Voice coils – Moves the diaphragm to create the sound you hear when an electric current passes through them
- A diaphragm – vibrates to create sound waves
An earphone driver is disc-shaped, and the size varies depending on the make and required sound output.
The Impact of Driver Size on the Audio Quality
Simply put, the larger the driver the better the bass. But that doesn’t mean earphones with larger drivers produce better sound than their counterparts with smaller drivers. Far from it. There are many factors that come into play when it comes to earphones’ sound quality. Here’s everything you need to know about how driver size impacts the audio quality.
Is Bigger Always Better?
An earphones driver is usually in the range of 8mm – 15mm in diameter while a headphones driver ranges from 20mm – 50mm in diameter. Generally, a driver’s size determines the loudness of the earphone.
Many people have been made to believe that the bigger the size, the better the sound quality. This is not entirely true, although due to a larger diaphragm, the bass may be a little cleaner, but earphones with large drivers also tend to struggle in reproducing high frequencies (treble).
While bigger drivers are capable of producing higher output, this doesn’t mean they deliver better output. It’s the quality of the driver unit and the variation of materials inside that makes a huge difference. Take Apple EarPods or any other tiny earbuds, for example. These earbuds are tiny with very small drivers, yet they produce sound quality that rivals other brands with larger drivers.
Also, we can learn a thing or two from Audio Technica. This company makes two high-end headphones models: the M40X and the M50X. The M40 uses 40mm drivers while the M50 uses 45mm drivers. So you’d assume that the M50X produces better sound due to its larger drivers, right? Not necessarily.
Both headphones are tuned very differently. The M50X has tuning, pads, and enclosures designed for a slightly aggressive response, while the M40X is designed around a flatter and more neutral signature. In both cases the type of padding used and the enclosure of the cups have a larger impact on the sound than the drivers used.
In a nutshell, the size of the driver does affect the output and the frequency range of earphones. However, you should not base your buying decision on the size of the drivers alone. There are other factors such as the type of drivers used and the frequency range that affects the quality of sound more than the size of the drivers used.
Different Types of Driver Units Explained
As mentioned earlier, the type of driver used in earphones greatly affects the quality of sound. Here are the various types of drivers commonly used in earphones and headphones.
1. Dynamic Drivers
If you’re looking for headsets that deliver a thick bass punch, go for the ones with dynamic drivers. These drivers are very common in headphones and feature a larger diaphragm. They do a stellar job in delivering powerful bass and attaining good sound pressure without consuming much power.
With dynamic drivers, the concept that bigger drivers produce better bass does not apply.
2. Planar Magnetic Drivers
These are the driver types you’ll find in most of the high-end earphones/headphones on the market today. With this tech, a diaphragm is sandwiched between magnets.
These drivers produce very accurate and clean sound, giving you every bit of detail without adding too much sound effects or other modifications. For this reason they are the go-to choice for audiophiles. You’ll find them in most of the high-end headphones such as the Audeze LCD-3.
3. Balanced Armature Drivers
These are very small drivers, and their typical use is with in-ear monitors. So how is it possible for such small drivers to displace more air? Manufacturers put multiple drivers in a single earpiece. Typically, most in-ear monitors come with one to four drivers.
Putting many drivers in a single earpiece allows the earphones to reproduce different frequencies with minimal distortions. Balanced armature drivers are thus common in earbuds and in-ear headphones.
4. Electrostatic Drivers
These are rare and extremely expensive. As the name implies, they utilize diaphragms that are electrostatically charged. They produce exceptional sound quality with breathtaking accuracy. For this reason they come with a hefty price tag and are only found in premium headsets.
Which One Should You Buy?
It all boils down to your personal preferences and what you’re going to use them for. If you’re a party lover and want something that delivers quite a punch – something that’ll immerse you right into the action – go for the ones with dynamic drivers.
But if you intend to use the headphones solely for gaming, you most likely won’t care much about the bass or the mid-lows. Go for the ones with balanced armature drivers.
If you’re an audiophile, you probably don’t need my advice on what headsets to buy, do you? I’ll say it anyway. Go for planar magnetic drivers. And if budget is not a constraint, headphones with electrostatic drivers will satisfy your curiosity more.
Earphones drivers do impact sound quality. However, you should not base your buying decision solely on the size of the drivers alone. There are many factors that affect the quality of sound more than the effect of the driver size.
The latest crop of headphones even come with noise cancellation technology which is also a major factor to consider when buying.
We hope this guide will help you to make a more informed buying decision when shopping for earphones.
What headphones do you use? And what factors influenced your decisions to buy? Share with us in the comments section.