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Whats with the hype about BA/Hybrid IEM's

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greenhorn

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I am not sure why the world+dog is going so gaga about balanced armature drivers. why exactly are they supposed to be better than dynamic drivers? after trying out a few, I still don't get what the big deal is.
 

unleash_me

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Not sure if you are asking about balanced armature technology in itself, or its relative merits and/or demerits compared to the more traditional dynamic drivers used in most in-ear monitors and earbuds in general.

Basically, each balanced armature driver in a group could deliver a specific frequency range & can be tuned to do so individually. Whereas, dynamic drivers usually cover the entire frequency range with just one driver.

While both can be good on their own with better implementation, the "hybrid" architecture has helped to bring the best of both in a more affordable value for money package recently; especially thanks to the Chi-Fi.

You can have very decent sound from something as cheap as a KZ-AS10 – a real bang for the buck IEM, compared to say the impressive Focal Sphere S. Or climb the ladder with BGVP DM6, FiiO FH5, Shure SE846, etc.
 

chander

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Strictly my opinion as that is how I feel. I have 2 BA IEMs, 1 Dynamic IEM, 1 Hybrid and I have heard the amazing IE800 which I do not own , but I borrowed it from a friend for a few weeks in exchange of one of my BAs :). My BA's are both Westone UM 3XRC and W60 (waiting for the 80s), my Dynamic is IE80 and my Hybrid is FiiO F9 Pro.

Now in short - in my experience, BAs have 1 advantage - DETAIL, if done well; however they need multiple drivers to shine. A single BA can't do what a single dynamic can do, provided both are tuned by the same maestro.

Now in LONG :D - I have in the past used many sub 2-3K earphones, which primarily used Dynamic drivers, and they all with my 96-128Kbps Mp3s sounded what they should sound. When I started moving up the ladder, I primarily stuck with Sennheisers within 10-12K budgets and better quality MP3s. These were dynamic too. Then came the time, when I learnt about FLACs using the Sennheiser Dynamics and I was "BLOWN". Then I went the Shure way - the 215s (I think Dynamic yet again - not sure) and the Sennheisers were "BLOWN" out of water. My next upgrade had to be a multi driver - came in the form of Westone UM 3X RC, my first multi driver and first BA with 3 crossovers and I couldn't believe it. What they were playing I just couldn't. It was insanity. Now that isn't a fair comparison as these were multi driver - almost 3 times the cost of the Shures. Understandable. I went on a maniacal pursuit for the next insane earphone, buying used off eBAY and what not, but I couldn't find anything that could beat the details of the UM3X RC. This I believe was around 2012/14 I am not very sure. By this time I was hooked to the multi driver BAs. Then I got myself the W60s around 2017 I guess, and WOW! I exchanged these with a friend of mine who had an IE800 for a few weeks, to just see what a beautifully tuned dynamic can do. I am not going to say anything about the only Hybrid I own, because I feel, there is potential, but this particular hybrid is not the best tuned - though I am going to give another a try sometime.

Now here comes the comparison. IE800 was incredible sounding. It shattered my belief - that you really need a multi driver BA to listen to music, Absolutely NOT. The IE800 was mind boggling and irritating to the fact that I have so many drivers doing something that this little ugliness can just deliver. The music coming out of them was intensely fun and you couldn't help but tap your feet and shake your head with them. The bass OOOOH the BAASSSS! The BAs however, have one advantage, they are immensely detailed, IE 800 was amazing, but so is my W60. They are both amazing, but the sound is different. The dynamic drivers are fast so their timing and accuracy is quite remarkable and tuned well, like in IE800 they are hard to beat. BAs due to the nature of the driver itself, aren't extremely fast with lower frequencies, not saying their timing is off, but they aren't as fast and as precise as the Dynamics in that department. Though as you can tune each driver to an almost precise cross over frequency, they can be very detailed, and in my very limited experience with high end IEMs, I have always found the Multi BAs doing better than multi Dynamics. To my ears, W60s sound better and my almost a decade older UM 3X sound more musical than my IE80. PLEASE understand I am no tech wizard or claim to be a Golden ear audiophile, but that is how it sounds to me ears.

