Why are Balanced Armatures generally more expensive?
May 22, 2015 at 6:24 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 15

ELPCU

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Why are Balanced Armatures generally more expensive compared to dynamic drivers?
 
I mean, when we talks about earphones(or IEM), BA seems becoming popular choice.
 
I know generally BA driver has higher price point than typical dynamic driver
 
But I want to know why. I mean more than "cuz BA is tiny, it is difficult to make them"
 
I that because of difficult to have some magnetic in tiny BA? 
or difficult to have precise movement?
or solely due to difficult to manufacture tiny thing?
or anything else?
 
 
Just curious.
 
May 24, 2015 at 2:21 PM Post #3 of 15

ELPCU

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It is said that it delivers accurate sound. BA is explained in 2:47 in the video link above. I hope it helps. :D

 
Unfortunately, that is not the answer I was looking for.
 
BA driver is originally used in hearing aid.
However, because IEM manufacturer found out that BA driver has some advantages such as size and sound accuracy(and marketing point as well), in which you have already mentioned, manufacturer decided to implement BA driver into headphone market.
 
I mean, your assumption reverse cause and result.
 
Not because BA driver makes accurate sound, IEM manufacturer put higher price tag.
It's because BA drivier is more expensive to manufacture and many IEM manufacture does not produce BA driver themselves but buying from other companies such as Knowles, they have to pay more money for those BA units, which lead higher price of IEM.
They just found BA driver has some advantages so people might buy them even though BA is generally more expensive.
 
My question is why BA driver is more expensive to manufacture, rather than the advantage of BA driver.
 
May 24, 2015 at 10:11 PM Post #4 of 15

ProtegeManiac

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It's not just the BA drivers themselves, but the crossovers - they're tiny and you have to have the right settings to maximize the range where each type of driver has the smoothest response. if you screw this up you could end up worse off than using a single dynamic driver with narrow but high peaks and narrow but low dips in the response near each other (which are very difficult to correct even with software EQ) considering working with individual components that small. Properly implemented you can get a smoother curve than designing a proprietary dynamic driver, and even get louder bass response without sacrificing the smooth curve (well, above the bass anyway) or how wide the response is, simply by adding more bass drivers (since larger drivers for any scale of listening tend to roll off the highs and in some cases even have a peak in the treble despite that - like large FR speakers). 
 
JHAudio released an IEM system before with its own DSP/DAC and amplifier box with an active crossover, but it was still expensive and of course limited how they'll be used (I mean, how many people would walk around with a long box like that in a bag? I'm not even sure at this point if it ran on batteries).
 
May 25, 2015 at 7:30 PM Post #5 of 15

ELPCU

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It's not just the BA drivers themselves, but the crossovers - they're tiny and you have to have the right settings to maximize the range where each type of driver has the smoothest response. if you screw this up you could end up worse off than using a single dynamic driver with narrow but high peaks and narrow but low dips in the response near each other (which are very difficult to correct even with software EQ) considering working with individual components that small. Properly implemented you can get a smoother curve than designing a proprietary dynamic driver, and even get louder bass response without sacrificing the smooth curve (well, above the bass anyway) or how wide the response is, simply by adding more bass drivers (since larger drivers for any scale of listening tend to roll off the highs and in some cases even have a peak in the treble despite that - like large FR speakers). 
 
JHAudio released an IEM system before with its own DSP/DAC and amplifier box with an active crossover, but it was still expensive and of course limited how they'll be used (I mean, how many people would walk around with a long box like that in a bag? I'm not even sure at this point if it ran on batteries).

 
Another answer I was not looking for :frowning2:
 
I understand crossovers of Multi-BA IEM is another issue.
 
But my question is not 'why are BA IEMs expensive?' but 'why are BA themselves more expensive'(generally)
 
I am specifically talking about only BA themselves.
 
Like
 
http://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/Knowles/TWFK-30017-000/?qs=3unH%2FDqlvl8QoAty6EUoAw%3D%3D
 
This.
 
May 25, 2015 at 10:44 PM Post #6 of 15

ProtegeManiac

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Another answer I was not looking for :frowning2:
 
I understand crossovers of Multi-BA IEM is another issue.
 
