What Are Headphone Drivers? | Components and Types

Headphone drivers are one of the most fundamental units of a headphone. 

Usually, when your headphone delivers a terrible sound, it’s likely that the drivers are bad or made of low-quality materials. 

What are headphone drivers? How does it influence my audio quality? These and more are some topics we’ll examine in this article.

What is a headphone driver?

A headphone driver is that part of your listening set that converts electrical signals into sound. 

In simpler terms, headphone drivers are small devices inside your headphone that create the sound you hear. They consist of three main components that work together to produce sound. 

These components are:

The magnet

The magnet is the part of a driver that creates a magnetic field to attract electric current, and the driver’s magnet performance determines the quality of audio you’ll receive. 

Voice coils

The voice coils are responsible for moving electric current to the diaphragm to create the sound you hear. In other words, this is the part of the driver that does the job of converting electrical signals into sound.

The diaphragm

The diaphragm is the section that vibrates to generate sound waves and serves as a transducer, turning mechanical vibrations into sounds. Sound waves are produced when a diaphragm is electrically vibrated and beats against the air.

Types of headphone drivers

There are six main types of headphone drivers. They are;

Dynamic drivers

Dynamic drivers, also known as “Moving Coil Drivers,” are among the most common and affordable headphone drivers available on the market. They use the principles of electromagnetic and magnetism to create movement and produce sound.

Dynamic drivers comprise three crucial components: a diaphragm, a voice coil, and a neodymium magnet. The neodymium magnet does the job of magnetizing the voice coil and converting it into an electromagnet. 

On the other hand, the voice coil creates a magnetic field from the current it receives, which travels in different directions depending on the current flow.

Because of its outstanding ability to displace air, a dynamic driver excels at producing a solid bass response. Also, it is highly efficient, has a simple mechanism, and doesn’t require much power to produce high volume.

However, the downside of a dynamic driver is that it creates distorted audio at high volumes.

Planar magnetic drivers

This driver is what you’ll find in most high-end open-back headphones. Planar magnetic drivers are thin and utilize magnetic fields to generate sound.

However, unlike dynamic drivers, this driver uses its magnetic field to activate the diaphragm to produce sound instead of the voice coil.

Headphones with planar magnetic drivers are usually heavy and not portable. Plus, they have a higher price tag and usually require extra power (e.g., an amplifier) to power them.

However, planar magnetic drivers deliver high-quality sound and have a good transient response with nearly no distortion.

Thanks to their large diaphragm, they also displace a large amount of air and have an excellent base response.

Balanced armature drivers

Balanced Armature drivers are much smaller than dynamic drivers and are only installed in in-ear monitors. In-ear monitors with balanced armature drivers provide better isolation for a richer, more detailed audio experience.

On the downside, headphones with this type of driver have a high price tag. Plus, they lack bass response because they don’t displace air to produce sound.

Electrostatic drivers

Electrostatic drivers are primarily found in rare open-back headphones that require static electricity to create an electric field. 

The electric field vibrates the diaphragm, causing it to push and pull against the electrodes. This movement causes the driver to push air through the perforations and create clear sound waves.

Headphones that utilize Electrostatic drivers are complicated and require special amplifiers to power them (energizers). They also cost more than other headphone drivers but score very high in sound quality.

Hybrid drivers

Dynamic and balanced armature drivers are combined to form a hybrid driver. Some hybrid headphones may include multiple balanced armature drivers and dynamic drivers. 

The balanced armatures effectively reproduce mid, high mid, and high frequencies, while the dynamic drivers are responsible for effectively reproducing mid and low frequencies.

Most headphone companies use hybrid drivers to design headphones for specific audio frequencies. Moreso, hybrid driver headphones typically deliver clear, detailed sound that is warm and bass-forward, which is what many audiophiles seek.

Bone conduction drivers

Bone conduction is a relatively new technology; these drivers work differently from other headphone drivers. Instead of moving sound through your ear, these drivers allow you to enjoy music by vibrating on the bones in your face.

Bone conduction drivers deliver vibrations to the inner ear without passing through the eardrum; you hear the sound from the headphone when the vibrations reach your cochlea. Simply put, bone conduction drivers perform the same function as your eardrums.

Bone conduction headphones are mainly for those who have hearing loss due to an eardrum injury. However, these drivers have one major downside: they don’t sound as good as other headphone drivers.

Is a bigger headphone driver better?

Generally, the larger the driver, the better the bass. But, no, a bigger headphone driver doesn’t always mean better sound. 

Although larger drivers may produce louder sounds and cleaner bass, they usually struggle to reproduce high frequencies (treble).

The number of components and quality of materials used to make the driver are what determine its sound quality.

Google’s Pixel Buds, for example, are pretty compact and have tiny drivers. However, they deliver quality sound comparable to that of other brands with larger drivers. 

In summary, don’t make a headphone decision based on the driver’s size alone. Other factors like frequency range and padding type affect the headphone’s sound quality more than the drivers’ size.

How To Make Your AirPods Pro Last L...
How To Make Your AirPods Pro Last Longer

Conclusion

Headphone drivers are small devices in your headphone that convert electrical signals to sound waves that you hear; they determine the headphone’s overall sound quality. 

Jude is a music and headphone lover. He has tested and reviewed several audio listening devices and enjoys writing helpful tips and information for readers like you.