What Is a Headphone Driver? (Answered)

If you’re looking for a little audio entertainment on your daily commute or while working on your tasks, you’ll need a good pair of headphones. Headphones are essential to any music lover’s arsenal, but what is inside the headphones that make them so special? Well, the headphone driver is at the heart of it.

In this post, we’ll explain what a headphone driver is, its main function, as well as the different types of headphone drivers in the market today. So if you’re looking to improve the sound quality of your headphones or are just curious about what goes into them, keep reading!

What is a headphone driver? This is the headphone’s most crucial component. The driver transforms electrical information into sound. The sound you hear is, in a nutshell, the result of the driver’s actions. You may see the driver units in your headphones as little speakers.

Image of black and silver headphone. Source: pixabay
Image of black and silver headphone. Source: Pixabay

What is a headphone driver?

A driver is a primary loudspeaker. Sound is produced when pressure waves created by this motion enter your auditory canal. This part, called a transducer, transforms electrical energy into acoustic energy.

In both headphones and loudspeakers, the sound is generated by a component called a “driver.” Drivers come in various sizes, as seen by the dimensions of different headphones and earbuds.

My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

What is a headphone driver? (answered) | 717qmgla7zl. Ac sl1500 | audio apartment
My favorite MIDI keyboard (at the moment):

AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3

I’m loving the AKAI MPK Mini MK3 for its compact design and the range of controls. It’s one of my essential tools. The velocity-sensitive keys and MPC-style pads are great for making beats, while the thumbstick and knobs give me precise control.

How does a headphone audio driver impact the sound?

The headphone audio driver can have a significant impact on the sound quality of your headphones. Factors such as the type of driver, the size of the driver, and the quality of materials used can all play a role in determining the overall sound quality.

There are different types of headphone drivers, each with its own unique way of reproducing sound. The size of the driver can also impact the audio quality of the headphones. In general, larger drivers produce a better bass response, but this is not always the case.

Types of headphone drivers

The sound quality of headphones is significantly affected by the driver type. The numerous drivers found in headphones and earbuds are listed below.

Dynamic (moving coil) drivers

Dynamic drivers are the easiest to set up of all the driver types. The voice coil is affected by the magnetic field of a magnet, usually neodymium. When a current is sent via the voice coil, it starts to oscillate, which causes the diaphragm to do the same. When the diaphragm vibrates back and forth, it causes the frontal displacement of air, which in turn generates sound waves.

Headphones with dynamic drivers are the way to go if you want a powerful bass response. These larger diaphragm drivers are often used in headphones. They do an excellent job producing deep bass and a loud, clear sound without using a lot of juice.

Dynamic drivers are very efficient. However, they have been criticized for the distortion they cause at higher levels. The good news is that the impact can be mitigated through clever engineering. While dynamic drivers are often associated with budget headphones, they may also be found in more expensive ones like the Sennheiser HD 660 S.

Planar magnetic drivers

The majority of today’s high-end headphones use these sorts of drivers. Before, you could only get open-back, over-ear headphones. Now, you can also get in-ear headphones.

A diaphragm is held in place between two magnets using this technology. Both planar magnetic drivers and dynamic drivers use a magnetic field to do what they are supposed to do. Instead of a coil, the magnetic field directly hits the thin flat film diaphragm in these drivers, vibrating and making a sound.

These drivers make a sound so true and pure that you can hear every nuance without having to do a lot of processing or boosting.

So that the whole diaphragm can vibrate in unison, more magnets are used. Unfortunately, this makes the cans of headphones a little heavier. Because of this, the headphones will need more power from your audio source or an external amplifier.

As a result, headphones with planar magnetic drivers are typically intended for personal usage. But OPPO and other companies have improved by making headphones like their PM series, which are smaller, lighter, and better for carrying around.

These drivers make a sound so true and pure that you can hear every nuance without having to do a lot of processing or boosting. This makes them the first option for serious music listeners. Most luxury headphones, like the Audeze LCD-5, have these.

Balanced armature drivers

In-ear monitors frequently use drivers this small. Because of their size, several drivers may fit into a single earbud. Most IEMs have between one and four drivers.

Because each earpiece has so many drivers, these headphones can accurately play back a wide range of frequencies. It’s common practice for one of the drivers to focus on the bass frequencies while the others take care of everything else.

This design’s driving element is a coil wrapped around a short arm (armature). The armature moves back and forth because the magnetic field made by the current in the coil interacts with the two magnets on either side of it.

Sound is generated when the diaphragm moves in time with the armature. “Balanced armature” means that the armature is in the middle of the magnetic field and doesn’t experience any net force.

Electrostatic drivers

These are one-of-a-kind and astronomically priced. Electromatic drivers work on the idea that the same charges repel each other, and opposite charges attract each other. Vibrations are made when the diaphragm moves back and forth between two conductive plates or electrodes, which can be positively or negatively charged.

The diaphragm then pushes air through the holes in the walls, mixing with the electrical signal that keeps changing to make a sound. It takes specialized amplifiers to bring forth the full capability of these drivers. As a result, open-back high-end headphones include this sort of driver.

