Do I need a headphone amplifier?
Well, here is something most people don’t know; it’s very likely you already have one!
Any iPod, smartphone, or portable music player has an amplifier built in. When people talk about buying headphone amplifiers, they are actually referring to an external device that can bypass your device’s internal amp section and hopefully improve performance.
The way you determine whether you will need an external stand-alone unit is the reality of whether or not you will see an improvement in sound quality over that standard inbuilt amp.
Essentially you want to provide your headphones or earphones with sufficient power so as not to sound distorted or muddy. This necessity is usually determined by looking at the impedance of the headphones. Additionally, if your internal amp section is known for adding coloration, you might want to replace it with something more transparent.
Headphone impedance explained
Headphone impedance figures are usually provided on the packaging or in the user manual for your headphones. There should also be a corresponding figure for an amplifier, and these figures are listed in a value of ohm’s ( Ω).
For several reasons, the best way to find a pairing based on impedance is to pair a headphone with at least ten times the Ω value of the amplifier being used. For example, a 300ohm headphone would pair well with a 30ohm Amplifier.
Is headphone sensitivity important?
The second important factor is sensitivity; this is one of the easiest ways to determine if your headphones or earphones will benefit from amping. Sensitivity ratings are commonly shown as DB (Decibels) levels per1mw (Milliwat) of power supplied.
Typically anything over 100DB at 1mw will be driven sufficiently to ample volume without needing an external amplifier. Some headphones, however, will need additional power to reach this 100DB figure and may require more MW to be passed through.
Other benefits of headphone amplifiers
Sure there is. Some amps come with various different connectors that may be of particular use to oneself. Another benefit many people like is the fact that an amplifier can often provide a physical volume control that will allow you to make very precise adjustments to volume. S
Some amplifiers offer features that allow you to alter the sound.
One feature I am very fond of on some of my amplifiers is the built-in bass boost. This can be especially helpful when using a relatively neutral set of headphones listening to rock; instead of changing my headphones to something like rap or electronic, I can just flick the bass boost on to feel a bit more in the low end.
What headphone amplifier should I buy?
Well, provided you have the necessity, it comes down to personal preference, but always choose the headphones first and then the amplifier. The headphones will make the most significant difference in the listening experience. The amplifier should be thought of as the icing on the cake.
You can spend thousands on a desktop setup or go for something like Objective 2 (02), which is a great place to start. You could also go portable and find something that meets your requirements for on-the-go listening or in a transportable rig.
Do your research and listen to what others say but when possible, always try to audition the gear yourself in person.
Are DACs and DAPs an alternative?
In recent years there has been a monumental shift toward audiophiles using integrated DAC and Amplifier units. Previously, they purchased just an external amplifier and each additional component as required. If you feel your DAC might be lacking, you can save money and space by buying an all-in-one integrated solution.
Another option that has grown in popularity is the DAP (Digital Audio Player). These are all-in-one solution that is basically iPods on steroids. This player supports many high-resolution file types and has higher than standard internal components than you would find on a smartphone. Again we have a list of the best high-resolution audio players to help you make a purchase.
WHAT is THE BEST HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER?
Buying a new amplifier for your headphones can be a bit of a daunting task. There are many options on the market. Some are good, but far more often than not, others are bad. The other frustrating thing is finding an amplifier that fits your budget. That is not easy. You definitely want the best bang for your buck.