IEM Driver Configurations: What are they?

In the audio enthusiast/audiophile community, particularly when an IEM is introduced and sold to the market, they will discuss and sometimes even boast how they managed to put a dynamic driver, a full-range balanced armature driver, an electrostatic driver, maybe you even heard the piezoelectric drivers. In some cases, you might have even encountered the term “planar magnetic” drivers. They are often always mixed and matched by the manufacturers for their IEM configurations. They are sometimes done as a hybrid of dynamic and balanced armature drivers. Some IEMs are done in multiple configurations. Some are even a “tribrid”. But what exactly are they? Are they important? Do more drivers in an IEM equate with better sound quality? Let’s find out!

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But first, what is a “Driver” in an IEM?

  • To put it simply, the “drivers” in an IEM are the components responsible for reproducing and representing the sound, inside the driver “shell”. These drivers are tuned by the manufacturer according to their personal standards, targets, and preferences in order to stand out in the market. Each company has its own “house sound” that makes them different from one another (most of the time). Now that we know the definition of what a driver is, we will now proceed to the following question, which is :
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What are the types of an IEM Driver?

  • 1. Dynamic Driver (DD) - This is the most common driver found in IEMs, especially in the budget range. They are cost-effective and most of the time sports a “natural” sound as a base tuning. The main parts of a Dynamic Driver are the “diaphragm”, “voice coil”, and a “magnet”. The sound is reproduced when the diaphragm and the voice coil move together into precise, small positions, depending on the tuning and the electric signals that travel through it. Dynamic drivers do these things with the help of “vents” on the driver shell as it moves air by practice. One edge of the Dynamic driver IEMs is they usually produce effective bass response compared to the Balanced Armature drivers.kbear neon
  • 2.  Balanced Armature Driver (BA) - These drivers are often smaller in size and much more compact than Dynamic drivers. They usually look like metal bars with a nozzle on one side, where the sound comes out. They usually come in different sizes and configurations. They can come in a 5 BA configuration where each driver handles a specific frequency, or maybe a 1BA but a “full-range” driver which handles all the frequencies. One edge of BA drivers is that it usually presents the upper frequencies “precise” or “clean” (but it still depends on the tuning of the manufacturer), but falls short on producing an extended bass response most of the time. One thing to note is that most BA drivers are a bit expensive to produce and tune compared to the Dynamic Drivers.
  • 3. Planar Magnetic Drivers (PLANAR) - Planar magnetic drivers are basically dynamic drivers, but better. Unlike dynamic drivers, the diaphragm is not attached to any coil, but the coil expands and goes through the diaphragm instead. Its magnets are also a lot stronger than the dynamic drivers as it is heavily reliant on a magnetic field to create precise vibrations, creating a precise sound quality. However, planar magnetic drivers are also harder to tune and are a lot more expensive to produce compared to the aforementioned drivers due to such complicated technology.
  • 4. Electrostatic Drivers (EST) - As I write this post, EST Drivers are the most expensive IEM, and even on a full-sized headphone technology up to date. Unlike the drivers mentioned above, most EST drivers will be needing its own amplifier called “energizers” to work properly. This technology is heavily dependent on electrical signals and does not have any moving coils or parts inside the IEM. As a result, it produces an accurate, distortion-free sound.

(Bonus) Piezoelectric Drivers (PIEZO) - This is most commonly used in bone-conduction earphones, headphones, or even hearing aids. The technology behind this is that the piezoelectric material is suspended between two metallic sheets, and the audio signal is directly fed to that metal. These drivers usually handle upper frequencies and need something solid to transfer its resonance with. These are found in some IEMs, but only a handful, based on my experience.

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If you’re still here, here are some key takeaways regarding to these IEM driver configurations:

  • - Every driver configuration, or every IEMs in general, are different from one another as they are tuned differently by different manufacturer/s.
  • - Driver configuration or driver count does not equate to a better sound. A 20-driver configured IEM may sound inferior when compared to a well-tuned, 1 Dynamic Driver configuration, vice versa.
  • -  An IEM’s driver configuration can be a factor why an IEM is expensive/cheap.
  • - Some IEMs, such as the ones with the Planar Magnetic and Electrostatic will be needing a higher than usual amount of power to be driven properly.

Thank you for reading!

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