But my question is not 'why are BA IEMs expensive?' but 'why are BA themselves more expensive'(generally)
 
I am specifically talking about only BA themselves.
 
Like
 
http://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/Knowles/TWFK-30017-000/?qs=3unH%2FDqlvl8QoAty6EUoAw%3D%3D
 
This.

 
Economies of scale is one thing. If BA drivers are as complex to implement as in my answer that you were not looking for, then there are likely less orders for them to be used on IEMs and earphones, which is not exactly going to be offset based on how many people you see on audiophile forums ordering CIEMs.
 
May 26, 2015 at 12:50 AM Post #7 of 15

ELPCU

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Economies of scale is one thing. If BA drivers are as complex to implement as in my answer that you were not looking for, then there are likely less orders for them to be used on IEMs and earphones, which is not exactly going to be offset based on how many people you see on audiophile forums ordering CIEMs.


True, but if you go to link, you will realize that they are selling cheaper if you get more.
 
  1:  $46.86   
  5:  $44.69   
  10:  $43.93   
  25:  $39.54   
  50:  $36.61   
  100:  $35.87   
  250:  $35.14 
 
Note typical dynamic driver costs usually less than 3~4 bucks per unit(asumming if you buy just 1 of them), and dynamic drivers also get cheaper if you buy a lot.
 
Although my example is relatively more expensive because it is Dual BA,(single BA usually cost little above 10+ bucks per unit. Though some of them cost 20+ or more.),
There is clear price difference, and I am curious about why. :p
 
May 26, 2015 at 1:58 AM Post #9 of 15

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True, but if you go to link, you will realize that they are selling cheaper if you get more.

 
"If" - but how many actually gets sold? Note also how many other cheap dynamic drivers are out there (like those used for bundled earphones) while nobody's making similarly cheap BA's. That's like comparing a ribbon tweeter to the price of Pyle drivers (I exaggerate, but that's the gist of it).
 
May 26, 2015 at 2:46 AM Post #10 of 15

ELPCU

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"If" - but how many actually gets sold? Note also how many other cheap dynamic drivers are out there (like those used for bundled earphones) while nobody's making similarly cheap BA's. That's like comparing a ribbon tweeter to the price of Pyle drivers (I exaggerate, but that's the gist of it).

 
My question can be also rephrased into "why does nobody make or cannot make cheap/decent BA?".
It seems it is going into "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" argument. :p
 
I am assuming manufacturer cannot make them, (because they are not coming out yet) and asking why.
And crossover issue cannot be the answer.
 
Yes, You have mentioned crossover circuit as complex issue of IEM production, and I somewhat agree but there are great single BA IEMs as well.
For example, ER4 series from Etymotic Research. I do not know single unit dual BA needs crossover circuit from IEM manufacturer or BA manufacturer has already tuned them. But at least for single BA, they do not need crossover circuit. So you cannot say crossover issue for reasony why BA IEM is naturally have some complexity issues.
 
Especially if you are talking about cheap bundle earphone, then going for single BA is not an issue. One of the biggest cons of BA is narrow frequency range, but many of cheap bundle earphones have terribly narrow range of frequency. If manufacturer decides to sacrifice ultra-high/ultra-low frequency, I am pretty sure you can get better quality of earphone compared to average bundle earphone, though I believe they cannot make cheap enough due to BA's natural price issue. Note most Etymotic Research earphones have fairly good range of frequency with single BA driver. Well, some of reasons of wide frequency range of Etymotic Research are due to their infamous tips which is designed for deep insertion(terribly bad fits for small ears), but that is mainly for having better Ultra-high frequency range.
 
So if IEM manufacturer cannot produce cheap IEM due to complexity(which can be reasonable guess, IMO), then that complexity is not due to crossover issue. Honestly, I just cannot imagine putting dual BA drivers into cheap bundle earphone. Not only the crossover issue, going for dual BA may increase driver unit cost more than double. For bundle earphone, that is pretty bad decision IMO.
 
By the way, I think crossover circuit can be an issue for CIEM or for small quantity of IEM that is hand-made/individually produced. However, I am not sure how much crossover circuit affects price of IEM if IEM is mass produced, because machine may be able to do crossover job for IEM manufacturer, once you have done with all the setup.
 
