The Difference Between Armature & Dynamic Earphone Drivers
Written by an opinionated Mike Volkerding President Freq City Sound & Lighting, Inc.
Many of you know that I've been a proponent of Dynamic drivers over armature drivers for many years. I was introduced to dynamic drivers by Rudy Garcia at Future Sonics. Now keep in mind, what I write here is fact with my opinion added. I'm an old rock 'n roll dude who likes band stuff (bass and a drummer kinda acts). If your instrument is the flute I would suggest an armature like the Westone UM20Pro or the Shure SE425. But if your crowd’s heads bobs up and down when your band plays, read on.
What's the difference between an Armature & a Dynamic Driver?
An Armature driver is very small transducer. In our lives it has primarily been used in the hearing aid market. Recently, they have gained popularity as in-ear monitors. You'll hear them called dual driver, three way, four way etc,. Armature ears moves no air so they don't need an air-port like a dynamic. Mids and highs can be more detailed. However, armatures have always lacked low-end. Manufactures attempt to cure the missing low end by combining several Balanced Armatures together, adding multiple crossovers and tricky chambers. All of which, arguably doesn't sound as natural as a single dynamic. Also adding all that technology opens us up for phasing and time alignment issues.
A dynamic driver actually being a speaker moves air. A dynamic offers a more coherent and powerful sound. You don't just hear the sound - you feel it! You feel the energy and get bone induction. I'm a singer and own Westone's dual and three way molds. I later got into the Future Sonics mold with a 13mm dynamic. Of course the dynamic has more ass but I also noticed, with the armature driver ears, throughout the course of the night, I'd be turning up. One of the pluses of ears is to save ours. Turning up - not so good. With the dynamic - Feeling the sound - I never turned up all night (better on the ears).
The dynamic is a warmer sound where as my 2 and 3 ways are a bit brittle and glassy on the high end in comparison. Years back, I switched from Stats and Les Pauls to a Parker Fly. It took me a year to finally realize "Why does a guitar have to sound like a Les Paul or a Strat?" Same with earphones. We get use to that brittle top end of the armatures and that's the deal. Well it's not! Get use to a dynamic and the highs are warm and smooth. When I put my three-way in my ear at band practice, I have to adjust to it's harshness and bite compared to my molded stage dynamic.
Who would like an armature?
I'd say blue grass bands, female singers that don't want much low end in your mix, symphony musicians that are concentrated on the higher registers, anyone who doesn't really need or like to feel the low end. Audiophile guys that want a flat sound like the recording engineer mixed in the studio should lean to an armature. Dynamics will present more lows which might not be for you. I just thought of trumpet, sax but I think a dynamic's warmth would be the way to go there.
A good dynamic driver costs more than three of the little armatures. It's hard for some to wrap their hands around 1 vs. 3,4,5,6 or whatever the hell they're up to now. To be honest, when I went from 2 way to 3 in the molded armatures, I never heard a difference. I've heard the same from several other regional touring guys. There's no way I'd hear a difference in a 4, 5 or 6 way! When you're standing in front of a PA system and it's kicking your ass. Can you tell if it's one, two, three, four way? Nope, you just know it sounds really good. The rest is selling hype. All the national and regional touring acts we do sound for ask for bi-amped wedges. For the last ten years, I've put full range wedges in front of them. They sound real good. Never has an act said, "is that a 2 way system"?