Are you an audiophile who always wants the best sound experience? Or a regular music lover who wants high-pitch and pure sound?
Your questions are pretty valid, and you have come to the right place.
In today’s world, getting quality music tracks is no longer a problem. Thanks to the number of streaming services we have, you no longer have to scout the web for a ‘manageable’ music track.
However, your digital music experience largely depends on your music player or gear.
If your headphones are not satisfying your audio cravings, then it’s time to buy a headphone amp. And in this post, we will guide you through what you need to know about a headphone amp and factors to consider before choosing one.
What does a headphone amp do?
Now, if you don’t even know what a headphone amp is, we’d explain it in simple terms.
A headphone amp is an amplifier. An amplifier increases the volume of whatever device it is connected to. In this case, we are talking about headphones. So headphone amplifiers improve the quality and volume of your audio, giving power to your cans.
In technical terms, your headphones produce a low-voltage audio signal. This signal can come from your phone, laptop, or TV. The amplifier takes this signal and raises it to an adequate level. At this level, it can now be transduced (or changed) into sound waves. The speakers inside your cans do this conversion.
Why do I need a headphone amp?
If you are a professional in the music industry, it becomes necessary to own a powerful and efficient headphone amp to enhance your audio performance.
More than that, here are 4 ways a headphone amp can help you:
Better Sound Quality
It’s no secret that amps increase the sound output of anything they are connected to.
People enjoy listening to songs on their phones better this way.
If you are a performer or producer, you can appreciate your art better with a headphone amp. Your phone or PC comes with its amp, but these are small and can’t carry powerful out-of-ear headphones the way they should.
Even if the amp on your device can support your headphone, the bass usually suffers. If it doesn’t get distorted at higher levels, it might be lost in the listening process.
Allow More Volume
Apart from headphone amps giving you better sounds than your headphones, amps also make your music louder. Instead of getting a speaker or woofer to play loud music, you could try out an amp.
Plus, if you’re in an environment where you can’t play tracks at high volume like a bus, you’d enjoy using these headphones.
Ease of Using Multiple or Huge Equipment
If you work with colossal gear or multiple audio pieces of equipment, then you know you need loud, quality sound. Depending on the model, a headphone amplifier allows you to work with multiple pieces of equipment at once.
Whether you’re a band working on a recording or a producer using large-scale equipment, you would find these headphone amplifiers very useful. With a good headphone amp, you can control the volume of your audio output, increasing and decreasing it as you like.
Deals with Muddy Sound
If you connect a headphone jack and hear a muddy or distorted note at high volumes, you need a headphone amp. Your speakers might sound this way because your headphones lack sufficient power or have a weak DAC. Your headphone’s sensitivity level might also be responsible for poor sound output.
As a rule, any headphone with a sensitivity rating less than 100 decibels (DB) requires no amplifier. However, those with a rating more excellent than 100DB need more power and therefore require an amp.
Also, your headphone’s amp might have some coloration, which makes the audio a bit unclear. In such a case, an amplifier also comes in handy as it helps minimize the coloration and gives you something clearer.
What should I look for in a headphone amp?
Between buying a headphone and a headphone amp, you should buy a headphone first before an amp. This is because an amp only assists your headphone, and a high-end amp wouldn’t do much for a pair of crappy cans. As such, you should always try to look for the best quality headphones you can afford.
After getting a headphone and deciding you need an amp, the next step is to look for a suitable amp.
Finding the best amp can be confusing. There are so many products out there that promise to give you value for money. However, don’t hope that your audio output will miraculously get better after getting an amp.
With that in mind, here are six factors to consider when going headphone amp shopping:
We will explain more about impedance later in this article. Briefly speaking, headphone impedance is one of the significant factors that reduce audio quality in headphones.
So, keep in mind that impedance is a vital part of your headphone specs; therefore, you should always be on the lookout for it.
Typically, it would be best to pair your headphones with an amp that has one-tenth of its impedance. For example, a headphone with 350 ohms impedance would go well with an amp of 35-ohm impedance.
Do you like listening to rock or heavy metal? Then it would help if you had an amplifier that gives a bass boost as these genres gave more bass.
With this boost, you can increase or reduce the bass as you want. If you’re listening to vinyl music, you might not even need an amplifier. This is because the vinyl tracks are in an analog form already and will be very clear.
