Audio-Solutions Question of the Week: When Should I Use A Headphone Amplifier For My Headphones?

Question: When should I use a headphone amplifier for my headphones?
Answer: If you are unable to achieve the desired level of volume from your headphones or feel they are not performing at their full potential, you may want to consider adding a headphone amplifier between the music source and headphones.

Many of the music players we are listening to today are portable, battery-powered devices. A battery-powered device will have certain limitations compared to its AC-powered counterpart. For example, a limited amount of voltage can be produced from the device’s batteries. This limitation may make it difficult to achieve the desired level of volume and/or may affect the overall sound quality. This is particularly true with higher impedance headphones, say a pair with an impedance higher than 100 ohms. A higher impedance version of a given headphone model will require more voltage to achieve a given volume level compared to a lower impedance version of the same headphones.

If your music player is a computer or tablet, and you are looking for a significant improvement in sound, you may want to consider an amplifier that is also a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), like our AT-PHA100. The converter employed in a good-quality headphone amplifier/DAC can provide markedly better performance than the less expensive, mass-produced converter found in most computers and tablets.

When to use a headphone amplifierWhen not to use a headphone amplifier

Do not use an external amplifier with active noise-cancelling headphones or any other type of headphones that contain a built-in amplifier.

Most in-ear headphones are high to very high in sensitivity. It should be easy enough to achieve the desired volume level. Please note, however, that low-impedance headphones, typically those in the 16 to 32 ohm range, will benefit from an amplifier with higher current output, as this will improve the damping factor (how well the movement of the driver in the headphone is controlled).

As always, if you have additional questions, please contact our Audio-Solutions Department for assistance.


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