Earphone manufacturers put a lot of emphasis on the earphone driver size, and you might be wondering why? Aren’t all earphones supposed to sound the same?
And not just that, there are usually different types of drivers. But what difference do they make and how does it affect sound quality?
If you’ve ever been curious about how these distinctions affect your earphones’ quality, then you’ve reached the right place. We’ll talk about drivers in detail and what you need to consider the next time you buy a new pair of earphones. Let’s get started.
What Is An Earphone Driver?
The driver is the part of the earphones that converts electrical energy or audio signals into the sound you hear. They are similar to speakers, so it might be easy to think of them that way. A driver has three components, which are as follows.
The magnet is a crucial component of the driver as it generates a magnetic field that affects the sound quality of your earphones. The stronger the magnet, the better the quality of your earphones will be.
The magnets also have the potential to create air movement, which means better frequency coverage for the driver. They are part of the speakers that move the diaphragm, causing air vibrations which thus results in sound.
The Voice Coils
The voice coils are what move the diaphragm. With electricity, they become electromagnetic and interact with magnets which causes movement. The coils then vibrate, which in turn moves the diaphragm.
Coils are made of many different materials, but most coils use copper. The material of the coil doesn’t impact the sound quality too much.
The diaphragm is part of the driver that moves or vibrates, and this, in turn, produces sound waves. Its job is to convert these mechanical vibrations into actual sound. After it is vibrated with electricity, it moves against the air and creates sound waves.
An earphone driver is usually disk-shaped unless you come across earbuds with a peculiar shape. Then the size of the drivers usually depends on the size of the earphones and how much sound output is required.
How Important is Driver Size in Earphones?
The driver size does affect the sound of your earphones, but a bigger driver doesn’t necessarily equate to better sound.
However, larger drivers are equipped to produce better sound as they can move more air particles. They don’t have to vibrate as much as smaller drivers to make the same amount of sound.
The frequency of sound your earphones can produce is determined by how much air gets moved around. With more air moving around, you’ll get a wider frequency which means you get higher highs and deeper lows.
The wider sound range might make you believe that earphones with bigger drivers have better bass, but many other factors come into play.
Things like impedance, sensitivity, and driver position are all crucial factors in determining the sound quality of your earphones.
So yes, while larger drivers can produce louder sound and have a wider frequency response, this doesn’t mean they are able to produce better “quality” of sound. Other essential features come into action, like the driver’s quality and the variation of the materials.
Also, two headphones might have the same sound driver size but have their sound quality completely different from the other.
For example, AirPods Pro 2 come with 11 mm audio drivers, which can also be found in a lot more affordable earbuds, but their sound quality would be vastly different when compared to AirPods.
In fact, many brands like OnePlus have earbuds with even bigger drivers at 12.4 mm, but the quality would not stand when compared to AirPods.
Do Earphones With More Drivers Sound Better?
Some earphones usually have more than one driver, which helps control the various range of frequencies. This is because specific drivers have a limited frequency range, so certain earphones use multiple drivers. Some drivers are better built to handle frequencies like bass, mids, and treble.
With multiple drivers, the range of frequencies is distributed to whichever driver is equipped to handle them best.
However, like the case with driver size, multiple drivers also don’t significantly impact sound quality. The same rule applies here as with driver size. If the multiple drivers aren’t built well and aren’t made of good quality, they won’t be able to compare with an earphone with a single good-quality driver.
What is The Typical Driver Size?
The usual size of earphone drivers is around 8mm – 15mm in diameter, while headphone drivers are typically bigger at 20mm – 53mm.
On-ear headphones typically have a driver size of between 20mm – 50 mm while over-the-ear headphones have a slightly larger driver size between 30 mm to 53 mm.
Some headphones, like Planar Magnetic headphones have an even larger driver size at 50 mm to 120 mm.
Does Driver Size Matter?
Yes, the driver size does matter is determining how loud a particular headphone can get and it’s range of frequency. However, a lot of other factors come into play when determining the overall sound quality of a headphone.
These factors are things like tuning and damping, the quality of material in the driver, the driver type, the drivers position of the ear, impedance and sensitivity.
So, if you only make a choice based on a larger driver rather than considering all these other factors then you might end up regretting it.
Different Types of Audio Drivers
Now let’s explore all the different types of Audio drivers that there are to give you a better understanding and help you make a choice.
1. Dynamic (Moving Coil) Drivers
Dynamic Moving Coil Drivers are the most common type of Bluetooth headphone driver in the market. They are also available at a relatively low price compared to other drivers. They also have a simpler configuration and create sound by using a magnet.
