Yes, driver size in headphones does matter. It significantly influences the sound quality. Now, let's dive into the nitty-gritty.
When I first started exploring the world of headphones, I was baffled by the term ‘driver size.’
It seemed like technical jargon that only audiophiles and sound engineers would understand. But trust me; it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
The driver is the heart of your headphones, and its size can impact the overall audio experience. But here’s the catch – bigger doesn’t always mean better. It’s a common misconception I’ve seen many fall prey to.
The problem lies in understanding the role of the driver size and how it affects the sound quality.
So, stick with me as we unravel does driver size matter in headphones. By the end of this article, you’ll be a step closer to becoming a headphone connoisseur. Let’s get started…
What Does Driver Size in Headphones Mean?
When diving into the world of headphones, one term you’ll encounter is ‘driver size.’ But what does it mean, and why does it matter? Let’s delve deeper.
The Heart of Your Headphones: The Driver:
The driver is the heart and soul of your headphones. The component converts the electrical signals into the sounds you hear.
The driver is made up of three essential parts:
- Magnet: This creates the magnetic field within the driver. It’s the powerhouse that sets everything in motion.
- Voice Coils: These are like the highways that the electrical signals from your device (like your phone or laptop) travel through.
- Diaphragm: This part moves to create sound waves when the electrical signals pass through the voice coils. It’s like the speaker within the speaker.
Understanding Headphones Driver Size:
The size of the driver is measured in millimeters (mm), and it refers to the diameter of the diaphragm. To give you a better idea, here’s a table showing the common driver sizes in different types of headphones:
The Impact of Driver Size on Sound:
The size of the driver can have a significant impact on the sound produced by the headphones. Here’s what you need to know:
- Larger Drivers: These can move more air, often leading to better bass. However, they can also make the headphones heavier and bulkier, which might not be ideal if you use them for extended periods.
- Smaller Drivers: Despite their size, they can still deliver excellent sound quality. They’re typically lighter, making the headphones more comfortable for long listening sessions.
Understanding the Different Types of Drivers in Headphones
When you’re exploring the world of headphones, you’ll come across various types of drivers. Each type of driver has a unique way of producing sound, which can significantly affect your listening experience. Let’s delve into the details.
1. Dynamic Drivers
Dynamic drivers, also known as moving coil drivers, are the most common type of driver found in headphones. They’re relatively simple in design and cost-effective to produce. This makes them a popular choice for many manufacturers.
Here’s how they work:
- Magnet: A permanent magnet creates a steady magnetic field.
- Voice Coil: An electrical current from your audio device passes through the voice coil, creating a second magnetic field.
- Diaphragm: The interaction between these two magnetic fields causes the attached diaphragm to move, creating sound waves.
Dynamic drivers are known for their strong bass and overall good sound quality. However, they can sometimes struggle with reproducing higher frequencies accurately.
2. Balanced Armature Drivers
Balanced armature drivers are another type of driver that you’ll often find in in-ear headphones and hearing aids. They’re smaller and more lightweight than dynamic drivers. That makes them an excellent choice for compact, portable devices.
Here’s how they work:
- Armature: A tiny metal armature is suspended between the poles of a magnet inside the driver.
- Coil: When an electrical current from your audio device passes through the coil, it creates a magnetic field.
- Diaphragm: This magnetic field causes the armature to pivot, moving the diaphragm and producing sound.
Balanced armature drivers are known for their excellent resolution and detail, particularly in the mid and high frequencies. However, they often struggle with producing strong bass, which are more expensive than dynamic drivers.
3. Planar Magnetic Drivers
Planar magnetic or ortho-dynamic drivers are a step up from dynamic drivers. They use a thin, flat diaphragm with a voice coil printed or embedded. This diaphragm is suspended between two arrays of magnets.
When an electrical current passes through the voice coil, it interacts with the magnetic field, causing the diaphragm to move and produce sound.
Planar magnetic drivers are known for their excellent sound quality, offering a more accurate and detailed sound than dynamic drivers. However, they are more expensive and often larger and heavier.
4. Electrostatic Drivers
Electrostatic drivers are the cream of the crop in headphone technology. They use a thin, electrically charged diaphragm placed between two stators.
When an audio signal is applied to the stators, an electrostatic field moves the diaphragm, producing sound.
