Being an audiophile in today’s world is both good and bad – it is good because of the large variety of headphones available in the market, but it is bad because, given the popularity that headphones have gained over the last few years, the market is a bit saturated with models that are not alike in quality. If you are looking to buy some new headphones, you ought to understand the technology behind them first.
How Headphone Drivers Work
First things first, the most important thing for you to know is what a headphone driver is. The driver used in a pair of headphones has the biggest impact on your sound experience. There are three types of headphone drivers used most commonly; these are dynamic, planar magnetic, and electrostatic drivers.
Headphones perform based on the type of technology used within them to create their sound, which is also called the transducer principle. The transducer principle is basically the technique headphones use to convert the electrical signal from your media source, such as your audio player, into sound waves, which then reach your ears.
A headphone driver, as the name suggests, drives this sound down your ear canal. It is a small speaker unit – an electromagnetic device that uses its respective transducer principle to convert electrical signals into sound. Headphones cannot function without a driver. Drivers can vary in size, just like headphones can. They are sometimes referred to as transducers as well.
Let’s look at the distinguishing characteristics of each type of driver.
These are the most affordable out of the three driver types mentioned above, and hence the most commonly used. They are compact and lightweight, and quite often, they do not require external power. They are good at creating harmonic distortion.
These are the rarest type of driver out of the three we talk about here. They have no moving parts, which means they can mitigate almost any perceptible distortion in the sound. They can also thus respond to the most subtle changes in the audio to ensure accurate sound. Naturally, these are quite expensive; they also require a specialized amplifier, and the headphones that use them are usually bulky and heavy.
Planar Magnetic Drivers
These are also more expensive compared to dynamic drivers. They create less harmonic distortion and have a more accurate sound reproduction. The headphones that use these are heavier than those having dynamic drivers but lighter than those having electrostatic drivers. They also require external power.
What to Know Before Buying New Headphones
You know how drivers work now, but you probably have different questions now. For instance, what are the pros and cons of owning planar magnetic vs dynamic headphones, or planar magnetic vs electrostatic ones, or electrostatic vs dynamic ones? Which driver will give you the best experience while remaining in your budget?
We can solve these dilemmas by looking at how listening to music will feel with each driver.
Music through a Dynamic Driver
Sound quality is good with dynamic drivers because they can reproduce low-end frequencies quite well. The problem is that they can create some undesirable harmonic distortion at louder volumes, and can also have inaccurate sound reproduction at these volumes. If the driver itself is too small, it can create strange distortions by bouncing sound inside off your ear at weird angles.
Dynamic drivers are easier to power than other driver types because they do not require an external source, and they are also affordable. But truth be told, dynamic drivers are the worst out of the three types of drivers discussed here. They’re alright, but there are better options if you’re willing to spend a bit more.
Music through an Electrostatic Driver
Electrostatic drivers don’t have moving metal components like dynamic drivers, so they can create sound that is virtually distortion-free. But there are limits in this world, and this accuracy is as difficult to produce on a large scale as it is sought after. Electrostatic drivers are expensive to produce and expensive to buy, which means they are usually sold for enthusiasts only.
Music through a Planar Magnetic Driver
In a planar magnetic driver, vibrations are distributed evenly across a membrane, so there is very little distortion. These can reproduce a more neutral frequency response, so almost all the aspects of the audio will be more accurately reproduced than by a dynamic driver. The sound that reaches your ears will not bounce or echo in strange ways and will seem more realistic.
Planar magnetic drivers provide a nice middle ground between the mediocrity of dynamic drivers and the elite-ness and exclusivity of electrostatic ones. All three drivers mentioned here have different models of headphones made by different companies available on the market.