Magnetic vs. Electronic LED Driver Difference

10 Differences Between a Magnetic vs. Electronic LED Driver

Lighting can transform a commercial space and help you create the right ambiance to attract your ideal customers. The hard part is choosing the most suitable LED driver for your business. With the growing wealth of options on the market, this decision only gets more challenging. After sifting through them, you will likely narrow your choices to a handful of magnetic vs. electronic drivers. Before you can decide between them, you'll need to understand the main differences between the two.

What Is an LED Driver?

An LED driver is a self-contained power supply that converts alternating current into direct current specifically for LED lights. It regulates voltage and current to ensure the LEDs maintain constant light output. Businesses use LED drivers to account for the fact that LEDs operate on much lower voltage than regular lights. This allows the installer to "step down" the voltage in place of using transformers.

Types of Drivers

There are two main types of drivers: magnetic and electronic. Magnetic drivers, also known as inductive drivers, use transformer technology. They're large and heavy and have an efficiency rating of around 85%. Because they don't use any semiconductor components, they're more resistant to extreme temperatures.

On the other hand, electronic drivers are smaller and use semiconductor technology, making them more efficient. Their efficiency can climb to 95%. They're also better at dimming than magnetic drivers. However, they're not as resistant to extreme temperatures and usually can't handle as much power.

What Are the Main Differences To Consider for an LED Driver?

Now that you have a basic understanding of both options, take a closer look at 10 key differences to keep in mind.

1. Complexity

Magnetic drivers generally have a more simple design than electronic drivers. Because the magnetic driver design uses transformer technology, it is more resistant to extreme temperatures. Semiconductors do not work as well in extreme temperatures.

Complexity can affect maintenance or your ability to make simple repairs. It could also introduce complications during the installation process if you choose not to hire a licensed electrician. Note that some areas do allow unlicensed contractors to handle DC power. Check your local laws before proceeding.

2. Reliability

Magnetic drivers are more reliable than electronic ones, especially in extreme temperatures. However, the difference is mostly negligible. One benefit the magnetic driver has is that it usually gives warning signs before it dies out. Electronic drivers emit subtle signs that you might miss until they stop working.

Reliability also obviously affects your repair and maintenance schedule for an LED driver. The more reliable the driver, the less time and money you'll spend on upkeep. This could save you money long-term.

3. Size

Magnetic drivers tend to be larger than electronic drivers. This difference shows up most when you compare high-power options. An electronic driver is on average about 60% the size of a magnetic driver and can be up to three times lighter.

If space is limited, an electronic driver may be the better choice. However, unless you plan to install these lights on a mobile application, the size and weight generally do not matter as much.

4. Start-Up Time

Magnetic drivers usually take longer to start up than electronic drivers. This difference can be as long as several seconds, which may not seem like much but can be crucial in some applications. For example, if you're using your lights for security or emergency purposes, you'll want them to come on as quickly as possible.

Start-up time can also affect your energy bill. Lights that come on more quickly use less electricity overall. Not surprisingly, this negatively impacts energy efficiency for the magnetic LED driver.

5. Power Efficiency

Magnetic drivers are slightly less power-efficient than electronic drivers, with an efficiency of 10% less than their electronic rivals. This difference may not seem like much, but it can add up over time, especially if you're using a large array of lights and leave them on for long periods.

Efficiency is a big selling point for many businesses. These are several reasons you might decide to prioritize power efficiency above other factors:

  • Operational costs are high and you are looking for ways to reduce utilities and other overhead expenses.
  • You want to reduce your carbon footprint and your environmental impact.
  • You have taken green initiative steps for your business and consider it central to your business operations and marketing material.
  • Your company operates in a jurisdiction that has required corporations to reduce their energy consumption.
  • Your company operates in an area that experiences rolling blackouts, which makes it crucial to minimize power consumption when on backup power.

6. Power Capacity

A magnetic LED driver can handle more power than an electronic driver. Consequently, a magnetic driver may be the better choice if you have a high-power application. Examples of such applications include:

  • Outdoor advertising and signage: Billboards, street signs and other large displays need a lot of light to be visible from a distance.
  • Stage lighting: Concerts, theater productions and other events that use special lighting effects often need more power than a standard indoor light can provide.
  • Security lighting: Lights intended to deter criminals or provide illumination for security cameras should be brighter than a typical indoor or outdoor light.
  • Factory and warehouse lighting: Visibility is a crucial element of safety, so these applications need more light than a traditional indoor or outdoor light can provide.
  • High Bay lights: These specialized lights are commonly used in industrial settings, such as factories, warehouses and parking garages.

7. Dimming

Both LED driver types are appropriate for dimming applications, but electronic drivers are better at dimming than magnetic LED drivers. If you need to control your LEDs' light output, an electronic driver is an excellent solution.

Some business owners successfully set their lights to get brighter in sync with natural lighting to reduce consumption or improve effectiveness. For example, LED strips might only provide mood lighting throughout the day but become brighter as the natural light fades in the afternoon and later.

8. Cost

Business owners often find that magnetic drivers cost more than electronic drivers. However, that depends on the seller. It's also vital that you compare apples to apples and look at the specific features offered. For example, electronic drivers at HitLights cost more than magnetic drivers but have the added benefit of being waterproof.

LED driver cost differences can add up and often determine the final purchasing decision, especially for high-power options. However, considering cost alone can limit your capabilities substantially. Also, you must account for your overall business goals, compatibility with your existing structure and the intended application.

9. Applications

Magnetic drivers are typically used in industrial settings, while electronic ones are better suited for residential or commercial use. The ability to manage more high-power applications is likely why commercial enterprises tend to prefer this driver.

Magnetic drivers are also better at withstanding extreme temperatures than electronic ones. Consequently, they provide excellent compatibility with high-temperature environments.

10. Voltage or Input Frequency Range

Magnetic drivers tend to have a narrower voltage or input frequency range than electronic drivers. This means that they're not as versatile and may not be able to work with all types of devices.

Consider the following scenario: You have a device that uses a 120-volt power supply but need to use it in a country with a 220-volt power supply. If you use a magnetic driver, you'll need to find one that can handle 220 volts. If you use an electronic driver, you won't have to worry about this because most electronic drivers can automatically convert the voltage.

What Else Do You Need for Your Dimming Lights?

Once you've chosen the right LED driver for your business, you also need a dimmer switch. This will allow you to control the light output of your LEDs. There are a few different types of dimmer switches, so be sure to choose one compatible with your driver.

Finally, you'll need LEDs. Choose high-quality lights that provide the options you need for the intended purposes. 

How Do You Choose the Right LED Driver for Your Business?

Both magnetic and electronic drivers have their pros and cons. When deciding which one to use for your application, consider the critical factors for you and your business. Work with the heads of various departments to ensure you prioritize the essential needs and compromise where necessary. For example, the finance team might prefer more efficient electrical LED drivers, but the operations manager might like the high output of magnetic drivers.

Sometimes, comparing a specific LED driver for sale against another can make it easier to narrow down your options. Check out the HitLights store for dimmable drivers.