This boost will come in handy for mixers who work with electronic or house beats as it allows them to vary frequency levels and appreciate their sounds better.
Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best. You might not need something more than $250 unless you have some powerful headphones or are a professional.
New audiophiles usually mistake expensive headphones for the best. Costly headphone systems come with more screens, more output, and more settings. Do you need these features?
If you have enough cash to spend, it’s best to get something above the low end. This makes sense because you may need something more sophisticated in the future. But it doesn’t mean that an amplifier that costs $150 won’t satisfy your audio cravings. This only means it might not give you a wide range of functions.
Think of headphone amps like phones. Sometimes, a higher price typically translates to higher functionality, but sometimes, a moderately-priced phone does everything you want.
If you’re into gaming, then you might benefit more from a gaming amp to improve your game’s audio.
These are pretty different from other amps because they come with better mic support and enrich voice output. They also offer a more immersive sound experience and are best for high-end gaming headsets.
Note that all the power a headphone amp has to offer will be available at a go. You want to know exactly how much power reaches your amp when listening. RMS (Root Mean Square) power is the exact power available for your headphones.
If you don’t find this stated on the user manual of your amp, you should look for a company that clearly states this. Don’t be deceived with total power, which is what some companies indicate on their specs.
The lower your headphone amp impedance is, the better it is for you. Yes, we’ve talked about headphone impedance earlier, but amp impedance is essential too. Technically, you can use The Rule of Eights to get the amp impedance value by merely dividing the headphone impedance by 8.
Check if this number is more significant than your amp impedance. If it’s not, congratulations, your amp and headphone are a great match! If your amp impedance is greater, you have to change the headphone amplifier. A low amp impedance means even for a variety of headphones. Your amp will deliver superb audio output.
Solid-state or tube
It’s easy to differentiate between both amps physically. While the former is popular and uses electricity to covert and transmit audio. In contrast, tube amps have a different way of working because the tube model uses giant, colored glass vacuum tubes to transmit sound.
If you want unique sounds, love classical music, and are big on customization, you would benefit from tubes as you can get different colors for aesthetics.
Solid-state amps give a cleaner sound and can hardly be customized physically. Typically, these types of amps are best for those who want an enjoyable performance.
What is a gain switch? A gain switch helps you control how loud your amplifier can get. Let’s put it this way: if you have a low gain, even if your headphone volume is at the loudest, it might not be ‘loud’ enough for you.
However, if you have a high gain, your headphone will be pretty audible even at low levels.
Many headphones come with a gain switch, so if you come across one that doesn’t, you should go for one that does. A gain switch will allow you to alter the sound the way you want and work with multiple headphones.
If you’re not all about details, then you can do without a gain switch. It won’t affect the overall quality of your sound.
Does impedance affect the sound of my headphones?
Yes, high impedance headphones might not give you that crystal clear sound you are looking for.
What is this ‘impedance?’
It’s the resistance of an electrical signal. More impedance means less sound quality.
So a pair of headphones might need an amp because they need more voltage than your earpiece because of their high resistance. This voltage cannot be provided by your phone or laptop because its battery doesn’t have much power. These devices are built to help you listen to music while doing something else like typing.
How do headphone amplifiers help impedance?
Headphone amplifiers take whatever current they find and use available voltage to power it. You’ll find impedance in ohms (which is the symbol for electrical resistance).
Generally, if your pair of headphones have an impedance of about 60 ohms or more, you might need to start hunting for an amp. Wired headphones usually have impedance anywhere from 16-600 ohms.
Is impedance bad?
However, impedance is not wrong: it makes the sound more precise and makes delivery more accurate. So if you have a pair of headphones with a high impedance but still deliver great sound, don’t trash it yet. Just add a headphone amp.
Do low impedance headphones need an amp?
No, low impedance cans do not necessarily require an amp. But, if you need more sound than you would get on your phone or personal computer, then you need an amp. Usually, low impedance headphones give you good quality sounds, as they do not require much voltage.
How do I know my headphone’s impedance?
If you’re not sure of your headphone’s impedance, check your user manual or look up the specs of your headphones online. Newer headphones, however, are now better than models made 20 years ago. Although some older high impedance headphones still have low impedance but excellent sound quality.
What is a DAC?