Electrostatic drivers can deliver exceptional sound quality with a level of detail and clarity that is hard to match.
However, they are the most expensive of the three types and require a unique amplifier. This makes them a choice for serious audiophiles and music professionals.
Here’s an updated comparison of the four types of drivers:
|Driver Type||Sound Quality||Cost||Size and Weight|
|Dynamic||Good, strong bass||$||Lightweight|
|Balanced Armature||Excellent resolution, detailed mids, and highs||$$||Very lightweight|
|Planar Magnetic||Excellent, accurate, and detailed||$$||Heavier|
|Electrostatic||Exceptional, highly detailed, and clear||$$$||Heavier requires a special amplifier.|
How Does Driver Size Affect Headphones?
The size of the driver in headphones can significantly influence several aspects of your listening experience. Let’s delve into how driver size affects sound quality, loudness, and comfort.
1. Sound Quality
The size of the driver largely influences the sound quality of headphones. Larger drivers can move more air, which is necessary to produce lower-frequency sounds or bass.
This means headphones with larger drivers often have a better bass response, making your music sound fuller and richer.
It’s important to note that larger drivers don’t always guarantee better sound quality. The type of driver, the materials used, and the overall design of the headphones can also significantly impact the sound quality.
Here’s a simple table that shows how driver size can affect sound quality:
|Driver Size (mm)||Sound Quality (out of 10)|
The size of the driver can also affect the loudness of the headphones. Larger drivers can typically produce louder sounds because they can move more air, creating a more powerful sound wave.
However, listening to music at high volumes can potentially harm your hearing over time. So it’s important to be mindful of your listening habits.
Here’s a simple table that shows how driver size can affect loudness:
|Driver Size (mm)||Loudness (out of 10)|
The size of the driver can impact the comfort of the headphones. Headphones with larger drivers tend to be heavier and bulkier, which might not be ideal if you plan to use your headphones for extended periods.
On the other hand, headphones with smaller drivers are typically lighter and more comfortable to wear for long periods.
Here’s a simple table that shows how driver size can affect comfort:
|Driver Size (mm)||Comfort (out of 10)|
4. Bass Response
When it comes to the bass response in headphones, the size of the driver plays a crucial role. Bigger drivers can move more air than smaller ones. This air movement is essential for producing lower-frequency sounds, which we perceive as bass.
- Larger Drivers: Headphones with larger drivers are often associated with better bass response. This is because they can move a greater volume of air, which is necessary to generate those deep, low-frequency sounds. So, if you’re a fan of bass-heavy music genres like hip-hop or EDM, headphones with larger drivers might be your best bet.
- Quality and Design: It’s important to note that the size of the driver doesn’t solely determine a good bass response. The design and quality of the driver, as well as the overall construction of the headphones. It can significantly impact the bass response.
5. Sound Pressure Level (SPL)
Sound Pressure Level or SPL measures the headphone’s sound power level. It’s often used as an indicator of the maximum volume that the headphones can achieve.
- Larger Drivers and SPL: Larger drivers can typically produce a higher SPL. This is because they can move more air, creating a more powerful sound wave. So, if you like to crank up the volume, headphones with larger drivers might be more up your alley.
- Volume vs. Quality: A higher SPL doesn’t necessarily mean better sound quality. Pushing headphones to their maximum volume can often result in distortion and a loss of detail in the sound. Plus, listening to music at high volumes can potentially harm your hearing over time, so it’s important to be mindful of your listening habits.
The soundstage of headphones refers to the ability of the headphones to create a sense of space and depth in the sound.
- Driver Size and Soundstage: The size of the driver can influence the soundstage of the headphones, with larger drivers often able to create a wider soundstage. This can give you a more immersive listening experience, making it feel like you’re in the middle of a live concert.
- Design Factors: The headphone’s design, including the ear cup shape and materials, can also significantly affect the soundstage. For instance, open-back headphones are often praised for their wide soundstage. The open design allows for more air movement and a more natural sound.
Resolution in headphones refers to the ability of the headphones to reproduce the details in the music.
- Driver Size and Resolution: The driver’s size can influence the headphones’ resolution, with larger drivers often delivering better resolution. With larger drivers, you might hear more details in the music, from the subtle nuances of a guitar riff to the delicate brush of a cymbal.
