Do Earphones Made From Different Materials Sound Different?

With so many different earphones to choose from it is easy to miss that earphones are made from different materials. Do these different materials effect the way that the earphones sound?

Do metal earphones sound better than plastic earphones?
Do wooden earphones sound better than metal earphones?
There aren’t completely clear cut answers to these questions, but we can certainly help give you an idea of what to expect for each different material.

Manufacturers and marketing teams have a habit of putting a certain amount of spin on certain specifications and components of earphones. While you may sometimes see a reference to the main material used in the construction of the earpieces, it is normally purely from a cosmetic point of view. What they pretty much always leave out is what that material does to the sound of the earphones.

A quick look at earphones on any website or shop will show you that you can find earphones made from plastic, metal and wood. These all look quite different and feel different to the touch. On top of these obvious differences you will also find that they have quite distinctive sound characteristics.

Plastic Earphones

Plastic EarphonesEarphones made from plastic are typically cheaper than either those made from metal or wood. Because they are aimed at a lower price point, other sacrifices will have also been made during production. These sacrifices will typically mean cheaper audio drivers and cheaper, lower quality cable.

Plastic earpieces will be made by an injection molding process – where liquid plastic is injected into a mold. This is a very quick and cheap method which is ideal for mass production.

While plastics are quite tough and rigid, they are not particularly dense or solid. This means that plastic isn’t a great platform for any kind of speaker or earphone. Audio drivers work at their best when mounted in a sturdy, dense material. Used in this way, the plastic will vibrate with audio driver – working against it to a certain degree. Because of this the sound will be thinner and more artificial than the other materials below. Manufacturers often try to compensate by boosting frequencies internally in the audio driver. While this can give a better bass response, it often leads to an overall audio character that doesn’t sound like its completely joined together or whole. The mid range and top end also tend to sound over emphasized and unnatural – because of this you miss a lot of detail as well.

Examples of plastic earphones include: Sony EX50LP

Metal Earphones

Metal EarphonesAs anyone knows, metal is a lot stronger and denser than plastic – this makes it a much better choice of material to be used in the production of earphones.

Earphones made from metal can be made from one of two ways:

The more common method is for them to be machined from a single piece of metal – this is the cheapest method and works very well. However it does mean that the shape or design of the earphones will typically be quite basic – essentially some form of cylinder that fits onto the audio driver.

The second method is injection molding – much like the method used for producing plastic earphones. The issues here is that molten metal is obviously much hotter than plastic – this means that the molds themselves cost a lot more to make and the injection process requires very different equipment. Because of this, you will only see injection molded earpieces on high end earphones. The resulting earpiece using this method is very dense and solid given the audio drivers a great solid platform to work from.

The extra density of metal allows the audio drivers to do what they were designed to do. You will be hearing more of the driver itself and less of the material. This means that the sound will be crisper, tighter and punchier than with any of the other materials used. The sound will be quite natural with a good amount of bass & great detail. The mid range and top end will be nicely open with plenty of space and air.

Examples of metal earphones include: Ei8htball EX811, SoundMagic E10

Wooden Earphones

Wooden EarphonesDespite the obvious cosmetic appeal of wood, it also has some other benefits when used in earphones.

Wood falls somewhere between plastic and metal. You’ll find wooden earphones in the mid to upper end of the price range because they take a reasonable amount of work to make. The wood will be machined into shape, then possibly stained & finally varnished/lacquered. The Lacquer will add to the density and rigidity helping provide a firmer platform.

As wood is a natural material, it has an ability to vibrate in a harmonious way – in audio, this is a good thing. Wooden earphones will have a very natural sound across the mid range and the  treble will be a little softer than metal earphones. The bass will be deeper and warmer thanks to the wood – this has a little less detail than metal, but with it comes a glorious warmth that metal just can’t emulate.

Examples of wooden earphones include: MediaDevil EB-01, Acorn Audio E1

Choosing the Best Earphones Material

Here at Best Earphones Guide, we would always choose earphones made from either metal or wood. Wooden earphones tend to sound their absolute best when listening to real instruments – particularly acoustic instruments. If dance or electronic music is your thing, then you will be better off choosing a set of metal earphones. These will give you the tight punch and controlled bass that you need to get the best out of your music. Rock or pop listeners can go either way – you’ll get more bass from wood, but with a little less punch, the choice is yours.


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