So why I am going for W80 instead of the IE800 as my next upgrade? Simple, I love the detail the W60 gave over IE800. there are compromises to be made, bass is mostly tauter in the dynamics which makes the musical experience incredibly fun, but the details on pure multi BAs is hard to beat. Barring the Hybrids perhaps, but I can't comment there.

Edit:
Sorry for getting carried away, but yeah to stick to your point, what @unleash_me said in terms of technology and pros and cons if looked at objectively, subjectively, well that's a whole different can of worms.
 
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greenhorn

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Here's my journey.
I started with a creative EP 630
Then went to soundmagic PL11/ES18 which added better highs
Tried a Xiaomi Pro HD IEM (hybrid) and it was downright painful to listen to
Sony MDR XB50 - nice bass but dull highs
KZ ZS7 - keeps most of the XB50 bass with slightly better highs, but more of a sidegrade
CCA C10, C04- Meh, CA04- sounds decent
VJJB N30 - Interesting
KZ ZS3 - Nice
Blon 03 - Interesting
Tenmak Pro - better highs
Sony MDR 755 - warm with a little less bass then the XB50 but better than the ZS7

Some more which i dont find worth mentioning, but in the sub 100$ range, I am not finding anything great about these well reviewed and popular multi BA IEM's, while most of the ones i like turn out to be fully DD, or mostly DD). the highs of the others are nice, but with no low end (even after eq) they all sound thin and bland. I keep going back to the sony XB50/755 or the KZ ZS7
I have some more on order - ZS 10 Pro, TFZ No 3, Revonext QT2s.. but so far the DD camp seems to be winning, so was wondering what all these reviewers singing praises of these BA IEM's are hearing which i cannot.
Rest of my setup - Earstudio ES100, source is my laptop/phone
Music is mostly old country/pop/Vocal trance/acoustic hindi/english/malayalam (jim reeves/Boney M/Above and beyond)

In my opinion highs are nice, but not at the cost of a good low end.
 
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chander

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@greenhorn I agree with the compromise of the great low end, but like I said, BAs need multi driver configurations, tuned extremely carefully, often using multiple crossovers, to shine. That sadly makes them expensive and in my many use and give away earphones I have used, no cheap BAs really sound great, DDs in similar price range definitely beat them, so if it was a price-band bound question, yes you might be right about BAs being no great shakes. Pardon me if I am completely wrong, but at least I haven't come across any BAs in sub $100/200, which is amazing to my ears.

My UM 3X is my most used IEM, and it was around $350/400 when I got them. I love their sound. They are not 'incredible' by any standard, but they they are quite good. They are very detailed, natural, with a 'fairly' wide and deep sound stage, beautiful low end in quality but not in quantity. Extremely rarely I find them anemic on certain songs, but that is an extremely rare occurrence. The W60 I have is refined in all things that UM3x does by a fair bit, with copious amounts (for me) of very detailed and tight bass. However in terms of quantity nothing compares to the IE80.

Mind you I am no bass head, I like my bass to drive the rhythm, come and go and not ramble on and that reflects in all my systems, from the HT, stereo to personal.
 

irv

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@chander
Interesting...
I too have a number of IEMs and do feel that they are sometimes better value than my hi-fi set up...
"and my Hybrid is FiiO F9 Pro"...
What about this hybrid of yours? You didn't mention them...
Are they any good??
 
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chander

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Just a suggestion @greenhorn - if you can get your hands on a decently tuned BA - USED, so your budget threshold is not crossed, I would suggest trying to look for some of the Westone UM Pro ranges or the W40. I am a Westone fanboy yes, because their drivers are precise to my ears, and manage to fit it all in small shells which actually work for my small ears. I have slept with the Westones in my ears so many times and they are durable if you take care of them.