- Quality and Design: The type and quality of the driver, as well as the headphones’ overall design and build quality, can also significantly impact the resolution. High-quality materials and a well-designed driver can deliver excellent resolution, regardless of size.
8. Transient Response
Transient response in headphones refers to how quickly the headphones can respond to changes in the audio signal.
It’s a crucial aspect of sound quality, as an excellent transient response can make the sound more clear and detailed. It allows you to hear subtle nuances in the music.
While there isn’t a direct correlation between driver size and transient response, the design and quality of the driver can significantly impact the transient response.
For instance, drivers made with lightweight materials can often respond more quickly to changes in the audio signal, resulting in a better transient response.
Here’s a simple table that shows how different aspects of the driver can affect the transient response:
|Driver Aspect||Impact on Transient Response|
|Material||Lightweight materials can improve transient response|
|Design||A well-designed driver can respond quickly to changes in the audio signal|
|Quality||High-quality drivers often have a better quick response|
9. Frequency Range
The frequency range of headphones refers to the frequencies that the headphones can reproduce. It’s often expressed as a range, like 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz, representing the range of human hearing.
The size of the driver can influence the frequency range of the headphones, with larger drivers often able to reproduce a wider range of frequencies.
However, the frequency range is also significantly impacted by the driver’s design and quality and the headphone’s overall design.
Sensitivity in headphones refers to how loud the headphones can get for a given power level. It’s often measured in decibels (dB) of Sound Pressure Level (SPL) per milliwatt (mW) of power.
- Driver Size and Sensitivity: The driver’s size can influence the headphones’ sensitivity, with larger drivers often producing a higher SPL for a given power level. This means that headphones with larger drivers can often get louder than headphones with smaller drivers, given the same amount of power.
- Efficiency Matters: It’s important to note that sensitivity isn’t just about loudness. It’s also about efficiency. Headphones with high sensitivity can deliver a high volume level with less power, which can be beneficial if you’re using a device with a low power output, like a smartphone or a portable music player.
- Quality and Design: The sensitivity of the headphones is also significantly impacted by the quality and design of the driver. High-quality drivers often deliver a high SPL with less power, resulting in a higher sensitivity.
What Is A Good Driver Size For Headphones?
Determining a “good” driver size for headphones isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. The ideal driver size can vary significantly depending on several factors.
1. Type of Headphones
Different types of headphones often use different driver sizes. For instance:
- Earbuds and In-Ear Headphones: These headphones typically use smaller drivers, often 8-15mm. Despite their small size, they can still deliver good sound quality due to their proximity to the ear canal.
- On-Ear and Over-Ear Headphones: These headphones usually use larger drivers, often 20-50mm. The larger drivers can move more air, enhancing the bass response and sound quality.
2. Intended Use
The ideal driver size also depends on how you plan to use the headphones.
- Casual Listening: If you’re looking for headphones for casual listening, a mid-sized driver (around 30-40mm) in an over-ear headphone can often deliver a good balance of sound quality and comfort.
- Professional Use: If you’re a professional musician or audio engineer, you might prefer headphones with larger drivers (40mm and above) for their potential for higher volume levels and better bass response.
3. Personal Preferences
Your personal preferences can also influence the ideal driver size.
- Bass Lovers: If you love a strong bass response, you might prefer headphones with larger drivers, which can move more air and produce deeper bass.
- Portability: If you value portability and comfort, you might prefer headphones with smaller drivers, as they can be lighter and more compact.
There isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer to a good driver size for headphones. It’s more about finding the right balance that suits your needs and preferences.
So, whether you prefer the deep bass of large drivers or the portability of small drivers, there’s likely a pair of headphones out there that’s just right for you.
Standard Driver Sizes in Headphones
Regarding headphones, the driver’s size can significantly impact the sound quality and overall listening experience. Here’s a more detailed look at the standard driver sizes in different types of headphones:
1. Earbuds: 13.5–15.4 mm
Earbuds typically feature drivers that are between 13.5 and 15.4 mm in size. Despite their relatively small size, these drivers can deliver decent sound quality, especially in the mid and high-frequency ranges.
However, due to their size, they might not have the same bass response as headphones with larger drivers.
