What is a Headphone Amplifier and Do You Need One

What is a Headphone Amplifier and Do You Need One

To achieve the optimal listening experience, most people only need a playback device, a favourite library of music, and a pair of headphones. While this basic setup is usually sufficient, adding a headphone amplifier can significantly improve the overall audio quality. A headphone amplifier is important for some people, but how can you determine if you need one?

In this article, I’ll go through headphone amplifiers in further detail, as well as why you should or should not buy one.

So take a seat and unwind because you’ve arrived at the right location!

This is not going to be a long post, but at the end of it, you should have a good understanding of what a headphone amp is, how it works, and whether or not you need one for your headphones.

The subjects I’ll be covering in this essay are listed below.

  • Why do you require a headphone amplifier?
  • When should you avoid using a headphone amplifier?
  • Differences in amplifier technologies
  • Explained Dacs
  • Matching headphones and amplifiers

Let’s get started without wasting any time!

What is a Headphone Amplifier, and how does it work

What is a Headphone Amplifier, and how does it work?

An amplifier is a device that simply boosts the volume of a low-voltage audio signal from a playback device (such as a smartphone, turntable, or home theatre) so that it can drive larger equipment. Amplifiers are typically used to power larger speakers or, in the case of concerts, to increase the volume of the equipment.

A headphone amp works on the same principle as larger amplifiers, although it is much smaller. The smallest headphone amp, the AudioQuest DragonFly v1.5, is about the size of a flash drive, while the largest are around the size of a PC DVD-ROM drive.

What Is The Purpose Of A Headphone Amplifier

What Is The Purpose Of A Headphone Amplifier

Most individuals believe that headphones are easier to drive than other equipment because of their size. After all, a pair of headphones is just a set of little speakers that don’t require much power. While this is true to some extent, it also relies on the type of playback device you’re using to power the headphones, whether it’s a smartphone, MP3 player, computer, or tablet.

You may believe that charging a set of headphones is simple, but a smartphone, tablet, or MP3 player will not be enough to power high-end headphones.

This got us thinking about why you’d need a headphone amplifier in the first place. You might require an amp if you use your headphones with your smartphone, MP3 player, tablet, or other portable playing device. Of course, this depends on a variety of things, but if the power flow to your headphones is insufficient to operate them, they will not go off like other gadgets and instead sound quiet, with certain components of audio lacking punch, such as the bass. As a result, if your headphones sound softer than usual, an amplifier can be the answer. You can also read this post for further information on how to make your headphones louder.

The power required to drive a pair of headphones is determined by the impedance rating of the headphones. Some headphones sound great (Best Headphones under $100) without the need of a headphone amplifier. These headphones have a low impedance. If you drive headphones at low power, the higher the impedance of the headphones, the lower the loudness and clarity of the audio.

So, what does impedance mean in terms of headphones?

The resistance of an electrical signal as a result of the voice coil of the headphone and the magnetic field coupling of the voice coil plus the magnet is measured in ohms (). Simply said, the higher the impedance of a headphone or speaker, the more resistance it will provide to an electrical signal.

The impedance of headphones can range from as low as 8 ohms to as high as 600 ohms in extreme cases. However, others, like as the iconic Sennheiser HD 424 at 2000 ohms, have outrageously high impedance values.

If you’re buying, planning to buy, or already own a headphone with a high impedance value, you’ll need an amp to get the most out of it.

Older headphones, including the DT880 at 600 ohms and the HD800 at 300 ohms, were designed to be used with high-powered audio equipment. Headphones with high impedance values will not play at the desired volume level without amplification, and the audio quality may suffer as a result. Headphone amps are also required for modern headphones like the Audeze LCD2C (70 ohms) and the Focal Clear (55 ohms).

However, high impedance levels are not found in all high-performance or high-end headphones. Headphone makers and designers have changed as more consumers use smaller audio sources such as MP3 players or cellphones. Great examples include HiFiMAN’s HE400S (22 ohms) and Phillips’ X2/27 Fidelio (30 ohms). Headphone impedance levels for in-ear headphones are often lower. It is compatible with the majority of portable media players.

For cans with a resistance greater than 32 ohms, I usually use a headphone amplifier. Any headphone that is less than this value will work perfectly with or without an amplifier. Aside from the power and impedance requirements, another reason to consider a dedicated headphone amp is to improve sound quality.

When a Headphone Amplifier Isn’t Necessary

When a Headphone Amplifier Isn't Necessary

Despite the fact that most people recommend using headphone amplifiers, there are specific scenarios where they will not make a substantial impact.

