July 17, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA
Headphones

Best 40mm and 50mm Headphone Drivers: Staff Pick Review

When shopping for headphones, it's important to look at the specs and tech details that come with them. The driver type is something you'll see specified on each pair, and often times, that will tell you a lot about the pair before you even listen to them. That raises a few questions: What is a headphone driver? Why does it matter? What's the difference between them?

Simply put, a driver is the mini speaker in each earbud that “pushes” the sound into your ear. It converts the electrical signal into sound waves and allows you to hear all the sound you want it to make. There are many different drivers that can be used and they vary in size, materials, functions, etc. All of these factors can affect the sound quality of a pair of headphones, so it is critical that companies put time and care into the drivers they manufacture.

In this article, we’re talking about headphones with 40mm and 50mm drivers. This seems like a small margin, and it is in the grand scheme. Drivers can be as small as 10mm in a pair of earbuds or as large as 90mm in over-ear headphones. As a basic comparison, there are a few key differences between large and small drivers. For one, larger drivers have the ability to move more air, so they can produce more depth in their sound and over a wider range. Headphones with large drivers tend to have really rich bass tones, as well as being a bit bulkier in design. Smaller drivers, on the other hand, provide better clarity in the upper ranges, as well as running on less power. They run more efficiently with more compact designs due to the smaller diameter. Again, I’m clarifying that this is all a general comparison, as driver tuning and material composition can play a big role in how you produce sound.

40mm and 50mm aren't a huge difference in terms of size, but they can mean all the difference in a pair of headphones. Is there a noticeable enough difference between them? That depends on the listener and how sensitive their ears are. If you're an active listener, you might be able to tell some small differences between them and find that you prefer one over the other. Let's look at a list of some of the best options that have both 40mm and 50mm drivers, and you'll see that they share many of the same qualities.

Bathys focal: 40 mm – $699

The Focal Bathys were my favorite when I tested them out. The rich sound quality combined with impressive bass response was an easy way to earn my vote. This pair comes with a 40mm magnesium and aluminum driver, and I was impressed with its comfort and consistency while listening. This metal made the mid and high frequencies have a touch more sparkle than I expected, and made vocals and hi hats pop in every mix. Since it’s one of the headphones with the smallest driver, it was easy to pick up some sunny clarity at the top end and a tighter soundstage in the overall picture.

Bowers & Wilkins Px8, 40mm: $559

This is a brand that hasn’t let me down. I’ve always been a fan of the smooth sounds that Bowers & Wilkins offers, and this is evident in their Px8 headphone model. The 40mm dynamic driver is full-range and made from carbon, and it helps make the headphones easy to listen to. You can tell that they come with a smaller-sized driver, as the bass is rather reserved and the headphones themselves are more compact. A previous model from this brand, the Px7 S2, is worth mentioning as an option that offers many of the same qualities at a lower price point for people looking for a more budget-friendly option.

PSB M4U 8 MK II, 40mm: $249

I was surprised to add the PSB headphones to this list. The M4U 8’s 40mm dynamic driver allows for very natural listening, something they specialize in with their headphones. These try to recreate space as if you were listening to a pair of surround sound speakers, and they succeed. There isn’t much bass response, which is to be expected, but it was easy to listen to them and enjoy my favorite songs.

Sivga SV021, 50mm – $149

The SV021 is priced lower than some of Sivga’s other models, but sound quality isn’t compromised. Surprisingly, the 50mm dynamic driver delivers powerful bass that drives the rest of the frequency response and a wide, engaging soundstage. Sivga’s other headphone models offer 50mm drivers, and a few others were part of my testing process as I looked at the wider driver range. It’s safe to say that Sivga ranks high in the 50mm driver game.

Fostex TH808 Premium, 50mm: $1,299.99

These headphones are probably at the higher end of people’s budget, priced at over a thousand dollars. For those looking for a premium pair of headphones, these will probably meet a lot of your requirements, as quality is included in the name. The Fostex TH808 Premium has a 50mm jack. Neodymium magnet driver, which allows the frequency range to have excellent sound reproduction. There is excellent clarity and richness in each area, which definitely makes them worth buying.

Dali iO-12, 50mm – $1,300

Again, these headphones are at the higher end of the price scale. Their square ear design allows for easy noise cancellation, and the tech included with active noise cancellation seems more of a precaution than anything else. Dali deploys a 50mm dynamic driver that is listenable, with a wide soundstage across the board and a substantial low end. They were comfortable and easy to wear, and I can definitely understand why they are so popular. The slightly larger driver here comes into its own with its imaging accuracy, clear listening, and larger design.

Summary

After going through the list, it’s clear that 40mm and 50mm headphones have a lot of similarities and can both be great. In the end, determining what you like most about a headphone will help you make a decision on which type of driver you like best. If you lean more towards a wide soundstage with powerful bass, going for larger drivers is a smart move. If you value efficient functionality and compact design, definitely look for headphones with smaller drivers. Trying out these different types of headphones is a great way to find out what your ears like best!

You can try and buy the headphones mentioned in this article at Audio46.

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