2. Earbuds with Canalphones: 8.8–12.5 mm
Earbuds with canal phones, also known as in-ear monitors (IEMs), usually have drivers that are between 8.8 and 12.5 mm in size.
These headphones are designed to fit snugly in the ear canal, enhancing the bass response and overall sound isolation, even with smaller drivers.
3. On-Ear Headphones: 20mm-50mm
On-ear or supra-aural headphones typically feature drivers between 20 and 50 mm in size. These larger drivers can deliver a better bass response and sound quality than smaller drivers.
Other factors, such as the design of the headphones and the quality of the materials used, can also influence the sound quality.
4. Over-Ear Headphones: 30mm-53mm
Over-ear headphones, also known as circumaural headphones, usually feature drivers that are between 30 and 53 mm in size. These large drivers can deliver a powerful sound with a wide frequency range and excellent bass response.
Over-ear headphones can be bulkier and less portable than other types due to their larger size.
5. Planar Magnetic Headphones: 50mm-120mm
Planar magnetic headphones, which use a different technology than dynamic driver headphones, typically feature large drivers between 50 and 120 mm in size.
These headphones are known for their excellent sound quality, wide frequency range, and accurate sound reproduction.
They can be expensive and require more power to drive, making them more suitable for home or studio use.
6. Dynamic Driver or Moving Coil: 20mm-50mm
Dynamic driver or moving coil headphones, the most common type, typically feature drivers between 20 and 50 mm in size.
These headphones can deliver good sound quality with a balanced frequency response, making them suitable for various music genres.
Other Factors Influencing Headphone Sound
Beyond the type and size of the driver, several other factors can significantly influence the sound quality of headphones:
1. Materials Used
The materials used in the construction of the headphones can have a significant impact on their sound. For example, the ear cups’ material can affect the headphones’ resonance and damping characteristics of the headphones. That can influence the sound quality.
2. Design of the Headphones
The design of the headphones, including the shape and size of the ear cups, the type of ear pads, and whether the headphones are open-back or closed-back, can all influence the sound. For example, open-back headphones typically provide a more spacious and natural soundstage, while closed-back headphones offer better noise isolation.
3. Quality of the Source and Audio Files
The quality of the audio source and the audio files you’re listening to can also significantly affect the sound quality. For example, high-resolution audio files can provide more detail and a wider dynamic range than compressed MP3 files.
The quality of the amplification can also influence the sound of the headphones. Some headphones, especially high-impedance models, require a dedicated headphone amplifier to deliver their best performance.
5. Fit and Seal
The fit and seal of the headphones on your head and around your ears can affect the sound quality, especially the bass response. If the headphones don’t fit properly or don’t provide a good seal, the bass might sound weak or lacking.
6. Burn-In Period
Some believe headphones need a “burn-in” period to achieve optimal performance. The idea is that the mechanical parts of the headphones, such as the driver, need some time to settle into their final state.
1. Is the bigger driver better in headphones?
A bigger driver in headphones isn’t necessarily better. While larger drivers can move more air and produce a better bass response and higher volume levels.
The overall sound quality depends on many other factors, including the design and quality of the driver, the materials used in the headphones, and the quality of the audio source and files.
2. Are 40mm headphone drivers good?
Yes, 40mm drivers are standard in many on-ear and over-ear headphones and can deliver good sound quality with a balanced frequency response.
However, the sound quality will also depend on other factors, such as the type and quality of the driver, the design of the headphones, and the quality of the audio source and files.
3. Which is better, a 10mm or 13mm driver?
Whether a 10mm or 13mm driver is better can depend on several factors, including the type of headphones, the design and quality of the driver, and your personal preferences.
A larger driver can produce a better bass response, but the overall sound quality depends on other factors.
4. Does driver size matter in earbuds?
Yes, the driver’s size can influence the sound of earbuds. Larger drivers can often deliver a better bass response and higher volume levels.
Well, we danced with the headphone drivers, big and small. Size does matter, but it’s not the only star at the party. The design, materials, and audio quality all shake their groove to bring you that sweet sound.
So, next time you’re bopping to your favorite tunes, remember it’s not just about the size of the driver but how it uses it!
James Dimento is a Chief-in-Editor of SoundUnify. He is a headphone enthusiast and creative writer passionate about audio technology. He has three years of experience writing about headphones and sound quality and is responsible for creating reviews and taking care of all administration.