This is typically neodymium that magnetizes the voice coil and turns it into an electromagnet. With electricity running through it, the voice coil moves, and so does the diaphragm in the same rhythm. This movement of the diaphragm moves the air and produces sound.
Dynamic drivers are usually good at creating good bass because of their ability to move air. They typically have a large diaphragm, which is generally louder and can attain good sound pressure without too much power.
However, they do have a significant downfall. A dynamic driver tends to distort the audio at higher volumes. This can be combated with good engineering, and some high-end earphones use dynamic drivers.
2. Planar Magnetic Drivers
These drivers are commonly found in high-end headphones in the market. These are most found with open-back headphones but can also be found in over-ear and in-ear headphones models. These types of drivers are extremely thin.
They utilize magnetic fields to create sound-like dynamic drivers, but unlike using voice coils in between, the magnetic field directly activates the diaphragm to generate sound.
So this type of driver uses more magnets to ensure that the entire diaphragm vibrates evenly. This also means that these headphones consume more battery. Sometimes, you might need to use an external amplifier to power them. Also, these headphones are typically heavier and not best for portability due to the large number of magnets.
These headphones also have a higher price tag, but the sound quality is superior. It also has almost no distortion, and the bass response is excellent. They produce clean and accurate sound without any modifications, which makes them an excellent choice for audiophiles.
3. Electrostatic Drivers
Electrostatic Drivers are used in rare, open-back headphones. They use static electricity to produce an electric field which then creates vibrations.
This causes the diaphragm to push and pull against the conductive plates. The diaphragm then pushes the air through the perforated walls. The action of the constant change between the electric signals creates sound waves.
These drivers need special amplifiers to perform to their full potential. Thus, you’ll mostly find these types of drivers in an open-back design. They also tend to be expensive. However, their sound quality is amazing, and they sound better than other drivers, so they are costlier than others.
4. Balanced Armature Drivers
Balanced armature are small drivers and are used with in-ear monitors. They are small, so manufacturers use multiple drivers in one earpiece, and more in-ear monitors come with 1 – 4 drivers.
Like with dynamic drivers, using multiple drivers allows them to recreate multiple frequencies with little distortions. A particular driver handles bass, while other frequencies are distributed among other drivers.
A balanced armature has miniature arms wrapped in a coil or wire, one magnet at the top and the other at the bottom. These magnets then dictate the movement of the armature.
When electric current flows through the coil, it causes the armature to move and create movement through the diaphragm, producing sound.
However, balanced armatures rely on movement rather than air to produce sound, so there is a lack of bass response.
This is why balanced armature drivers are usually paired with a dynamic driver in in-ear monitors for a more balanced sound.
5. Bone Conduction Drivers
Bone conduction drivers work differently from regular headphones, which pass through the ears. They transfer vibrations directly to your ear via bone conduction.
The drivers are pressed against the bones of your face and are typically 1 inch away. They bypass your eardrum to send vibrations directly into your ear. You’ll hear sounds when the vibrations reach your inner ear.
These drivers are helpful for people with hearing loss problems or people who want to be aware of their surroundings while still listening to what is happening around them.
However, a major shortcoming with these types of earphones is that their sound quality doesn’t sound as great as other earphone drivers.
6. Hybrid Drivers
Hybrid drivers are usually a combination of dynamic and balanced armature drivers. These drivers are jointly used in some headphones.
This is because balanced armature drivers are not good at producing low-frequency sound and have a low bass response. They are better at mid and high frequencies and then are paired with dynamic drivers that can produce low frequencies effectively.
Manufacturers use a combination of drivers like these to cover a wide range of frequencies, all combined to give a good sound output.
These are more commonly found in wired headphones and less in wireless headphones.
Hopefully, this article made it clear that driver size isn’t enough to determine what earphones to go for, and there are a lot of different driver sizes to choose from.
While driver size is helpful in determining how loud your earphones will be and if they’ll have a wide frequency range, you are better off prioritizing the type of sound you prefer. Then go for a driver based on that.
However, remember that the type of driver doesn’t always ensure the quality of your headphones, and you should always do thorough research on the particular headphone model you are looking to buy.
Samreen Parvez found her love for tech by messing around with the settings on her family’s old digital cameras. This led to a passion for different gadgets and a fascination with all the things they can do. Her interest in all things tech related, combined with a love for writing and research, led her to craft content at Tech Wizard.