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What are Dynamic Headphones?

By Brooke Edwards
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are many ways to categorize headphones, whether it be by style, power, brand or sound quality. But all headphones fall into one of two basic categories: dynamic or electrostatic. These categories base the headphones on the type of technology used to create their sound. The difference between the two types is in the transducer principle used; that is, how the headphones convert the electrical signal from a media player into sound waves that can be heard.

Dynamic headphones work just like two miniature speakers. The signal is transmitted through a connection to a standard jack. Once the electrical signal reaches the earphones, a magnet forces a voice coil to vibrate rapidly inside a diaphragm — a paper, fibrous or plastic cone-shaped object. The inner works are then lifted up and down much like a piston, often faster than the eye can see. This rapid vibration is what stirs the air and creates vibrations called sound waves which are then picked up by our eardrums.

Dynamic headphones are by far the most common type used by the average music listener, musicians and professional studio mixers alike. The most popular manufacturers in the music industry all make dynamic headphones, including Sony, Bose and Audio-Technica. They can cost $8 or $800 US Dollars (USD) and can be wired or wireless, open-air or closed-back, ear buds or studio-quality.

Electrostatic headphones, on the other hand, require an amplifier to create an electrical field. The field forces air through perforations in sandwiched metal plates, surrounding a thin plastic membrane. As a result of the metal plating, electrostatic phones are often rectangular in shape, as opposed to the common round shape of dynamic headsets.

Most experts agree electrostatic phones can actually produce a higher-quality sound than dynamic headphones. The reason they aren’t more popular is that they are far more expensive, starting at roughly $1,000 USD and reaching to nearly $15,000 USD for the industry's best.

Both of these headphones — sometimes called "cans" or "ears" by those in the Disc Jockey (Dj) and radio industries — are a long way from original designs, dating from the early 1900s for use with radios and telephones. However, while the materials and electrical signal involved are more recent developments, the magnet and coil system of dynamic headphones was used at the turn of the 20th century.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On May 10, 2012

I think you definitely get what you pay for when it comes to headphones. Some of the kids headphones around my house are really poor quality.

I have also bought headphones at the dollar store when I want something that is inexpensive and I don't mind if I lose them.

Personally, I don't like ear bud headphones, so look for something that I can wear over my ear. I also try to keep my good headphones away from the kids because they can be pretty rough on them.

We have some wireless headphones our kids use in the car when they are watching a DVD. They work good in a situation like this, and are adjustable to fit most heads.

The only complaint I have is they hurt your ears after you have been wearing them for awhile.

By Mykol — On May 09, 2012

Has anyone found a good pair of wireless headphones that has good quality?

I love the idea of wireless headphones, but it seems like I have not found a pair that has the quality I am looking for.

Some of them don't have any better quality than the over the ear headphones that are usually pretty inexpensive.

I don't mind spending some extra money on a high quality pair of headphones, but want to make sure they deliver the quality they promise.

By golf07 — On May 08, 2012

It is pretty safe to say all the headphones that are used in our house are dynamic headphones.

Even the slightly more expensive noise cancelling earphones that my husband uses are not nearly as expensive as a pair of electrostatic headphones would be.

As often as my kids lose or misplace their headphones, it is silly for us to spend much money on them. I usually buy the cheapest ones I can find because they have to be replaced so often.

By anon16669 — On Aug 11, 2008

On the less technical side, "Dynamic Headphones" is also the name of an ongoing project by New York-based artist Michelle Rosenberg, who uses ear trumpets and joined wires to experiment with how people experience sound.

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