Balanced Armature v Dynamic Driver Earphones
Sep 8, 2009 at 8:05 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 15

iponderous

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I've just experienced an epiphany of sorts. I've had my SE530's for quite some time now, so I feel familiar with their sound signature. I happened to have my venerable CX95's on hand, which I haven't listened to for a couple of months at least. I decided to pop them in for a change.

I was immediately struck by how relaxed and bassy they sounded in comparison. But there was something else, they sounded more natural to me; dare I say it, even organic. The presentation of instruments was more spacious overall. They lacked the separation and detail of the SE530 but I didn't feel as if I was missing it either. The SE530 sounded electronic and somewhat compressed by comparison.

I've been contemplating purchasing another pair of canal earphones and I've been leaning towards the Triple.Fi 10 Pro. Having listened to a dynamic earphone again, I'm now revising my thinking and contemplating purchasing a pair of better quality dynamic earphones.

Is there anyone else here who has had a similar experience and then decided to switch from the generally more expensive balanced armature universal IEMs to dynamic driver earphones, on the basis of sound quality alone?
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 9:53 AM Post #2 of 15

CENTRAL

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I also own both technologies in budget models, but I guess the comparison is valid regardless of price, as long as the models in question fall in the same range...

So...

Having listened to dynamic earphones for years I decided to try balanced armatures as well. At the moment I was fully aware of the pros and cons of the dynamic drivers I owned.

Changing to BA I found myself in dispair...the sound lacked any real "presense" and "authority" in comparison mainly due to anaemic bass. Did some reading only to verify my findings.
But I chose to further experiment (stubborn person indeed). A month later came a revealing experience...getting on the bus and performing my "pull your ears in public show" in order to fit my earplugs, I found myself deeply immersed in a soundfield of extreme depth, presense, authority and all the other dirty words we HiFiers use to justify our spendings (ehhhmm...investments I meant) in audio gear.
What had really happened was that I had finally learned how to insert the plugs and achieved optimal fit. Nothing more really...

So, all the comments up to then about suboptimal performance of the BAs was simply bs.

I now believe that both technologies deliver the goods!

The sound signature depends on the quality of the design. There are excellent dynamics and then excellent BAs. And then there are poor of both...
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 2:29 PM Post #3 of 15

iponderous

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Our experiences differ in that I haven't had a problem establishing a good seal with my SE530's or my CX95's. I also compared these phones using the same sound source and the same musical passages. My minor revelation relates to what I perceived as a striking difference in the way these phones rendered the same music. I immediately knew, which sound presentation appealed more to my ears and it wasn't the considerably more expensive balanced armature IEM. So much so, that I've just ordered a pair of JVC-Victor HP-FX500's. I think I'm prepared to trade the technical strengths of the SE530, for what I suspect will be the more "natural" presentation of a good quality dynamic earphone. I'm looking forward to hearing what the FX500's will bring.
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 2:54 PM Post #4 of 15

cn11

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iponderous-
I just replied to you in the FX500 thread, but I have always liked discussing this difference, so I'll post here as well. I'm totally with you in what dynamics offer in relaxed and natural sound. I've not heard a BA IEM yet which can do what a good dynamic can, in terms of visceral impact, spaciousness, and that seamless sound where the entire frequency range just seems nicely 'joined up'. The W3 was a let down (and when I tried to describe the differences between it and my favorite dynamic phone at the time- the IE8- the W3 fans slaughtered me for daring to present a 'dissenting' opinion'), and the Klipsh Image X10, while decent, still couldn't eek out the lowest octaves without distortion. The Sleek Audio SA6 had no bass to speak of. I'd say the only one which got close was the Triple.Fi 10. I actually liked the sound of that phone, but sadly the right side kept backing out of my ear breaking seal no matter what type of tip I used (except foams, but I really don't like foam). But it would distort sometimes with very low bass passages too.

Currently, with the FX500 and the Denon C710, I think the quality of sound from affordable dynamic phones has skyrocketed. Both of these handily outperform my IE8. Treble detail with these is getting close to how I remember it with something like the TF10 or W3. It's clearly good times for those who do prefer dynamics to BA IEM's.
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 3:09 PM Post #5 of 15

Rip N' Burn

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High end BA earphones deliver better detail and instrument separation. High end dynamic earphones deliver better soundstage and impact. That is what I observe between my W3 and IE8.

I also heard about the FX500's and had to get them. A few people have been saying that they are better than the IE8's but I find the opposite. The FX500's bass may extend lower but cannot match the impact the IE8's deliver. The highs are a little too bright for me on the FX500's. The IE8 has a wider soundstage and I find that the mids are more congested on the FX500's. The FX500 is still a very good earphone for the money.
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 3:28 PM Post #6 of 15

iponderous

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Hello again cn11. I saw your post in the other thread and replied. I've been doing quite a bit of that tonight.