Piezoelectric drivers

Different from electrostatic drivers, piezoelectric drivers may be found in certain cutting-edge hybrid headphones like the BQEYZ Summer. When a voltage is put on a piezoelectric material, such as a crystal or a ceramic, the diaphragm moves. The diaphragm vibrates because electricity changes the physical shape of the materials it is made of.

These drivers are wonderful because they can turn even the weakest audio signal into audible sound. But because of the way piezoelectric materials are made, manufacturers are limited in how finely they can tune these drivers. As a result, the sound quality may worsen, and the energy used may go up significantly.

Bone conduction drivers

Bone conduction lets these drivers send vibrations straight to the inner ear, skipping the eardrum. Headphones with these drivers are designed for people with hearing loss or who need to use headphones in noisy environments. Still, if you use bone conduction drivers, you can expect to give up some convenience in exchange for better sound quality. This class of drivers can’t compete with others in producing high-quality sound.

Image of a black headphone lying flat on the wood. Source: pixabay
Image of a black headphone lying flat on the wood. Source: pixabay

Which headphone driver should you get?

There are a wide variety of headphones designed for various applications. Open-back headphones with a planar magnetic driver may be the best choice if you’re a musician who mixes songs in your home studio.

Wearing big, open-back headphones may be challenging if you’re a runner. That’s why I recommend a set of earbuds with balanced armature drivers, which are surprisingly compact for their sound quality. In addition, you can find custom-made headphones that sound incredible.

Is a bigger headphone driver always better?

The size of the driver typically determines the volume of a pair of headphones. The driver in a pair of headphones usually has a diameter between 20 and 50 millimeters. In comparison, the driver in a pair of regular earphones has a diameter of between 8 and 15 millimeters. 

As size increases, so does the consensus that larger is better regarding sound. This is true, yet a bigger diaphragm may result in clearer bass. It’s a fact that headphones with big drivers have trouble reproducing high frequencies (treble).

The sound quality is more affected by the type of drivers and the frequency range than by the size of the drivers.

Bigger drives can theoretically produce more power, but that doesn’t imply they do. This could be because of how well the driver unit was made and the materials used inside. For example, small earbuds have small drivers, but they sound just as good as bigger headphones.

What Audio Technica has to teach us might also help us in other ways. The M40X and M50X are two premium headphones produced by this firm. Comparatively, the M50 uses 45mm drivers, while the M40 employs 40mm ones. Since the M50X has bigger speakers, you could expect it to have superior sound quality. But it is not as clear-cut as you’d think.

There is a huge difference in sound quality between the two headphones. Compared to the M40X, which has a flatter and more neutral profile, the M50X’s tuning, pads, and enclosures are designed for a more aggressive response. In addition, the cushioning and cup enclosure affect the sound more than the drivers in both situations.

In a nutshell, the power and frequency range of headphones is influenced by the size of the driver. But make a purchase based on something other than the driver’s physical dimensions. The sound quality is more affected by the type of drivers and the frequency range than by the size of the drivers.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “Dekoni U – What are the Different Types of Headphone Drivers?” from the Dekoni Audio YouTube channel.

A video called “Dekoni U – What are the Different Types of Headphone Drivers?” from the Dekoni Audio YouTube channel.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions about headphone drivers? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions.

Which type of driver is best for inexpensive headphones?

The most affordable and common type of headphone driver is the dynamic driver. Dynamic drivers are lightweight, fairly robust, and require less energy and amplification to work, making them cost-effective. They are also capable of producing loud bass with a dark or warm sound signature, making them a popular choice among consumers.

Do more drivers mean better sound?

Not necessarily. Bigger drivers can make louder sounds, but the sound quality could be better. The quality of the driver unit and the range of materials used inside are the most crucial aspects.

Can I replace the headphone drivers?

Yes, it is possible to replace headphone drivers. However, replacing headphone drivers can be a complex task and requires some technical knowledge. If you are not confident in your ability to do it yourself, it is recommended that you take your headphones to a professional repair service to ensure that they are fixed properly.


And there you have it! Now that you know more about headphone drivers and how they affect sound quality, you can make a wiser purchase the next time you’re on the hunt for a new pair of headphones.

So, are you satisfied with your headphones’ driver? 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.

Key takeaways

This article covered what a headphone driver is. Here are some key takeaways:

  • A driver is a primary loudspeaker. 
  • In both headphones and loudspeakers, the sound is generated by a component called a “driver.”
  • Factors such as the type of driver, the size of the driver, and the quality of materials used can determine the overall sound quality.
  • Types of headphone drivers include dynamic drivers, planar magnetic drivers, and balanced armature drivers.

Helpful resources

Image Andrew Ash
Written by Andrew Ash, Staff Writer

Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I'm relatively new to music production, but I've been learning a ton, and documenting my journey along the way. That's why I started this blog. If you want to improve your home studio setup and learn more along with me, this is the place for you!

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