Quite a time, people do not realise the need of dedicated headphone amps until they notice their headphone is not as great sounding as when they tried them.
A headphone Amp is not always necessary, but they prove valuable and worth the investment for some headphones. This depends on multiple factors that we will see in subsequent sections of this article.
In this article, we will discuss it all and put an end to your doubt about whether or not you need a dedicated amplifier for the headphones that you have.
What is an amplifier?
An amplifier or amp is a unit used to raise a low voltage signal to an adequate and meaningful level where you can get something good from the signal. In this case, a headphone amp will take a signal from a low voltage device such as mobile and boost the signal up to levels where the headphone can sufficiently get enough power.
Put a low voltage device like a mobile phone or, in some cases, a laptop fails to offer enough power to some headphones. In these cases, the headphones fail to reproduce a good quality sound.
So, you might ask, how should I know if my headphones need an amp or not! The following section will guide you through this concern.
Is amplifier necessary for headphones?
At this point, we know the purpose of headphone amplifiers. Their task is to amplify the signal from the source so that the headphones can do something meaningful from it, and that is to produce a great sound level and quality.
High impedance studio headphones such as the Sennheiser HD series are power hungry. Such headphones beg for attention of an amplifier.
What is Impedance or headphone impedance?
Another essential term to mention is the headphone impedance. The impedance of your headphones will decide if they need an amp or not.
The term impedance means the resistance offered by an electric circuit to the current flowing through it. It is abbreviated as ‘Ω’ or ‘ohms’. A higher ohm value means that the impedance offered by the headphone is higher, and it needs a robust audio signal to drive a good sound quality.
Great! At this point, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. Let’s continue to get the entire picture here.
But, How to find headphone impedance?
You can look for the impedance of your headphones in the technical section of its box. Another thing you can do is to search online by simply typing ‘headphone name’ + impedance. Following this method, you will know the impedance level of your headphones.
After you have found the impedance of your headphone, then it is easy to know if your headphones offer high, medium or low impedance.
Generally, to keep it simple, we can classify impedance levels into three main categories. Refer to the table below, and you will know exactly what I mean.
|Impedance Range||Headphone Category|
|40Ω or below||Low Impedance|
|80Ω – 250Ω||Medium Impedance|
|250Ω or above||High Impedance|
So, back to our question, do you really need an amplifier or not?
It depends on two crucial factors. The first is the power offered by the pairing device to the headphones, and the second is the impedance level of the headphones. Both these factors combined will give you a clear picture of whether you need an amplifier for your headphones or not.
Now, let’s move down further, discussing this lane!
So, you might be wondering if your headphones need an amp unit or not.
Which headphones need amplifier?
All the headphones that offer medium or high impedance levels need an amp or amplification unit like an audio interface or other high powered devices to get them up and running to their full potential. The headphones having an impedance level of 80Ω or higher will benefit from a dedicated headphone amp.
A headphone amp will make sure that your headphones get enough juice all the times to keep them at their highest potential.
While you may not notice a big difference in sound quality and loudness of medium impedance headphones but you will be stunned by the work of amp on a high impedance headphone.
All in all, I recommend you getting a headphone amp for your high or medium impedance headphones.
Do you need amp for 32 ohm impedance headphones?
But wait, what about low impedance headphones. Do they require an amp?
Daily-use earphones or low-impedance headphones do not require an amp. They function correctly and to their fullest potential, whether you connect them to a common power source like a mobile or a high power source like a computer.
Does 250 ohm headphones need an amp?
If you want your 250-ohm impedance headphone drivers to reproduce the clean, authentic sound and make it work at its highest potential, you will need a headphone amplifier. The reason lies in the way these headphones are made.
Due to the fact that 250-ohm headphones offer high resistance, the lower voltage devices such as mobile devices do not have enough driving force for these headphones. Therefore, it becomes crucial to connect an amp in the signal chain.
Therefore, the industry-standard Beyerdynamic DT 770 studio headphone’s 250-ohm variant needs a dedicated headphone amplifier to get the driver to pump out robust sound.
Do headphone amps affect sound quality?
A good amplifier should not colour or affect the sound quality of any headphone. The task of an amplifier is to make sure that the headphones reach their full potential and reproduce sound as they were intended.
However, some amps, like tube amps, affect the sound quality of the headphones. It is pretty common when you connect headphones to an audio interface. The preamps of some audio interfaces colour the sound quality before it reaches the headphones.
However, if you need an audio interface with a clean preamp that does not colour or affect the sound quality of headphones, my go-to choice is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
Best budget headphone Amps
If you have decided to buy a high-quality budget amplifier for your headphones, let me make your work a little easier. After all, this is what I am here for!
In the previous section, we saw that an audio interface is equally capable of powering up your headphones as any other dedicated headphone amplifier. However, additional features come with an audio interface or a preamp that makes it suitable for home or a professional recording studio.
But, an issue you will face with an audio interface is portability, as they are a bit bulky and occupy decent space.
The other option is to go with a portable headphone amplifier. Such amplifiers can fit in your pocket, and because they occupy little space, you can easily carry them around.
One such portable headphone amplifier that I recommend is the Neoteck Portable 3.5mm Headphone Amplifier. This amplifier can easily cover up the impedance values upto 150 ohms meaning that it can cover medium and some high impedance headphones.
A great thing I love about this headphone amplifier is that it delivers clean power to your headphones. You will get crystal clear sound with no noise or distortion from this portable amp. Moreover, it fits right into the budget of any audiophile that wants to get the best out of their headphones.
How to use a headphone Amp?
Here is a pictorial representation of how you can connect your headphones and device to headphone amps.
Remember to keep the amp in the middle of the chain. It means that the headphones will connect to the amplifier and the amplifier will further connect to device.
Now, you know the reasons why headphone amps or headphone amplifiers are useful. We saw that only a few headphones that offer a high resistance or impedance need an amplification unit to get the best sound quality.
Connecting and pairing high impedance headphones with a low voltage source will not give satisfactory audio, frequency response, and sound stage.
Lastly, I hope that you found this article helpful. Do mention in the comments any additional information about headphone amps that this article may not include.