Neodymium Magnetic Drivers vs…

In the past few product reviews I’ve done, I’ve identified that the magnetic drivers in some headsets are Neodymium. I received many e-mails about this and a common theme was “what’s all the hype about Neodymium”. This post is designed to clear that up and provide information on the various materials used in speaker magnets (known as Drivers – don’t be mistaken for a software/hardware driver, as I once had someone ask me if they could just download the latest Neodymium driver).

What is Neodymium

Neodymium MagnetsThinking back to my chemistry days, I couldn’t recall the element Neodymium, so does it really exist? Surprisingly YES it does exist and it sits on the periodic table with an atomic number of 60.

Although it’s considered a ‘rare-earth’ metal, you shouldn’t think that it’s relatively rare to produce – they’re just not found by themselves, so someone just can’t go out and mine neodymium like they can gold or copper.

 

Periodic Tabling showing Neodymium

One of the largest characteristics of neodymium, is that it produces a large amount of magnetic force for its size, especially compared to other metals. In fact, they’re the strongest type of magnets in the world today, generating a force that is 8 to 10 times stronger than that of ferrite magnets.  This in turn equates to a much smaller magnet size being required to generate the same amount of magnetic force as other metals. As a smaller magnet is required, manufacturers are able to utilize smaller profile speakers that generate the same/better sound quality as traditional speakers, as well as utilizing lighter overall materials. For this reason, it’s extremely useful as a speaker driver where the final product requires a lighter construction (think headsets and earbuds), over a large sub woofer attached to your home theater system. Additionally,
when designing a very large speaker, weight is a considerable factor, so a manufacturer can utilize a neodymium speaker over traditional speakers and reduce the overall weight significantly (think of the professional speakers found in rock concerts and how much those would weigh if you had to use a traditional material like iron in order to generate the same magnetic force).

The downside to neodymium is that it’s very brittle and tends to shatter easily. Just take your pair of ear buds and swing them around till they hit a desk or wall and see how effective they are after a few hits against the wall.

Alnico Magnets

Alnico wafer magnetsAlnico speaker magnets are the originals.  Alnico itself doesn’t exist as an element, but rather is a blend of elements consisting of aluminum, cobalt, copper, nickel and titanium. Alnico magnets are extremely tough and durable and less susceptible to the brittle cracking with neodymium magnets.

Originally these were used over neodymium as the materials were readily available and far less expensive than neodymium. During the mid-1900’s a shortage of the materials required to manufacture Alnico drivers occurred and caused a rapid increase in the price of Alnico drivers. Consumers were not willing to spend money due to the increase in costs, so manufacturers looked for a solution and moved to ceramic (Ferrite) magnets at a fraction of the cost.

Ferrite Magnets

Ferrite MagnetsFerrite magnets are now the most common magnetic drivers found in speakers today with neodymium right on their heels.

Ferrite magnets are lightweight compared Alnico magnets and are by far the cheapest (affordability) magnet used today. Due to the price of these magnets, manufacturers can build a product for lower price points than similar products that use neodymium.

Aside from price (which in all honesty is the reason manufacturers use ferrite magnets in headsets), there is another little-known fact as to the differences between ferrite and neodymium. That difference is that neodymium will permanently lose its magnetic capabilities at temperatures above 80 degrees Celsius (176 degrees Fahrenheit), whereas ferrite magnets can be used between -40 degrees and 250 degrees Celsius (482 degrees Fahrenheit).

Now the downside with ferrite magnetic drivers is twofold – weight and susceptibility to cracking over lighter and stronger neodymium drivers. In order for a ferrite driver to produce the same level of magnetic force found in a neodymium driver, it would need to weight approximately 10 times more. Not that big of a deal with smaller headset drivers (aside from head and neck fatigue due to the added weight, as well as slipping down and off your ears over time), but when you’re looking at larger speakers found in home entertainment system and amplifiers for musical instruments, they’re just not that portable due to the weight. A 10lb speaker using a neodymium driver would be comparable to a 100lb ferrite speaker. That’s a significant difference in weight!

Samarium Cobalt Magnets

Samarium Cobalt MagnetsThis is the last type of magnet found in speakers today. Like neodymium, Samarium Cobalt is a rare-earth alloy made from a blend of samarium (Sm) and cobalt (Co).

You likely haven’t heard or seen Samarium Cobalt drivers in any of your speakers, due to the higher costs associated with them, unless you have outdoor speakers in your garden or on your deck.

Samarium Cobalt was first introduced in the 1970’s as the strongest magnet ever until the introduction of their neodymium cousins. It shares similar properties as neodymium in being significantly stronger than ferrite and Alnico but differs in it’s ability to resist corrosion and temperatures variations. For this reason, Samarium Cobalt magnets find their uses in aerospace, marine and military technology – not really designed for headsets, unless you wanted one that would work underwater.  Hmmmmmm…..

Summing it up – What this really means

For the audio and gaming enthusiast, the real difference between the magnetic drivers found in these headsets gets down to just two things – price and weight. To say a headset that features neodymium magnetic is better than a headset featuring ferrite magnetic drivers would be hard to ascertain. The neodymium model should likely cost more, but weight significantly less (comfort).  The ferrite model will likely weigh more but cost significantly less.