@chander
Interesting...
I too have a number of IEMs and do feel that they are sometimes better value than my hi-fi set up...
"and my Hybrid is FiiO F9 Pro"...
What about this hybrid of yours? You didn't mention them...
Are they any good??
Hey @irv - IEMs definitely are a much more personal, cosy experience, and the "placement" is of no concern here ;) I love my IEMs, mostly this is where I listen to my music. The intimacy is just beautiful.

I didn't say much about the F9, because I rarely listen to them. When I first got them and started using them - I used them exclusively for around 3 months or so. I am very disciplined like that ;) so I let the sound grow on me, sadly that never happened. I always felt that though the drivers were perhaps not too bad, but the cross over designer, kinda screwed up. I couldn't help but feel all the time, that that "bottomless low-end" driver creeped in everywhere. The DD here which was exclusively for Low-end I feel is a bit over-tuned. It is leaky, does that make sense? It is not taut and precise, but it just loves to vibrate, it hates to sit quietly. Not a sound signature I am personally fond of. I could see how the BAs in this IEM were very well tuned, on one number I tried where there is a 'jal-tarang' playing for almost 4 minutes or so, can't remember the name, but I kept going back to that - as there was no "rambling" bass in that song, which my other IEMs confirmed. The song was quite well represented on the F9s but the DD still won't sit quietly. It just wouldn't. A little vibration on the cups and it will creep in there. Always being there, where it was absolutely not needed. Like your kid in your bedroom at the absolute wrong time. Yeah you don't really like your kid in that moment. Now for me the DD in F9 was always that kid.

Edit:
Now when I re-read it, it sounds like I am trashing the F9s - so let me give an example, cause I am not.

Led Zep - In the days of my youth, the opening is a short fat riff, with a little drum work, the riff comes then while withdrawing it has a little decay (please ignore my ignorance I am not a musician, if this is wrong terminology :)). I have heard that song on multiple systems as I quite love this song. Now every system presents it mildly differently. My ATH M50X present it harshly though the decay exists, the IE80s present it with slightly warmer and bassy - the decay exists here too, the F9s presented it like a distorted bass riff with the feedback being a pulsating bass decay - vibrating, however my westones present it in a way that is most suited to my musical tastes. Now I wasn't there when Led Zep recorded this, so not sure what they were actually planning to play here, so maybe F9s are true but I prefer the other sound signature, makes sense?
 
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all4music

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@greenhorn going by your journey you are probably aware of this - but don't you think your question is late by at least 5+ years [but still relevant though - I just rechecked date of the thread just to be sure :D ].

Well tuned BA IEMs just like any other well tuned IEMs sound good - probably focus is back on BAs as they are being used in run-of-the-mill IEMs as well and few of these youtube reviewers are new to this [as compared to tons of headfi.org threads with reams of review on these].

Even I started my music listening journey with portable audio - there was a time I used to think AIWA earpbuds are the best in the world [of course they were good]. Later tried Creative EP630 ->Soundmagic PL11[I think] -> Klipsch S4 - by then I knew what I dislike in music response the most. Klipsch had this sibilant response on some of the music types. And of course it was impossible to try and buy IEMs at that time. Finally got myself UE TripleFi 10 3 way BA IEMs. This was the time when TF10 were regarded as budget champions among much expensive BA based IEMs. At that time the major competitor for them in that budget was Sen IE8s. So far I've liked what I listen on TF10 combined with my Cowon S9 [I know it's ancient by current standards :D and I don't listen to portable audio so much now due to Home/Car Audio]. The one thing you can't complain about them is bass response! There is plenty of low end response from this IEM. I think they are available now in 4 BA avatar.
 

greenhorn

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I am sort of a laggard in the audio side. when others were buying CX300's in the early 2000's, i had to wait till 2006 to get the ep630 once it came to india. BA's seemed all hype, and the first BA i got was the xiaomi, which was sometime in 2017. If you go by my sig. I will not even consider something unless they go into the tremendous value category. If you go by the hype on headfi - these things are supposed to be as good as the megabucks IEM's from 5-10 years ago, and are a very recent development.

