Home » What Is a Headphone Amplifier, and Do You Need One?
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What Is a Headphone Amplifier, and Do You Need One?

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Are your headphones too quiet? Do you discover noise or crackling sounds when utilizing headphones with sure gadgets? A headphone amplifier is likely to be simply what you want.

What Is a Headphone Amplifier?

A headphone amplifier is a low energy amplifier particularly designed for on-ear or in-ear listening gadgets. They are available in all styles and sizes, from built-in modules to standalone gadgets. Like customary hi-fi amplifiers, most are solid-state however some use analog valves.

Monolith headphone amplifier
Monolith

There’s a superb probability that the system you’re utilizing to learn this text has a headphone amplifier in it, whether or not it’s a smartphone or a pocket book. This kind of amplifier is designed to drive the overwhelming majority of headphones, that are often known as low impedance headphones.

Why Might You Need a Headphone Amp

If you’re utilizing headphones with a selected system and you discover that the amount merely isn’t loud sufficient, a headphone amplifier can be utilized to spice up the sign and supply the next output quantity.

RELATED: Hearing Loss: How Loud is Too Loud?

One motive your headphones won’t be loud sufficient is that the built-in amplifier can’t present sufficient energy to drive them. Most headphones are designed with an impedance of fifty ohms or much less, which suggests they are often simply pushed by most small gadgets like smartphones and notebooks. The greater the impedance, the extra energy the headphones would require.

The sensitivity of your headphones additionally performs a task, since this dictates how loud your headphones can be (measured in decibels, or dB) at a sure energy stage (measured in milliwatts, or mW). If you purchase a pair of headphones you will notice these scores featured within the specs, however since most headphones are low impedance and designed to be used with on a regular basis gadgets, you’d be forgiven for not paying an excessive amount of consideration.

Sennheiser headphones sensitivity, power, and impedance compared

High impedance headphones are sometimes characterised by drivers that use thinner voice coils. Thinner coils are harder to fabricate since they use extra layers of wire in comparison with low impedance fashions. This means much less air within the windings of the coil and a stronger electromagnetic area.

Such headphones (just like the Sennheiser HD 660 S) are “tougher” to drive, which is the place headphone amplifiers often are available in. The result’s extensively thought-about to sound higher, with much less distortion in comparison with decrease impedance fashions. It’s not essentially a distinction you’re going to glean from studying an outline on the internet, so that you’re higher off heading to a hi-fi retailer and having a take heed to see for your self.

Sennheiser HD 600 S

High-end electrostatic headphones (typically often known as “earspeakers”) require an amplifier particularly for that kind of listening system. These headphones (just like the Mitchell and Johnson MJ1 and comparable Stax fashions) don’t use shifting elements like widespread fashions which depend on an electrodynamic coil however quite an ultralight movie. They’re extensively thought-about essentially the most pure and correct headphones you should purchase, however they don’t come low cost (notably if you issue within the worth of a superb amp).

STAX SR-009S
STAX

In different phrases, in case your headphones sound a lot loud sufficient and also you aren’t utilizing fancy in-ear screens or over-ear headphones, you in all probability don’t want a headphone amplifier.

If you’re discovering that your headphones are too quiet, you’ll should match their sensitivity (measured in decibels) and impedance (measured in ohms) with an appropriate headphone amplifier.

Different Types of Headphone Amplifier

The most typical kind of headphone amplifier is Integrated into most cellular gadgets, together with MP3 gamers, smartphones, and notebooks. These are designed to drive the most typical forms of headphones with an impedance of fewer than 50 ohms. Most fashions of headphones get a lot loud sufficient beneath these circumstances.

Some gadgets, like Apple’s 2021 16-inch and 14-inch MacBook Pros and a few high-resolution moveable audio gamers can drive headphones with greater impedance, however that is the exception quite than the rule.

Closeup of jacks and ports on a MacBook
Apple

There are additionally moveable headphone amplifiers which might be powered by batteries and designed to offer the next quantity output on the go. They could also be helpful in driving headphones with greater impedance, however they require extra area and battery energy which can be inconvenient. One instance is the FiiO A3 which is appropriate for driving headphones with an impedance of as much as 150 ohms.

Portable Headphone Amplifier

Many headphone amps additionally act as exterior digital-to-analog converters (DACs) along with boosting the sign. These are helpful for those who’re discovering that the DAC constructed into your system is producing undesirable noise or interference. Some of those exterior DACs just like the NextDrive Spectra X are ultra-portable and don’t require extra batteries.

NextDrive Spectra-X

Then there are standalone headphone amps designed for dwelling listening just like the iFi ZEN CAN, designed for dwelling listening use. These are to be paired with pricier, high-impedance over-ear headphones for a richer listening expertise. They take up much less room than the form of amplifier you’d use to drive loudspeakers, and so they’re probably the most budget-friendly methods of stepping into “audiophile” hi-fi equipment.

iFi ZEN CAN

Finally, there are additionally headphone amplifiers designed for studio use, with audio professionals in thoughts. These usually permit for multiple set of headphones to be related to a balanced supply, appropriate for producing and mastering music and different audio productions.

Wireless Headphones Don’t Need a Separate Amp

Wireless headphones and earphones have already got an built-in amplifier and DAC within them. Most headphones of this sort are purely wi-fi, so there’s nowhere for them to “plug in” and obtain a boosted sign.

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple

These headphones are designed with low-power Bluetooth audio in thoughts. They usually sacrifice audio high quality within the title of comfort, because the audio sign have to be compressed earlier than it leaves the system and makes its means wirelessly to the headphones.

Wireless headphone amplifiers just like the FiiO BTR3K do exist, however they serve a special goal. These gadgets add Bluetooth performance to wired headphones and earphones, offering a further enhance in sign and higher digital-to-analog conversion utilizing a DAC that’s superior to most built-in fashions.

FiiO BTR3K

You Probably Don’t Need a Headphone Amplifier

Most headphones don’t want a sign enhance, since most are designed to be used with low-powered gadgets like smartphones and moveable audio gamers. If your headphones are loud sufficient to your listening habits, you in all probability don’t want one. If you employ wi-fi headphones like AirPods or comparable Bluetooth fashions, you don’t want one both.

If you’re on the lookout for an audio expertise like no different, excessive impedance headphones and a superb amplifier provide a fantastic start line. You’ll have the ability to get an entire setup for lower than the worth of a high-end amplifier or set of audio system, and there are fewer variables like room acoustics to account for.

But extra individuals than ever are going for comfort over sound high quality, as they commerce wires for wi-fi applied sciences like Bluetooth. Check out our prime advisable wi-fi earbuds for iPhone and iPad. If you’re not prepared to chop the twine but, we’ve additionally acquired an inventory of our greatest headphones.