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What Are the Different Types of Headphones? How Do They Work?

If you’re like most people, you probably use your headphones to listen to music, watch movies, or take phone calls. Headphones are one of the most popular pieces of technology in the world. They’re versatile, convenient, and perfect for a variety of activities. But how do headphones work?

Unfortunately, not knowing how headphones work can lead to incorrect usage.

Image of a black wired headphones connected to a mobile phone. Source: kaboompics com, pexels
Image of a black wired headphones connected to a mobile phone. Source: Kaboompics Com, Pexels

This article covers the different types of headphones and how they work. So if you’re looking to enjoy your music in peace or are just curious about it, this post is for you!

How do headphones work? All headphones are transducers, meaning they change the electrical energy (the audio signal) into sound waves you can hear. An audio signal turns on a diaphragm in a pair of headphones using electromagnetic, electrostatic, or piezoelectric principles. This makes a sound.

What are headphones?

Listening to audio on a computer, laptop, smartphone, MP3 player, or another device may be done in privacy without bothering others around you with headphones. They are plugged in and may be used immediately without any setup. Earphones, or earbuds, depending on the design, are another name for headphones.

A pair of tiny speakers are ideal for listening to audio via a computer, music player, or another portable electronic device. The first headphones had separate speakers for each ear and were linked by a headband. While this kind of headset is still popular, today’s headphones come in a much more compact design that fits within the ear and is generally referred to as an earbud. In today’s modern world, headphones come in two distinct varieties: wireless and corded.

In contrast to loudspeakers, which broadcast sound for everyone around to hear, headphones are made just for the listener.

How do headphones work?

We all often use headphones, whether for listening to music, audiobooks, or viewing films. Have you ever considered the mechanics behind a pair of headphones, though? The answer is not that difficult. Headphones use an electromagnet to vibrate air like a tiny speaker to make music.

Of course, there’s more to headphones than that. Various headphones include varying degrees of technology to isolate the listener from their surroundings; for instance, noise-canceling headphones utilize specialized hardware to eliminate outside sounds.

From the music player to the driver unit

In theory, headphones function similarly to speakers and reverse to microphones, converting electrical energy into sound via magnets to cause the surrounding air to vibrate and produce audible sound.

No physical CDs or tapes are involved when dealing with digital audio; the music is kept as a string of ones and zeros. When you press the play button, the digital-to-analog converter (DAC) takes the 1s and 0s. Then, it turns them into electrical impulses, representing a sample of the real sound captured using a microphone. That’s because the signal travels down the cables of your headphones and into the headphones themselves.

The driver unit

The term “driver unit” describes what happens after the electrical signal reaches your headphones through the connections. The dynamic driver, the planar magnetic driver, and the electrostatic driver are the three different kinds of driver units. Most headphones employ a dynamic driver, so if you’re unsure which one yours has, you may safely assume it is. Read on to learn more about the features and functionality of each driver module.

Dynamic driver unit

A diaphragm, electromagnetic coils, and a permanent magnet make up the dynamic driving unit. Magnets are crucial to the operation of headphones. There are two in each earbud. One is a permanent magnet that doesn’t budge from its position, while the other is a movable electromagnet.

Your earpiece’s electromagnet responds to the electrical signal by quickly switching its polarity. This makes the original sound come back to your ear. In the same way, the electromagnet makes the permanent magnet oscillate by quickly pushing it away and pulling it toward it when the polarity of the electromagnet changes.

These electromagnets are fastened to a diaphragm, essentially a thin membrane. Sound is produced when an electromagnet causes a diaphragm to vibrate, which in turn causes the surrounding air to vibrate.

To create loud tones, the electromagnet must vibrate rapidly; to produce low tones, it must oscillate slowly. The intensity of the vibrations, and hence the resulting air vibrations, change when the volume is adjusted upwards or downwards.

The planar magnetic driver unit

The planar magnetic driver unit works similarly to the dynamic driver unit. There are, nonetheless, some significant distinctions. Instead of magnets, thin magnetic conductors like small wires are spread over the diaphragm to move the electromagnetic coil.

Furthermore, a set of magnets is put behind the diaphragm instead of a single permanent magnet to aid in the diaphragm’s correct response to the electrical current flowing through the conductors. So, when an electrical current flows through the conductors and changes the polarity, the permanent magnets interact with the diaphragm. This causes the diaphragm to vibrate and make a sound.

Electrostatic driver unit

Electrostatic driver units are the third and final kind of driver unit, and they are responsible for some of the best headphones ever made.

The diaphragm, rather than magnets, moves in electrostatic headphones, which is a key distinction from other headphones. Electrostatic headphones have two conductive plates, one positively charged and the other negatively charged. A thin sheet of electrically charged material is used as the diaphragm.