May 26, 2015 at 4:04 AM Post #12 of 15

ProtegeManiac

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My question can be also rephrased into "why does nobody make or cannot make cheap/decent BA?".
It seems it is going into "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" argument. :p
 
I am assuming manufacturer cannot make them, (because they are not coming out yet) and asking why.
And crossover issue cannot be the answer.
 
Yes, You have mentioned crossover circuit as complex issue of IEM production, and I somewhat agree but there are great single BA IEMs as well.
For example, ER4 series from Etymotic Research. I do not know single unit dual BA needs crossover circuit from IEM manufacturer or BA manufacturer has already tuned them. But at least for single BA, they do not need crossover circuit. So you cannot say crossover issue for reasony why BA IEM is naturally have some complexity issues.
 
Especially if you are talking about cheap bundle earphone, then going for single BA is not an issue. One of the biggest cons of BA is narrow frequency range, but many of cheap bundle earphones have terribly narrow range of frequency. If manufacturer decides to sacrifice ultra-high/ultra-low frequency, I am pretty sure you can get better quality of earphone compared to average bundle earphone, though I believe they cannot make cheap enough due to BA's natural price issue. Note most Etymotic Research earphones have fairly good range of frequency with single BA driver. Well, some of reasons of wide frequency range of Etymotic Research are due to their infamous tips which is designed for deep insertion(terribly bad fits for small ears), but that is mainly for having better Ultra-high frequency range.
 
So if IEM manufacturer cannot produce cheap IEM due to complexity(which can be reasonable guess, IMO), then that complexity is not due to crossover issue. Honestly, I just cannot imagine putting dual BA drivers into cheap bundle earphone. Not only the crossover issue, going for dual BA may increase driver unit cost more than double. For bundle earphone, that is pretty bad decision IMO.
 
By the way, I think crossover circuit can be an issue for CIEM or for small quantity of IEM that is hand-made/individually produced. However, I am not sure how much crossover circuit affects price of IEM if IEM is mass produced, because machine may be able to do crossover job for IEM manufacturer, once you have done with all the setup.

 
Jeez I already said why, but I guess I'll try to explain in even more detail even if already mentioned since I might have to connect the dots myself, but this is going to be my last reply since my replying with more detail seems to just entail aggressive responses that eventually gets me warnings about feeding trolls (when I'd like to think we should all be discussing as many details of whatever given this is the purpose of a forum, but anyway...).
 
Let's discuss better designs first. Yes, there's the issue about the narrower range where the BA has a smooth response, or well at least it just rolls off either end rather than a dynamic driver that may have a wide range but has peaks and dips all throughout. That's why generally they need more than one driver, which increases the complexity of the design process, the components, etc.
 
Now, while Etymotic seems to do well with single BA designs, notice the feedback on them? Too analytical, no bass, etc etc. On most of their units bass rolls off  only slightly, but given the realities of headphone listening where most music are mixed for speakers, and the problem with people's expectations on what they should perceive with bass, that's a problem already for many of those who actually care about sound,* whether we debate on what is "accurate" is beside the point from this perspective** is immaterial. Then there's the eartip design, which you yourself discussed, but note the issue there: what sounds good for maximizing the single BA isn't necessarily the same as what is comfortable for most people. Heck the over-ear cable design minimizes microphonics but a lot of people have issues with the ergos on those.
 
Now, that's with the IEM manufacturers, so you asked why not the BA manufacturers themselves? Well the thing is that if the better drivers already have such issues then how much narrower would the useful response be on cheaper drivers? Economies of scale kicks in because while the IEM manufacturers need several drivers for each, it's not like they'll have overall sales that can drive the price down, so in terms of overall sales for the BA driver OEM manufacturers, they aren't selling as many either. 
 
Then why don't manufacturers just make cheaper single-BA IEMs with cheaper BA drivers and care less about the sound? Well, it's not just the people on Head-Fi who expect to be able to perceive speaker/subwoofer-like bass from personal audio that demand bass, even more casual listeners do, and if you have a cheaper BA driver that has an even narrower range than a  better BA driver going up against a dynamic driver model that pumps out a lot more bass by comparison and better carries the beat of the music then who would buy that cheap single BA design? Even as a bundled earphone that's not so straight cut - the production processes involving the tiny driver can still end up higher than how much faster they can assemble dynamic driver bundled earphones.
 
