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Friday, March 25, 2011

Balanced Armature vs. Dynamic Driver

How often have you stopped to wonder how those earphones that came with your MP3 Player actually produce the music that you hear?

If you've ever been to an Electronics store, you've probably stumbled across the Home Audio section. There you'll see a wide array of speakers, all with different sound signatures and purposes. However, the technology behind these speakers are mostly the same--it's how the speaker transducer is designed and tuned that makes the drastic difference.

There are two dominating speaker transducer designs on the market. The most popular speaker transducer is the Dynamic Driver (also less popularly known as the moving-coil driver). Pictured below, a Dynamic Driver uses a permanent magnet which is attached behind the diaphragm, along with a voice coil (usually made out of copper), to push air rapidly at different frequencies.


A Dynamic Driver Transducer, pictured above, is the most common transducer design used in speakers today.
Source: WikiMedia Commons

Not to get into the nitty gritty, the Dynamic Driver has been a very popular design because of its ability to produce the entire musical frequency range (~20 Hz - 18,000 KHz+) with relatively good success.

Have you ever seen a speaker design different from a Dynamic Driver? Well, I would like to introduce you to the Balanced Armature transducer (often abbreviated as a "BA driver") , pictured below.

A Balanced Armature Transducer, pictured above, does not require external air to produce sound. This makes a BA Transducer much easier to tune to specifications.
Source: WikiMedia Commons

A Balanced Armature is very small--and I mean tiny. These transducers are often used in hearing aids for people with difficulty hearing. More recently however, they have gained popularity in premium in-ear monitors for consumers and musicians alike. The Balanced Armature transducer uses the same concept of a permanent magnet and a voice coil as a dynamic driver, but the one major difference with the Balanced Armature transducer is that it does not require external air to operate. A Dynamic Driver, on the other hand, requires an air vent in order to sound marginally good.



The benefit of this design on the Balanced Armature is that it can be tuned very precisely since external air does not factor into the equation. This means that midrange and treble can be much more accurate and detailed than that of Dynamic Drivers. However, the Balanced Armature design also has a large drawback: since it does not require external air to work its best, it lacks a convincing low-end response (bass response). This is often alleviated by combining several Balanced Armatures together, and putting them on a single crossover.

The JH16 custom in-ear monitor (a 16 Balanced Armature transducer) pictured above next to the Sennheiser HD800 (a dynamic driver headphone). The JH16 in-ear monitor uses a passive triple crossover to redirect portions of the audio input to their respective Balanced Armatures.
Source: Headfonia.com

What the crossover does is it splits the audio input into two or three (rarely more) frequency bands. This alleviates the problem significantly, as each Balanced Armature is now only responsible for handling a certain portion of the audio. A triple Balanced Armature in-ear monitor such as the EarSonics SM3 uses a single Bass Balanced Armature, single Midrange Balanced Armature, and single Treble Balanced Armature. This changes the response of the in-ear monitor significantly, and the bass response becomes much more realistic and natural.

After having heard Dynamic Drivers for many years, I tried a Balanced Armature in-ear monitor (the Shure SCL4), four years ago. The midrange was impressive, but the in-ear monitor lacked bass and a realistic treble. I then upgraded back to a Dynamic Driver (the Sennheiser IE8), which made me miss the detail retrieval of the Shure SCL4.

It was then that I knew that something about the Balanced Armature transducer made music sound all the more better. So I upgraded again to a Triple Balanced Armature in-ear monitor, the EarSonics SM3. This in-ear monitor made me a true Balanced Armature fan, as it eliminated nearly all of the problems that I had heard with the Shure SCL4 (due to three Balanced Armatures instead of one).

After a year with the in-ear monitor, I wanted even more quality. So I decided to purchase a custom in-ear monitor (required an ear impression from an audiologist): the JH Audio JH16. With 8 Balanced Armatures in each earpiece (4 for lows, 2 for mids, and 2 for highs--for a total of 16 speakers with two earpieces), I have never heard such quality produced from an audio device in my life.

Don't ask me how much it cost me though! (You don't need to spend much to enjoy the sound of a Balanced Armature!)

62 comments:

  1. interesting info, good read to kill the time

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  2. Cool, now I'm just staring at my head phones...magical...

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  3. I'm sitting in class reading this, and i'm getting more info from this article, than I am from the prof..

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  4. I will refer to it as a "moving coil driver" from now on to sound knowledgeable.

