Do I Need A Headphone Amplifier?
What is a headphone amplifier?
Simply put, every device that allows you to plug in headphones has an amp built in. The amp takes the audio signal and boosts it, allowing us to hear sound through the headphones. Amps don’t only boost volume; they can add and improve qualities like soundstage and separation. Adding an amp to a setup can also bring extra warmth or clarity. This all depends on the quality of the amp and how it has been designed.
The reality is that most people won’t need an external headphone amp. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t benefit from one, though. Smartphones are now a very common music source, and with the technology getting better and better, they do a decent job of delivering good quality sound to most portable headphones and earphones.
There are plenty of headphones designed to be used with mobile phones and other low powered portable devices. These headphones generally have a low impedance of up to 32ohm, and high sensitivity of around 100db, so they are very easy to drive and are more likely to go louder. Remember though: not only do amps add extra power but they can also improve the quality of the sound. So, once you start looking at higher quality headphones, improving your amp will start to make more sense as you will want to get the most out of them. No matter how good your headphones are, the sound quality will be limited by how good the amp is.
Choosing a headphone amp
If you’ve decided to go for a headphone amp, you now need to decide which one to go for. There are many to choose from, and they go for anything between £20 to £2000 and more. Amps can be split into two main groups: portable and desktop.
If you want to add some power to your phone or laptop, then you will want to look for a portable amp. These amps can be charged, and will run off batteries, making them ideal for using on the move. They are also small in size, and there are some out there (like the iFi Audio xCAN) which can connect to the source wirelessly using Bluetooth.
If you only use your headphones at home, or intend to use headphones that are particularly hard to drive, then you will probably want to go for a desktop amp as they are generally more powerful. Not only are they more powerful, they also tend to have a larger amount of inputs and outputs, making them very versatile. They will need to be plugged it at all times, so will need a power socket to work.
As amps can bring their own character to the overall sound quality, it’s worth making sure you choose wisely and pick an amp that will compliment your headphones. For example, if your headphones have a warm or bassy sound then it’s a good idea to go for a neutral or bright sounding amp. This also works the other way around; a warm sounding amp will complement bright headphones and help to balance the sound out.
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If you have any questions about choosing the right amplifier then please feel free to comment below! We’ll be happy to offer advice on this.