All that goes back to economies of scale - even if a machine can simplify the crossover manufacturing process (and they already do on multiple-BA driver universal IEMs, or even hybrid designs) just how many can they make and sell? It's not so much a "chicken and egg" pointless argument but it is a cycle or spiral. Let's say somebody does produce cheaper BA drivers; then somebody makes a large production run of an IEM that uses a dual driver based on a cheap 2-way design that you only need to cram into the IEM shell as the BA manufacturer simplified the production process already, but cheaper drivers being what they are the response is likely narrower. Now that it's out in production and you market it as a low cost dual driver, what's going to happen when it hits Head-Fi for example? I'm going to bet the responses will be along the lines of "this is unnecessary complexity that doesn't do the job - look at this similarly priced dynamic driver that has a wider response range instead." If from an engineering standpoint you would fall too wide off the mark then from a marketing standpoint it's a hard sell to get into it, since when we say economies of scale it doesn't just mean smaller cost per unit, but they'd have to spend a relatively large amount in order to get that large production run in the first place.
 
Instead of sarcastically or angrily accusing me of pushing into a chicken and egg argument you can put some energy into convincing some CEO that there's a market for that so they'd put in a large investment to make it happen.
 
 
*which is usually based on speakers, and also real instruments which work similarly, in the sense that the perception of bass response is enhanced by feeling the bass as a kick in the chest or a crawl on the skin. It's very different when the drivers are outside the ear canals or in them - you don't get this dispersion of bass, so a lot of people can be shown a headphone graph with a plateau of bass and yet from what they hear, "the bass is weak." 
 
**I mean, to those who want more bass than those who accept the realities of headphone listening, isn't it still fair to say that they are simply seeking to hear what a bass drum sounds like in real life, even if it means going around the flattest possible measurement criteria?
 
May 26, 2015 at 4:07 AM Post #13 of 15

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Sadly, then I am asking a question that I already know the answer.


I get frustrated by even simpler things being expensive. Just economics and because they can. Relatively niche market items that are also small and complex are just going to cost more. I bought a pair of Phonak Audeo's for $40 last week which was pretty nice for a BA IEMs.
 
May 26, 2015 at 7:03 PM Post #14 of 15

ELPCU

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Jeez I already said why, but I guess I'll try to explain in even more detail even if already mentioned since I might have to connect the dots myself, but this is going to be my last reply since my replying with more detail seems to just entail aggressive responses that eventually gets me warnings about feeding trolls (when I'd like to think we should all be discussing as many details of whatever given this is the purpose of a forum, but anyway...).
 
Let's discuss better designs first. Yes, there's the issue about the narrower range where the BA has a smooth response, or well at least it just rolls off either end rather than a dynamic driver that may have a wide range but has peaks and dips all throughout. That's why generally they need more than one driver, which increases the complexity of the design process, the components, etc.
 
Now, while Etymotic seems to do well with single BA designs, notice the feedback on them? Too analytical, no bass, etc etc. On most of their units bass rolls off  only slightly, but given the realities of headphone listening where most music are mixed for speakers, and the problem with people's expectations on what they should perceive with bass, that's a problem already for many of those who actually care about sound,* whether we debate on what is "accurate" is beside the point from this perspective** is immaterial. Then there's the eartip design, which you yourself discussed, but note the issue there: what sounds good for maximizing the single BA isn't necessarily the same as what is comfortable for most people. Heck the over-ear cable design minimizes microphonics but a lot of people have issues with the ergos on those.
 
Now, that's with the IEM manufacturers, so you asked why not the BA manufacturers themselves? Well the thing is that if the better drivers already have such issues then how much narrower would the useful response be on cheaper drivers? Economies of scale kicks in because while the IEM manufacturers need several drivers for each, it's not like they'll have overall sales that can drive the price down, so in terms of overall sales for the BA driver OEM manufacturers, they aren't selling as many either. 
 