It's funny how things go. I remember when I first listened to the SE530 having owned the CX95 and feeling quite underwhelmed. But I also knew that I had to give them a chance and become accustomed to the new sound signature, which I did. I came to enjoy them overall.

I tried this little comparison today on a whim and it genuinely surprised me just how well these unremarkable dynamic earphones compared to the more highly rated SE530's to my ears. I think I'm a dynamic driver man.

By the way, if my memory serves me correctly, I recall asking you in the other thread how the FX500 and the C701 compare. Don't hold back, I can take it. Happy for you to PM me if the moderators deem this discussion to be off-topic.
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 3:32 PM Post #7 of 15

cn11

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Shoot, I think I missed that question..sorry about that. I will for sure PM you a comparo between those two phones in a little.
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 5:35 PM Post #8 of 15

mvw2

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It all varies. Both platforms offer a very wide variety of sound where they can really overlap quite heavily over a broad range. You can't simply state that dynamic and armature platforms will always sound different from each other or sound a specific way. There will be some mechanical properties associated with the designs that offer certain benefits and limitations, but the implementation of the designs vary enough to create a very broad spectrum of sound and a lot of overlap in properties with either platform.

I can't say I've owned a vast array of earphones. My list is somewhat limited. However, I have listened to a varying enough array of both dynamic and balanced armature drivers to say that drawing a line between both platforms is impossible. You also need to get over the idea of directly defining the platform. The implementation of the platform is what creates the end sound. For example, in the classic stereotype of dynamics and balanced armatures, I would listen to Denon's C751 dynamic driver earphone and think it's a balanced armature earphone. I would listen to Etymotic's ER4S balanced armature earphone and think it's a dynamic driver earphone. They both offer characteristics that I would typically associate with the other platform type. The C751 has great transparency, clarity, and effortlessness in sound that is different then what I would typically associate with a dynamic driver. The ER4S has thickness and texture to notes and is less razor sharp, cut and dry as what I would associate a balanced armature to be. It's simply a matter of implementation.
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 5:46 PM Post #9 of 15

shigzeo

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I used to be 100% a fan of dynamics. However, BA phones have recovered most of grit and fatigue which caused me trouble back in 2005 and 2006. For truly emotive listening, I cannot get away from dynamics, but for nearly flawless musical experience, a high-end universal BA like Audio Technica's CK10, or Earsonics' SM2 are perfect.
 
Sep 8, 2009 at 10:48 PM Post #10 of 15

kobayashi

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Rip N' Burn /img/forum/go_quote.gif
High end BA earphones deliver better detail and instrument separation. High end dynamic earphones deliver better soundstage and impact. That is what I observe between my W3 and IE8.

I also heard about the FX500's and had to get them. A few people have been saying that they are better than the IE8's but I find the opposite. The FX500's bass may extend lower but cannot match the impact the IE8's deliver. The highs are a little too bright for me on the FX500's. The IE8 has a wider soundstage and I find that the mids are more congested on the FX500's. The FX500 is still a very good earphone for the money.



Great comparison between the two. The bass impact and soundstage of the IE8 can't be beaten. The overly bright highs of the FX500 make for more listening fatigue too. With the vastly superior construction and cable on the IE8, it's still the top dynamic.

Never been a huge fan of BAs because of their "clinical" sound. They're great for monitoring and using on stage because they can deliver exactly what you want to hear, they just fail in delivering any emotion. Too bad no one other than FutureSonics makes a custom dynamic.
 
Sep 9, 2009 at 12:38 AM Post #11 of 15

shigzeo

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There is another company who make custom dynamics, but they are hybrids and... are made only for special orders and are not shipped internationally.

As for the FX500 vs IE8, there are some great comparisons, but the major drawback for the IE8 is its housing signature sound: plastic echo. This same sound kept me from totally enjoying the Atrio M5 and is the reason I sold it. The IE8 is nice, but that echo sound is quite bad for fast music, making the FX500 that much better since its housing has a natural echo and the driver is allowed to breathe freer air.

The IE8 should have been the IEM for me, but alas, it is about two steps in the wrong direction: lack of isolation, and the echo. I also don't enjoy the mid bass 'thump' in my ears. If the same hump existed much lower in the spectrum, the earphone wouldn't suffer from as bad of echo and maybe even be good for trance, but it is simply too weak a design for fast, bassy music.

The FX500 on the other hands, has a slightly fatiguing treble, but unlike the splashy UM2, is dry. I am not a fan, but I find it the better of two evils when comparing it to the IE8.
 
Sep 9, 2009 at 1:15 AM Post #12 of 15

tstarn06

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I've owned a ton of phones, dynamic and BA, including the IE8 and the C710 on the dynamic side. But none, until now, delivered the details and balance of the UM3X, which sounds neither compressed or electronic to me (and many other owners).