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  5. wow i really like your posts! learning so much about sounds and different types of earphones and the technology that comes with it, the previous noise isolating +canceling post was really good too! keep it up!

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  6. Still loving this blog! Keep it coming. Enjoyed every article so far.

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  7. that sounds amazing, i'm not surprised you don't want to talk about the cost :p haha

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  8. great it amazing, keep posting bro!!!!

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  9. how much does it actually cost?

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  10. My roommate is a hi-fi nut, I'm going to have to show him this.

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  11. Yeah this stuff looks expensive! Check out my new blog, puzzledyet.blogspot.com, if you haven't yet!

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  12. I never knew the inner workings of speakers... thanks for sharing. I just know that my Sennheiser head phones and ear buds sound absolutely amazing. :)

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  13. love it. i havent put so much thought into my speakers at all

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  14. Wow, those really fascinate me.

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  15. This was all new information to me... thanks for sharing. Hope you continue your series on HiFi!

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  16. Interesting read, how do you know all this stuff?

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  17. u must of done good research

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  18. So i never put thought into this but it appears that speakers havent evolved much since the 80s

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  19. I'm not too informed on speaker's in headphones so this was a pretty interesting read.

    An important thing to remember when looking for bigger speakers is the Peak and RMS range. These tell you when the speaker will effectively explode if they receive too many amps. For those that do not know, when you're out there buying a 100 watt marshal stack, it is really only putting out around 60watts if you're lucky. 100watts is it's peak which means it can take a split second of that before it dies and I believe the RMS is around 75 or 80 which is where it can take about 10-30 seconds of before it starts to struggle. (numbers referring to dB btw)

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  20. I've heard these terms before, but never knew there was a difference.
    Thanks for this!

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  21. Speakers have always baffled me. Specially cos the tech's been around for so many decades.

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  22. very good info and explanation..
    i knew this before but i find this usefull for other ppl that don't know about speakers :)

    following definetly

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  23. Damn, custom IEMs? I'm a fan of Yuin's, what are they?

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  24. @ironchefman: Yuin's are universal in-ear monitors, because anyone can wear them with the supplied tips.

    Custom in-ear monitors require an ear impression from an audiologist, which is used to make a cast of your in-ear monitor. It fits perfectly in your ear and also had much better bone conduction so you "feel" your bass and don't just hear it. They are much better than universal in-ear monitors in every way.

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  25. This article sparked my curiosity. It's amazing how much technology is in things we use everyday.

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  26. Big read, ang you included sources. Good job.

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  27. Nice article about this product! Thanks for sharing and your resources! Appriciated

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  28. Really interesting. Nice, easy to understand yet in depth.

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  29. Pretty interesting read, speakers have always made me wonder how exactly they work. Life is complete! Keep them coming!

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  30. I have always wondered that! good info, Sal!

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  31. amazing technology behind all that

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  32. That's really good to know. I've wondered how they work, but now I know.

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  33. Fascinating!
    So...
    How much did it cost? =P

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  34. Nice! That makes for an interesting read.

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  35. Armature drivers aren't necessarily better than dynamic drivers =="

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  36. I have a pair of mdr-ex700's (16mm dynamic driver) that sound far better than UE 700's which uses armatures and they cost around the same.

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  37. Balanced-armature drivers, especially well designed ones from Knowles, have an almost perfect impulse response. They have far less inherent distortion as compared to dynamic drivers. Being so, it always comes down to implementation and attention to detail. Ultimate Ears UE700's my not be a great implementation of the drivers being used but the quality of the drivers is far superior to just about any moving coil driver. BA drivers are more suited to the conditions of IEM use and moving coil drivers are more suited for loudspeaker use. BA drivers are typically more sensitive and require less power to reach listening levels and have far less power compression than moving coils. A well designed BA IEM will assuredly sound better and more dynamic.

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    Replies
    1. dowsonyu@yahoo.com.twMay 21, 2012 at 11:01 PM

      Thank you for sharing. Do you any other manufacturers of BA besides Knowels ?

      dowsonyu@yahoo.com.tw

      Delete
  38. What a load of crap. Have you ever heard top of the line Dynamic drivers from BeyerD and the others. No way are you getting that volume and low distortion combined. IEMs are cheaply made trash for the most part unless you want to spend a crap load of money and they are VERY sensitive to any kind of drops.

    IEMs are great for some things and absolutely crap for others. A GREAT dynamic driver wins every time in my book.

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  39. Well said.
    There's a lot of good info in this little article.

    Nicely done.

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