Then why don't manufacturers just make cheaper single-BA IEMs with cheaper BA drivers and care less about the sound? Well, it's not just the people on Head-Fi who expect to be able to perceive speaker/subwoofer-like bass from personal audio that demand bass, even more casual listeners do, and if you have a cheaper BA driver that has an even narrower range than a  better BA driver going up against a dynamic driver model that pumps out a lot more bass by comparison and better carries the beat of the music then who would buy that cheap single BA design? Even as a bundled earphone that's not so straight cut - the production processes involving the tiny driver can still end up higher than how much faster they can assemble dynamic driver bundled earphones.
 
All that goes back to economies of scale - even if a machine can simplify the crossover manufacturing process (and they already do on multiple-BA driver universal IEMs, or even hybrid designs) just how many can they make and sell? It's not so much a "chicken and egg" pointless argument but it is a cycle or spiral. Let's say somebody does produce cheaper BA drivers; then somebody makes a large production run of an IEM that uses a dual driver based on a cheap 2-way design that you only need to cram into the IEM shell as the BA manufacturer simplified the production process already, but cheaper drivers being what they are the response is likely narrower. Now that it's out in production and you market it as a low cost dual driver, what's going to happen when it hits Head-Fi for example? I'm going to bet the responses will be along the lines of "this is unnecessary complexity that doesn't do the job - look at this similarly priced dynamic driver that has a wider response range instead." If from an engineering standpoint you would fall too wide off the mark then from a marketing standpoint it's a hard sell to get into it, since when we say economies of scale it doesn't just mean smaller cost per unit, but they'd have to spend a relatively large amount in order to get that large production run in the first place.
 
Instead of sarcastically or angrily accusing me of pushing into a chicken and egg argument you can put some energy into convincing some CEO that there's a market for that so they'd put in a large investment to make it happen.
 
 
*which is usually based on speakers, and also real instruments which work similarly, in the sense that the perception of bass response is enhanced by feeling the bass as a kick in the chest or a crawl on the skin. It's very different when the drivers are outside the ear canals or in them - you don't get this dispersion of bass, so a lot of people can be shown a headphone graph with a plateau of bass and yet from what they hear, "the bass is weak." 
 
**I mean, to those who want more bass than those who accept the realities of headphone listening, isn't it still fair to say that they are simply seeking to hear what a bass drum sounds like in real life, even if it means going around the flattest possible measurement criteria?

I am not angry, since I see some of your point, but I am just agreeing not all of them.
 
Etymotic Research lacks bass, slightly, true. However, this is not mainly due to BA issue. 
 
Etymotic Research intentionally aimed FLAT based on diffused field compensated graph with their own standard. And they did really, really good job.
http://rinchoi.blogspot.com/2012/03/etymotic-research-er-4b.html
The problem is that "FLAT IEM" based on diffused field lacks bass. Diffused field compensated means it is tuned based inside of a reverberation chamber, which is a room that maximizes reflection of sound.
 
We are not listening music in a reverberation chamber, and while speaker which sends a lot of echo/reverberation of bass toward us, IEM doesn't. This is reason why Diffused field compensated IEM lacks bass. 
 
Nowadays, there is Harman HiFi compensated graph, which tries to cover this issue, 
However, diffused field compensation was an industrial standard for a long time. And Etymotic Research ER4 series is very very old model. It is released 20+ years ago. And at that time, there was no harman Hifi compensation standard, and diffused field compensation was standard. So at that time, Etymotic Research did their best to make them "flat" based on industrial standard.
 
What is the point? The point is... yes, ER4 lacks bass, especially sub-bass region but not by too much. (At least better than most of earbuds in the market.) However, that's not because they are using single BA. It is not an issue of single BA issue. That's because Etymotic Research specifically aimed to the sound of FLAT IEM based on diffused field, which is lacking bass.
 
How can I know this? because Etymotic Research is constantly aiming this goal (at least before Harman HiFi compensation take the place. I do not know how they try to adapt their lineup for the new target) and they are arguably doing the best job for aiming that specific goal throughout whole market. In other words, if they intended to boost sub bass region, I believe they are likely able to do so. They are just not doing it intentionally.
 