First, using active noise-canceling headphones or, in this case, any headset with a built-in amplifier, utilise an amplifier. Another situation in which a headphone amp is not suggested is when the amp is used with in-ear headphones that have a high or very high sensitivity.

In-ear headphones will be able to obtain your chosen volume levels with ease because to its great sensitivity. Low impedance headphones (16-32 ohms), on the other hand, would benefit from a headphone amplifier with a larger current output, which would help to enhance the damping factor.

DACs: What Are They and How Do They Work

DACs: What Are They and How Do They Work

Until recently, external DACs (Digital-to-Analogue-Converters) were a rarity, reserved for music studios and audiophiles. Every digital playback device (PC, smartphones, digital audio players, and so on) contains a DAC; however, what is a DAC and how can it help you?

A digital-to-analog converter (DAC) (see a list of DACs under $200 here) is a device that converts digital data (ones and zeros) into an analogue audio stream.
One might wonder why you need an external DAC when most devices have one built in.

But here’s the thing: not all digital audio converters are made equal. An external DAC decodes digital audio with greater precision than the one in your digital music player, providing a superior audio foundation for other pieces of equipment than a built-in DAC. If you add a headphone amplifier to the mix, you’re in for some excellent music listening sessions.

Fortunately, most headphone amplifiers come with built-in DACs, and if you want to upgrade your sound quality, external DACs are now readily accessible, and you can purchase one without much trouble.

Amplifier Technologies: What’s the Difference

Amplifier Technologies: What's the Difference

Tube amps, solid-state amps, and hybrid amps are the three types of headphone amplifiers. The type of sound you desire is a big factor in deciding which one to acquire. The most important thing is to try out each amp and see which one sounds best to you.

Tube amplifiers

Tube amplifiers, which employ vacuum tubes to handle audio signals from a play device, were one of the original innovations in amplifiers. The Bravo Audio V2 is an example of this sort of amplifier. Woo Audio WA7 or Feliks Elise MkII Tube amplifiers have come a long way and are still in use today.

Despite the drawbacks of tube technology, certain tube amplifiers still produce stronger and richer sounds than solid-state counterparts, but that is a matter for you to determine.

Solid-State Amplifiers

Solid-state amplifiers have become more widespread in recent years. Most people choose this sort of amplifier since it is smaller (portable), cheaper, and more reliable.

Despite the fact that current tube amps are portable, solid state amps are the best choice if you require a portable amp. The JDS Labs the Element is a good example of a pocket-sized portable headphone amp.

Hybrid Amplifiers

Hybrid amplifiers combine the advantages of both technologies. Normally, hybrid amplifiers rely on tubes to add colour and warmth to the music, and electronics to provide the necessary power to run them efficiently.

Matching Headphone Amplifiers

Matching Headphone Amplifiers

Which headphone amplifier should I use in conjunction with my headphones? This is the most common question asked before purchasing a headphone amplifier. There are a few guides that can assist you in selecting the best amp for your headphones, but ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

Impedance matching is one of the most crucial features to look for when purchasing a headphone amplifier. Amplifiers, like headphones, have an impedance rating that represents the inductance, resistance, and capacitance of the current generated by the headphones.

Matching the impedance of your headphones to that of your amplifier is critical for optimal performance. Selecting an amp with the same impedance as your headphones is not the same as impedance matching. The rule of eighths is a simple and quick approach to calculate headphone to amplifier compatibility.

This is accomplished by dividing the headphone’s impedance by eight. When choosing an amplifier, the value you get after the calculations is the estimated maximum impedance output you should seek for.

What happens if the rule of eights is disregarded?

I’m happy you inquired. The sound quality and frequency response may be affected in three ways. First, if the amp’s impedance output is considerably more than an eighth of the headphone’s impedance, the sound quality and frequency response may be affected. Second, electrical dampening (dynamic headphones) will have a greater impact on the overall sound signature of the headphone. Third, an unpleasant sound, usually a hissing sound, will become louder. With balanced armature drivers, this is extremely popular.

Final Thoughts


So, there you have it. I hope this post has helped you determine whether or not you require an amplifier and how to select one for your headphones. Please leave a comment if you appreciated the article. You can also ask me questions, which I will try to answer to the best of my ability.

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Sara Khan

About the Author: Sara Khan

For almost 5 years, I've been passionately blogging about headphones and audio technologies. Hundreds of headphones were tested and tried. Always on the lookout for the "best-value-for-money" headphones. Today, I'm more concerned with back-end content creation and technical concerns.

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