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Comparison of Sound Powered Units
Balanced Armature units

(Please read the bottom of this comparison. It is very important)

Any unit on this list can be considered very usable on crystal radios

I used at least six of each of these units to get the best for their  brand and model.
In some cases I have used many more than six (as with the top three).
I cleaned them if nessisary, and recentered the armatures also if needed.

The top three should be considered fairly equal in usability.
However, if all units being in "top" condition, the following list would be my choices in their order.

Radio Corporation of America (RCA)  headset & handset elements (Big Cans)

US Instruments (USI)  (Big Cans) #A-260 UA1614 and handset elements

Western Electric (WE) handset & headset elements (sound powered)

Automatic Electric (AE) handset elements (sound powered)

Stromberg Carlson (SC, Strombergs) handset elements

Stromberg Carlson (SC, Strombergs) “Deck Talkers” “mic”& "ear" elements (HS-200U)

USI Model #A260 (newer model) Decktalkers,  Stromberg Carlson (same as USI Model #A260)

David Clark

DLR No5 S (DLR5's)

USI Type H200/U  # 702019-375

TMC Decktalkers 

ISC TelephonicsTA7A

RCA (small cans) Decktalkers

TA-1/PT field phone elements (various makers)

Dynalec  handset elements

Dynalec  headset  “mic” elements (HS-200U)

Western Electric D173312, Type O


Any unit on this list can be used on crystal radios, and are usually better than magnetic headphones


The following are sound powered units generally considered to be notably less efficient than the others for crystal radio use. They will, however, probably outperform any conventional magnetic headphone.

Western Electric D173465

Sound Powered Communications Co. (SPCC) handset

Wheeler handset

Dynalec  headset “ear” elements (HS-200U)


Not in this rating are the headsets made by Nathaniel Baldwin. They are indeed Balanced Armature units, although they are not considered "sound powered" units. First patented 1910 in Utah, they are some of the best of the vintage sets then and now.

Also note I have not rated most handsets at this time. so much depends on the housings that these elements are installed in. This makes it very difficult to evaluate them.

In general,

A unit that is in excellent shape might perform better than a higher rated unit that is in need of repair.

New old stock (NOS) might be better than one that went down with the ship!

Most sound powered units are better than magnetic headphones if the sound powered unit is in good working order.

It should be mentioned that old sound powered elements frequently need to be readjusted and cleaned to achieve working status or best operation. An element that has continuity but weak, distorted, or no sound, probably just needs servicing, but is otherwise OK. Always seek advice before tearing into them. Irreparable damage is disappointing, and will cost you your investment. 

Sound powered units are difficult to rate. They are subject to personal preferences, quality of construction, condition of units, and how easy it is to adapt elements into headsets. The above comparison is only a guide, and care must be taken in its use. This evaluation cannot be accurate 100% of the time, due to so many factors that affect these units. Of course, the most important factor is proper impedance matching of the unit to the crystal set. A proper matching transformer is a must for optimum performance of the unit. 

A special thanks for technical content and editing advice to Steve Bringhurst (baldy3823) in the writing of this web page.

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