And Phonak PFE 122, which has slightly more bass compared to ER4/arguably appropriate amount, has single BA, and having decent Ultra-high frequency response as well.
http://rinchoi.blogspot.com/2012/07/phonak-audeo-pfe-022.html 
(022 with gray filter sounds same as 122)
 
Plus personally I doubt having good ultra-high frequency matters in cheap market. Sure, there is fit issue for Etymotic Research, but that is mainly for having more ultra-high (over 10khz). Even in expensive IEM market, IEM manufacturers tend to roll-off ultra high. For example, SE846 is one of them
http://www.innerfidelity.com/images/ShureSE846WhiteFilterSample2.pdf
http://en.goldenears.net/30016
 
 
I have no freaking idea why they are doing this for 6 BA IEM, and I personally hate to see manufactures are doing this. Not because it sounds terrble, but because making narrower frequency with 6BA IEM sounds awkward as hell. SE846 is not the only one. There are plenty of examples, especially Westone and Shure. Many of their IEM straightly drop after 10khz. I am assuming this is for making sound more relaxing for studio monitoring(but still hate to see them doing this)
However, many people still loves them. 
 
Plus, I doubt not having ultra-high and ultra-low is an big issue for bundle IEM. Nowadays, starting by Apple, bundle earphone quality is getter better and better, but I still believe average bundle earphone quality is crappy as hell. And a lot of people around me do not know what is good sound. Yes, They says they care good sound, but many people around me say Dr. Dre. sounds great. What can I say? Does it sound they really care about frequency range? No. I do not think so. They still believe they care good sound, but they do not even understand what is good sound. 
I mean 'good sound' is subjective matter. People can argue "heavily bass boosted sound" is very good sound, so maybe I have to put it in different way.
 
Do they really cares wide frequency range? Do they care ultra high? I highly, highly doubt so. I doubt they cares even ultra low or not. Especially it is difficult to distinguish difference in ultra low with IEM. As long as frequency range is not extremely narrow, I do not think they care.
 
Overall , your "likely narrower frequency range if cheap BA is made, and it is unlikely work" is very subjective. 
1. in terms of how much narrow frequency range cheap BA will have.
(In which I disargree with your evidence by saying ultra low of ER4 series is intended result of manufacturer)
2. how much bundle earphone market is generous about narrow frequency range.
(in which I disagree with you by suggesting that there are a lot of high-price IEM without ultra-high, and many people love basshead IEM)
 
Not saying your suggestion is totally wrong, you might be right but it is just mixture of assumption and hypothesis. And there is not enough strong evidence in your argument.
I am assuming BA is naturally more difficult to make, so it is more expensive, and I do not know why(and not much people know why, and I want to know why), but this is MY assumption.
And with strong evidence, you can prove I am wrong, but I do not see that strong evidence right now.
 
I am assuming it is not mainly due to economic scaling, because the price difference is just too big. At least it seems too big for me.
most of dynamic drivers for earphone costs less than 5 bucks, while single BA cost 20+ bucks(ER4's one ED-9689 cost 20+ bucks. with mass order, little less than 20)
 
item such as semi-conductor may decrease its price by A LOT by increasing economic scaling.
But there are some items that does not work like that.
Can BA manufacturer decrease its price by A TON? Maybe or maybe not.
But for me, it sounds there gotta be some reasons.
 
Dynamic driver is easy to make. If you do not care quality at all, then you can make it with fountain drink plastic cap & cup, paper roll, strong magnet, and copper wire.
http://gigglehd.com/zbxe/12406673
Like this.
 
In fact, many headphone manufacturers produce their own dynamic drivers for their products.
On the other hand, most of BA is not manufactured by IEM manufacturer. There gotta be some reason for manufacturing difficulties other than crossover issue.
I know it is likely harder than ez make-dynamic driver but for 400% price even just for single BA driver, there should be better reasons.
 
I just do not see your assumption is right. I am not saying you are totally wrong, but it sounds just rough guess.
 
May 26, 2015 at 7:05 PM Post #15 of 15

ELPCU

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I get frustrated by even simpler things being expensive. Just economics and because they can. Relatively niche market items that are also small and complex are just going to cost more. I bought a pair of Phonak Audeo's for $40 last week which was pretty nice for a BA IEMs.

Good grab. 40 bucks? that's cheap. I believe Phonak cost over 100 bucks... around 150. 
 
I guess they are selling leftover after they have been discontinued. Even so, 40 bucks sound great deal.
 

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