When an electric current is sent between the plates, an oscillation of the charged film causes the surrounding air to vibrate and creates audible waves. People say the electrically charged film on electrostatic headphones is thinner and lighter than on dynamic or planar magnetic headphones. This means that electrostatic headphones have a reduced range of color and sound. A pair of electrostatic headphones may indeed set you back a few grand.

What are the different types of headphones, and how do they work?

There is as much variation in headphones as in any other piece of technology. How you plan to use them and the style of fit you choose make a big difference.

Wireless headphones

In contrast to their wired counterparts, wireless headphones can receive audio signals wirelessly from the devices to which they are attached. In particular, the transmitter sends the wireless audio signal to the headphones, and the wireless receiver in the headphones picks it up (along with the radio or infrared signal that serves as the carrier signal). It takes the wireless carrier signal and decodes the audio to power the headphones.

An overview of how sound may be transmitted wirelessly is provided below. To begin, there is the transmitter. Either a dedicated unit or, most likely, any electronic gadget with Bluetooth capability. The audio signal is sent by embedding it into a carrier signal, either radio frequency (more common) or infrared (rare). These carrier signals may carry both analog and digital audio data.

The audio signal is stored in the carrier wave by altering its instantaneous frequency, which is how frequency modulation is used in wireless analog headphones.

True wireless earphones

True wireless earbuds do not have any cords or bands that must be worn around the head or neck. These convenient earbuds function just like standard wireless headphones, except each earbud is equipped with a

Here is How Headphones Work On The Go! – I Tech It Easy wireless receiver.

Noise-canceling headphone

Headphones with active noise-canceling circuitry are what we mean when we talk about noise-canceling headphones. This is because headphones’ physical construction prevents some sound from penetrating the ear canal, resulting in a degree of passive noise cancellation.

A built-in microphone on active noise-canceling headphones measures ambient noise levels. Before sending the sound to the wearer’s ears, the anti-noise signal is mixed in with the original sound stream. Each earpiece in a high-quality pair of noise-canceling headphones will have its microphone and active noise circuit that will change the phase and boost the signal.

Image of a black and white colored wireless headphones. Source: fox, pexels
Image of black and white colored wireless headphones. Source: Fox, Pexels

Bluetooth headphones

There is little difference between wired headphones and wireless or Bluetooth headphones. The only significant change is that the 1s and 0s are sent through Bluetooth radio to a chip in your headphones, and from there, they are transferred to a DAC in the headphones. After that point, everything proceeds in the same manner.


In addition to regular and wireless headphones, earbuds and in-ear headphones all function in the same basic way by using the same technology in a much more compact form factor. This means they are limited in the range of frequencies they can replicate, but they are much easier to transport.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “How Do Headphones Work?” from the Tech Without Fear YouTube channel.

A video called “How Do Headphones Work?” from the Tech Without Fear YouTube channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about how headphones work.

How do headphones work as a mic?

Connect your headphones to the mixer’s mic input to utilize them as a microphone. Crank the microphone volume down, have someone speak into it, and then turn it back up if necessary. You can make your voice less boomy by using the EQ knobs on the mixer or controller to turn down the lows and highs.

Do headphones cause hearing loss?

Long-term use of headphones could damage the hair cells in the inner ear and the auditory nerve, which could cause permanent hearing loss. To prevent hearing damage, those wearing headphones should take frequent rests. They should also stay away from noise levels that are too high.

Can we speak in headphones without a mic?

Even if you can answer your phone’s call and hear the other person well via your headphones, you will only be able to communicate with them if a microphone is built in. The phone’s built-in microphone requires you to put your lips close to it and speak normally.


You can say that headphones are one of the most popular pieces of technology in the world for a reason. With their unique design, impressive features, and ease of use, you just can’t go wrong with them. In fact, some might argue that headphones are better than speakers because they guarantee an immersive experience thanks to their noise-canceling capabilities.

However, just as you can’t become an expert cyclist by reading a book, you can’t become a great expert in music by reading articles alone. It’s time to take action! Go and put what you have learned into practice.

This article covered what headphones are, how they work, and how different types of headphone work. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • Listening to audio on a computer, laptop, smartphone, mp3 player, or another device may be done in privacy without bothering others around you with headphones.
  • We all often use headphones, whether for listening to music, audiobooks, or viewing films.
  • There is as much variation in headphones as in any other piece of technology.
  • Extra tips:
  • Hip-hop listeners may prefer headphones with more bass, while those of classical music may prefer ones with less distortion at lower frequencies.
  • The permanent magnet generates a static magnetic field, and the coil is suspended in this field while the current flows through it.
  • Maximizing the magnetic field strength across the voice coil improves efficiency and overall performance, which is why the shape of the overall magnet structure is crucial.

So, do you enjoy listening to music with headphones? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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