We hear a lot of confusion about drivers these days so we wanted to take a quick minute to explain some things about in-ear monitors and the balanced armature driver.
There are two kinds of “speaker” that go into an in-ear monitor. The kind that most people are most familiar with is a “moving coil” design and is basically a… well, a speaker. When it comes to in-ear monitors, the challenge with this design is that they are large. That means it is difficult to put more than one in a small space.
Why is more than one “driver” important? I’m glad you asked.
Humans generally hear from about 20hz to 20Khz (though the upper end diminishes with age starting in our teens). With one speaker to do all that work, it has to produce a wide array of competing frequencies. It’s like jumping on a trampoline with a few people. The more people that are on it, the more difficult it is to go high and to land safely.
When we add multiple drivers and let each one focus on a certain frequency band, each driver can more efficiently produce the sound it is designed for. This results in less turbulence on the trampoline. Thats why many home and studio speaker systems have multiple sizes of speaker in them.
To get more than couple drivers in a shell, we use a technology called a Balanced Armature driver. Just like there are many sizes of speaker, there are many sizes of balanced armature (BA) drivers. The great thing about this for an in-ear monitor designer is that there are lots of building blocks to use when making a monitor.
The hard thing for a customer is that you cannot just compare a dual driver model to another dual driver model. It might be apples to apples, but it’s often Granny Smith to Fuji. Same fruit, different taste.
Picking an in-ear monitor
When picking a monitor, you need to first determine what you need to hear and what your budget is. Then find something that fits that. While the number of drivers is important, there is no rule about how many drivers you need for a certain application. Don’t be swayed by marketing that says “you are a bass player, you need X number of drivers.” What you need is the right design and the right drivers at the right price for you.When picking an in-ear monitor, first determine what you need to hear and what your budget is. Then find something that fits that. While the number of drivers is important, there is no rule about how many drivers you need. Click To Tweet
As a quick example, we at Alclair have two models with three drivers in them. The Reference is designed to be flat and tight for use on instruments that have really wide ranges or for mixing front of house. The Tour has a nice big low end driver and a upper-mid boost making it an outstanding monitor for guitars, vocals, drums, and bass. In another post we will look more at what goes into the design of a monitor and how different driver types impact the sound.
The quick take away here is, find the monitor that is designed for the use you need and in your price range. Keep in mind that in-ears need to be serviced from time to time. The ear can be a harsh environment for electronics. Make sure you order from a company that will do quick and in-expensive repairs. We recommend Alclair Audio. But then, we would.
If you want more detailed information, take a look here. Sonion is one of the two major suppliers of balanced armature drivers and some of our favorite people!