At this point i am not looking for a razor flat response or a Faithful Harman curve reproduction. all I am asking for is the low end of the XB 50 ($30) and the highs of any of the entry level CCA's ($15ish) inside $100. I have enough knowledge and experience about crossover design to know that it can be done, and with not much expertise ( at least to the level current chinese IEM's deliver - with all the peaks and valleys).

My only theory right now is that this has more to do with market segmentation - the basshead demographic is served with cheap DD's, and most of the target audience for Hybrid IEM's is more in the audiophile side who are looking for flattish (and not the beats/fun signature).

My tastes in music benefit from a more plebian tuning. I tried to change my taste in music to appreciate these audiophile tuned headphones, and that sucked.

I went through the same experience with headphones too. I spent my money on some pretty fancy (up to $400!) headphones(including B&W, V Moda Crossfade, 1 More triple driver), only to find that a Skullcandy crusher/sony XB950 series was the closest fit to my tastes. Maybe I am the swine in front of these pearls :)
 

all4music

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Hehe, I've read enough of your threads to understand how meticulous you are in planning your audio set-ups and learned from them! :)

Coming to VFM headphones, KOSS KPH30i s are rated really high - so it's absolutely what one likes is what matters. Probably that's why we indulge in DIYs though it's little difficult to do it in portable audio.

My only theory right now is that this has more to do with market segmentation - the basshead demographic is served with cheap DD's, and most of the target audience for Hybrid IEM's is more in the audiophile side who are looking for flattish (and not the beats/fun signature).
Not sure how is the response on these new BA IEMs. New Samsung Buds+ too have dual BAs and sound quite warm to me.
 

greenhorn

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Coming to VFM headphones, KOSS KPH30i s are rated really high - so it's absolutely what one likes is what matters. Probably that's why we indulge in DIYs though it's little difficult to do it in portable audio.
Agree on that. I have both Porta pros and KSC75. I tend towards the porta pros - and those are good enough, especially with their collapsible headband (at least until my hair grows back on my head from my covid special tonsure)
 

narayan_s

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BAs have the advantage that they can be individually tuned with acoustic filters/waveguides and acoustic chambers (example CA IEMs), along with crossovers different BAs tuned for specific bands can in theory (and practically as well) do better frequency response (match closely an FR target curve)

Dynamic drivers on the other hand may not be as easy to tune but in reality far from impossible.

BAs have another advantage, that is off the shelf parts, most manufacturers source the same drivers models from Knowles/Sonion and others so there is cost savings involved as well.

DDs are said to be tonally more coherent and do better in low end, not just the quantity but the quality of the low end, BAs still seem to do low end faster but they do not sound as weighty as DDs in general ( exceptions exist and more and more examples of that these days)

Hybrids combine the best of both if done well.

Besides these 2 today we also have piezo drivers, planar (yes in IEMs) and Sonion electrostatic drivers all four of these in various combinations exist as hybrids as well.

DDs also have kept on evolving with unique materials being used such as organic membranes, carbon, Beryllium coated, paper and even wood diaphragms (case in point the JVC Wood series)
 

SachinChavan

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So, this sounds like an equivalent of the speakers situation - full range vs multiple drivers. Is it?
 
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greenhorn

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So, this sounds like an equivalent of the speakers situation - full range vs multiple drivers. Is it?
No i think this is more like AMT vs dome tweeters - what is the best technology for a transducer. Most people agree that the dynamic drivers are the best for a particular value, though there are a wonderful variety of technologies from AMT to electrostatic to plasma discharge. but ultimately everyone agrees that for the value range, DD are hard to beat.
 
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