In recent times, buying separate DACs has become popular in some audiophile circles. If you’re confused about buying a DAC, let’s look at what it does first.
A DAC converts digital audio into a low-voltage signal. A DAC, also known as a Digital to Analog Converter, turns digital audio (which exists as 1s and 0s) into the signal that reaches your pair of headphones.
The headphone amp sends these electric signals and improves the frequency response. They become not just audible but clear as well. This signal, to your ears, is a song or beat.
Which is better: a DAC or headphone amp?
There are a good number of reasons you might consider buying a separate DAC.
The kind of DAC you need depends on the level of performance you seek and the device you use.
Firstly, you get to choose the type that matches your audio system instead of making do with the one in your headphone amp. Secondly, a DAC supplies you with all the power a high-resolution track needs.
For best results, buy an amp and a DAC instead of choosing between them. Since most wired headphones have DACs inbuilt already, you should buy your DACs and headphones separately to improve sound quality only if you’re looking for a top-notch audio setup.
Should I get desktop headphone amps or mobile ones?
There are essentially two types of headphone amps; desktop headphone amps and mobile headphone models. If you’re confused about which one to buy, let’s compare both and see what works for you.
Mobile headphones amps are generally cheaper than their desktop counterparts and deliver high-resolution sounds. They are also portable since they are targeted at smaller devices.
These portable headphone amps provide a decent amount of equalization but can only be used for one headphone set at a time. These portable amplifiers are most suitable for an audiophile on the go. Although, the wiring could present a bit of a problem on the move. In addition, they don’t require constant electricity as they are rechargeable and come with batteries.
These types are usually less portable, but they perform better than mobile amps. Audiophiles who have both digital and analog equipment can connect both types of equipment to a desktop or laptop amp with little or no hassle. Desktop or system models are great for those who work with two headphones or more simultaneously.
They put those who work with sound details, like mixers and DJs, in control of their performance. Desktop or personal computer amps have another advantage: they allow the segmentation of digital audio components. Also, they offer different outputs for different categories of people.
Is getting an amp for headphones worth it?
A true audiophile knows the benefit of having suitable electrical audio devices. These devices are either connected to a smartphone or a personal computer. Good sound needs to be heard with suitable devices to reach its true potential.
Imagine you couldn’t hear the beat or back up to your favorite song but just the lyrics. It would ruin the music quality. Industry professionals and audiophiles alike need every detail. Always focus on buying good-quality headphones. If you still need more quality, then get a portable amp.
You may never get to hear a beautiful recording in all its glory without a headphone amp. Nonetheless, you should not just buy any headphone amp. Be careful of those that are unnecessarily expensive, not portable or complicated. Some can get the job done for you while saving a whole lot of cost.
Can I do without a headphone amp?
Yes, you can do without a headphone amp, but only under certain conditions. Firstly, check the sensitivity level of your headphones. A higher sensitivity level means you get more volume and excellent quality even without an amplifier.
If you use earphones or AirPods, you don’t need a headphone amp because the sound quality and volume you get are usually alright for their size.
How about noise-canceling cans?
If you use noise-canceling headphones, you would barely find a headphone amp valuable because they come with their amps. These do their work well and prevent external connection devices from working with the device.
Typically, many Bluetooth headphones do not work well with headphone amplifiers, so check if your Bluetooth headset is compatible with an amplifier before you buy it. Alternatively, you can get a portable Bluetooth headphone amplifier for your Bluetooth cans.
Should I get a dedicated headphone amp?
No. Not everyone requires them. If you need to increase the loudness of your headphones, then you can do without a dedicated headphone amp. Also, if you use in-ear headphones, you don’t need a headphone amp. These would give you a satisfactory headphone output.
Thus, you should only get a dedicated headphone amp if you work with many studio equipments.
Headphone amplifiers are necessary for those who need to up their digital sound game. However, not everyone needs this incredible piece of equipment. Remember, there are no one-size-fits for headphone amplifiers.
You have to get one whose features work for you. The parameters listed in this article can help you narrow your selection to find an amplifier that matches your pair of headphones perfectly.
Cross-check the specs of your headphones, including their impedance and sensitivity, to determine if you would benefit from an amplifier. Headphone amplifiers would always boost your sound and help you enjoy every second of your favorite songs, even with speakers.
We hope this information guide you to select an excellent headphone amplifier for your need.