While interesting, this discussion is a no-win, because it will never be decided in any quantitative way.

In the lower price ranges, no doubt there will be dynamic phones that outperform the BA competition (for example, I preferred the 710s over the many comparably priced BAs, but not all), but when you get into the true high-end (JH and the rest of the customs), there is a reason why no dynamic in-ear phones can compete.

Some other threads on the topic...

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f103/o...ynamic-263227/

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f4/dyn...mature-198787/
 
Sep 9, 2009 at 2:55 AM Post #13 of 15

iponderous

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Quote:

Originally Posted by mvw2 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
It all varies. Both platforms offer a very wide variety of sound where they can really overlap quite heavily over a broad range. You can't simply state that dynamic and armature platforms will always sound different from each other or sound a specific way. There will be some mechanical properties associated with the designs that offer certain benefits and limitations, but the implementation of the designs vary enough to create a very broad spectrum of sound and a lot of overlap in properties with either platform.

I can't say I've owned a vast array of earphones. My list is somewhat limited. However, I have listened to a varying enough array of both dynamic and balanced armature drivers to say that drawing a line between both platforms is impossible. You also need to get over the idea of directly defining the platform. The implementation of the platform is what creates the end sound. For example, in the classic stereotype of dynamics and balanced armatures, I would listen to Denon's C751 dynamic driver earphone and think it's a balanced armature earphone. I would listen to Etymotic's ER4S balanced armature earphone and think it's a dynamic driver earphone. They both offer characteristics that I would typically associate with the other platform type. The C751 has great transparency, clarity, and effortlessness in sound that is different then what I would typically associate with a dynamic driver. The ER4S has thickness and texture to notes and is less razor sharp, cut and dry as what I would associate a balanced armature to be. It's simply a matter of implementation.



I don't agree with your assertion that it is impossible to draw a line between both platforms and that we should overcome the tendency to try. Just as there are dynamic and balanced armature earphones, there are also dynamic and electrostatic headphones. I suspect that each type of phone has unique sound qualities, which are directly attributable to the fundamental differences in design and technologies employed in its manufacture.

There's no doubt that the quality of sound being produced by these competing technologies is improving all of the time but that is not to say that the sound characteristics synonymous with each is becoming so similar as to be indistinguishable. The accuracy, transparency and speed of the JH/13 PRO is reportedly comparable with top tier electrostatic and dynamic headphones costing far more but its soundstage falls short. This is an inherent limitation of balanced armature earphone technology and this is a point of difference that cannot be ignored.

Others here who have owned both balanced armature and dynamic earphones (including those who have already posted in this thread) appear to disinguish between the sound characteristics of the two technologies quite easily. I'm not suggesting that one technology is any better than the other, just different and I'd rather acknowledge that, than take a reductionist approach in this instance.

Based on my own very limited listening experience, I have a feeling that dynamic earphones render music differently to balanced armature earphones, and that this inherent difference in presentation might suit me more. I also suspect that the sound signature of the FX500 will share more in common with the CX95 than the SE530. Sure there'll be some differences and I hope that these will be improvements over the CX95 but I reckon that these will be variations on a shared theme rather than a significant departure from it. This hunch should be confirmed or debunked upon hearing them and I'm prepared to post my impressions here either way.
 
Sep 9, 2009 at 3:16 AM Post #14 of 15

iponderous

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Quote:

Originally Posted by tstarn06 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
I've owned a ton of phones, dynamic and BA, including the IE8 and the C710 on the dynamic side. But none, until now, delivered the details and balance of the UM3X, which sounds neither compressed or electronic to me (and many other owners).

While interesting, this discussion is a no-win, because it will never be decided in any quantitative way.

In the lower price ranges, no doubt there will be dynamic phones that outperform the BA competition (for example, I preferred the 710s over the many comparably priced BAs, but not all), but when you get into the true high-end (JH and the rest of the customs), there is a reason why no dynamic in-ear phones can compete.

Some other threads on the topic...

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f103/o...ynamic-263227/

http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f4/dyn...mature-198787/



I agree with you that this is very much a subjective discussion about personal preference and nothing more. This thread is really no different to any of the others at Head-Fi in that sense.

I'm certainly not advocating that one earphone technology is any better than the other. Although you do appear to be contradicting your own point that discussions like these cannot be decided in a quantitative way, by implying that balance armature technology is superior towards the end of your post.
 
Sep 9, 2009 at 6:53 AM Post #15 of 15

righteousball

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Though my experience is at a much lower price level than the OP's*, there are times when I just find the resolution of armature phones intoxicating, even in a cheaper, single-driver format that doesn't stretch out very far in the highs nor the lows.

And yes, after a year or two of armatures, going back to dynamic is nice. It's like trading the trees for the entire forest. I like both and I think I'll want to keep on having both in my arsenal.

*budget went down from $300 to $100 per phone cause I have to eat and travel
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