If at the end of the day you find yourself comparing two similar headsets and one uses neodymium and the price is similar, then go with the neodymium for that extra comfort.  Additionally, you might find headsets that use neodymium drivers are able to pack added features into the unit, due to the decreased size of the neodymium drivers. But for sound quality, they’re virtually identical.

One option where you might be interested in looking at neodymium drivers, aside from headsets is the power to weight ratio in vehicles. If you’re wanting to generate more horsepower with less weight, then selecting speakers for your vehicle made with neodymium drivers could substantially cut down on weight (honestly, we could be talking about a reduction of 50-100lbs in speakers alone), especially when you’re looking at adding woofers and sub-woofers, amps, etc.

13 thoughts on “Neodymium Magnetic Drivers vs…

  • August 8, 2018 at 11:51 pm
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    Hello Dave,

    This is fascinating! My husband has high quality headphones for gaming (I read your story on About Me…ha ha!). I didn’t need to hear all that either. I never thought about the details stereo or headphone drivers. I will have to show this post to my husband. He will be interested in this.

    The chemistry side is interesting to me as well. I also wondered whether neodymium was an element, thanks for answering that and explaining what all the other materials are.

    Reply
    • August 9, 2018 at 5:11 pm
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      My pleasure! Our son is looking to buy a new headset for gaming this winter and he’s definitely getting “educated” on what to look for.

      Reply
  • August 9, 2018 at 6:23 am
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    In everything I buy, I will pay the premium price to get what I want. Lightweight properties is important to me for a headset.

    The weight advantage for car stereos is important as well. The buyer need to weight their options. If you are buying a headset for kids, then that would men you need the durability over sound quality. Just the opposite for adults looking for quality of sound.

    You explained the difference and options very well. I am now enlightened on the options for magnetic drivers.

    Reply
  • August 9, 2018 at 1:21 pm
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    I’ve been using headphones almost everyday for the last year and I’ve never thought to check what they were actually made of until now! After having a quick Google of ‘Neodymium Magnetic Drivers’ I’m suddenly thinking ‘ah, so THAT’S what that bit is…’ and so on.
    I didn’t realize there was so much to it, so thanks for creating this great resource. Is there any practical application to this knowledge, like when your headphones stop working, or is it just fun to know?

    Reply
    • August 9, 2018 at 5:09 pm
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      Well, when you go looking to replace your headset or headphones, it’s important to know what kind of drivers the unit uses and what the pros/cons to that might be. Sure the model might be more expensive as it’s using Neodymium, but it also will be lighter than that other less expensive pair that uses Ferrite, which means far more comfort for you and less possible neck fatigue. What I’ve noticed is quality brands and headsets will make use of Neodymium drivers, whereas other manufacturers will use a Ferrite or other, less expensive driver to target a particular price point. Case in point – look at all the baby headphones – you can bet those are made with a cheap driver!

      Reply
  • August 9, 2018 at 4:47 pm
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    This was a great article. Never knew different magnets were used for speakers and this was very educational. Thank you so much.
    David

    Reply
  • August 9, 2018 at 4:50 pm
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    Neodymium drivers seem like something a premium brand like “beats” could utilize, due to the great quality to weight ratio. Could this also be utilized in earbud-type headphones due them not needing to weigh as much?

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    • August 9, 2018 at 5:05 pm
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      Hi Dan, you’re correct – all earbuds utilize a Neodymium driver.

      Reply
  • August 9, 2018 at 8:29 pm
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    Hello,

    I had absolutely no idea that there are magnetic in my speakers and headphones! This was a very helpful and informative article, and now I fully understand why my kid’s headphones are forever breaking!

    Reply
  • August 9, 2018 at 10:56 pm
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    Dave, this has opened a new world to me. My son keeps banging on about his gaming headphones and I didn’t realise to depth and complexities of them. Thanks for opening this up for me.

    Reply
  • August 9, 2018 at 11:20 pm
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    I’m going to come clean and admit that I thought Neodymium was some sort of made up marketing term for high end headphones. This article really helped me make sense of the difference between the drivers available on the market. I’ve been thinking of adding a high end pair of headphones to my birthday wish list so the information is greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  • August 10, 2018 at 10:37 am
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    I heard Samarium Cobalt Magnets in the lesson however I did not understand what it is used for fully. We have outdoor speakers and my brother always complains about the outdoor speaker as it does not provide enough volume. I will suggest he should try this magnet type.

    Reply
    • August 10, 2018 at 10:55 am
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      Samarium Cobalt resist moisture/humidity and corrosion the best, so in all speakers used in an outdoor environment, they “should” be using Samarium Cobalt. HOWEVER, that’s not always the case. A manufacturer could be trying to hit a lower price point (say $100 for a pair of outdoor deck speakers), yet all other outdoor speakers are twice the price. You think it’s a good deal and pick them up, only to find them dying within a year or two – likely because they’re using the WRONG type of speaker magnet and I’d bet, it’s completely corroded when you take them apart – thus horrible volume, frequency response, etc.

      Reply

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