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

The FiiO Q3 portable headphone amplifier with USB-C.
The FiiO Q3 moveable headphone amplifier with USB-C. FiiO

Headphone amplifiers are some of the maximum misunderstood merchandise in audio. They aren’t magical, and to the common individual, they’re not more helpful than a paperweight. However some stressed headphones in reality require a devoted amplifier to succeed in their complete possible, resulting in an implausible development in sound high quality. In case your fancy new headphones sound a bit of underwhelming, a headphone amp might be the repair you’re searching for.

What Is a Headphone Amplifier?

Consider it or now not, you’re already very aware of amplifiers. An amplifier is only a instrument that pushes an electrical sign to a speaker and reasons the speaker to vibrate. While you build up the amount for your telephone or computer, you’re permitting extra electrical energy to run from its amplifier to its speaker, forcing the speaker to vibrate extra and convey a louder sound.

Trendy gadgets use low-output amplifiers that don’t consume up a ton of electrical energy or burn via batteries. To make those low-output amps usable, maximum headphones and audio system have a “low impedance,” which means that supply little or no resistance to an electrical present and typically succeed in usable volumes with out a lot energy.

However some headphones and audio system, particularly recording studio or performance-grade apparatus, are “excessive impedance.” Those gadgets (rated 25 ohms or over) typically require a high-voltage audio supply to succeed in usable quantity ranges—that’s the place excellent headphone amps come into play. Headphone amplifiers use extra energy and push out a fatter audio sign than the amps in-built maximum telephones and laptops, enabling you to revel in your fancy headphones on modest apparatus.

In fact, those laws aren’t laborious and speedy. Some high-impedance headphones are delicate and require little or no wattage (which isn’t like voltage) to succeed in a excessive quantity. And whilst a couple of top quality headphones would possibly succeed in a fascinating quantity with a low-output supply, the restricted voltage may result in audio distortion, hiss, or a loss of bass.

All mentioned, headphone amps can toughen the standard of your track by means of bettering the functionality of your headphones. Maximum amps are “clear” and haven’t any discernible impact for your audio sign, even if some corporations promote amps that deliberately adjust a sign so as to add an analog “heat” that’s related to the sound of tape or vinyl (typically by means of slicing make a choice frequencies or including saturation with an old school vacuum tube).

Headphone Amps Are No longer DACs

The FiiO K5 Pro with USB and analog connectivity options.
The FiiO K5 Professional with USB and analog connectivity choices. FiiO

Many moveable headphone amps double as DACs or “digital-to-analog converters,” however DACs and amplifiers are two completely various things. As its title implies, a DAC takes a electronic sign and turns it into an analog electric sign on your amp and headphones. All electronic audio assets have a integrated DAC, so what’s the purpose in purchasing a brand new one?

Early electronic audio apparatus, particularly CD gamers and desktop computer systems, didn’t at all times have the most efficient integrated DACs. Fallacious shielding was once a not unusual drawback that resulted in staticy electric interference, and the low pattern charges of consumer-grade DACs may in reality distort the high-pitched sound of cymbals or hi-hats.

However those issues are non-existent these days—even the most cost effective electronics have “clear” DACs which don’t have an effect on audio high quality. And whilst audiophiles argue that on-board DACs aren’t fitted to lossless FLAC or WAV recordsdata, it’s very tough (if now not inconceivable) to inform the variation between a contemporary record encoded at 320kbps its lossless an identical.

Nonetheless, DACs aren’t pointless, and also you shouldn’t be afraid to shop for a headphone amp simply because it has a integrated DAC. Headphone amps with onboard DACs plug into your telephone or laptop’s USB port, enabling you to circumvent the tool’s integrated headphone jack—a not unusual supply of distortion or hiss. Some DACs even characteristic premade EQ settings and wi-fi connectivity, which let you form your sound or get a extra dependable Bluetooth connection whilst taking part in track on an outdated laptop or telephone.

Do I Desire a Headphone Amplifier?

The cheap and simple Behringer HA400---a great option for studio use.
The inexpensive and easy Behringer HA400—a really perfect possibility for studio use. Behringer

For the general public, headphone amplifiers are not anything greater than a pricey quantity knob and not using a noticeable impact on audio high quality. However headphone amps are incessantly a need whilst you personal a pricey pair of headphones, and they may be able to treatment some not unusual issues that seem when the use of the integrated headphone amp for your laptop or telephone.

Listed below are six causes to shop for a headphone amplifier:

  • Your headphones don’t get loud sufficient, lack the predicted quantity of bass, sound is distorted and hissy, or sound worse than a lot inexpensive headphones for your telephone or laptop. (That is typically an indication that your headphones are “excessive impedance” and feature an impedance of 25 ohms or extra).
  • Your telephone or laptop has an abnormally quiet or crappy-sounding headphone jack in comparison to different gadgets in your house.
  • The audio jack for your telephone or laptop is damaged and you want to circumvent it with a USB DAC.
  • You need so as to add analog “colour” or “heat” for your track (only a few amps do that, however they do exist).
  • You’re running in a studio surroundings and want more than one headphone inputs with unbiased quantity controls.
  • The quantity controls for your laptop suck, otherwise you’d favor to regulate quantity with a knob.

You don’t desire a headphone amplifier in case your headphones are functioning as anticipated, or in case you are the use of wi-fi headphones. Additionally, headphone amplifiers aren’t a alternative for full-sized speaker amps, even if they’ll lend a hand with Bluetooth audio system that sound too quiet in Aux mode.

Which Headphone Amp Will have to I Purchase?

Perfect Desktop Choice

FiiO K5 Pro AK4493EQ | 768K/32Bit and Native DSD 512 decoding Deskstop DAC and Amplifier for Home and Computer(6.35mm (1/4 in.) Headphone Out/RCA line-Out)

The FiiO K5 Professional is trendy, sensible, and flexible. It may connect with any audio supply via its USB enter, line enter, coaxial, or optical jacks. It additionally includes a 1/Four-inch headphone enter, stereo line-out jacks for audio system, a big quantity knob, and difficult switches to regulate achieve or turn between other audio assets (which comes in handy if you wish to use the similar headphones and audio system on your laptop, turntable, radio, and so forth).

Perfect Price

FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)

The small and easy FiiO E10Ok sits for your desktop and connects for your laptop by means of USB cable. It includes a handy three.5mm headphone jack and a big quantity knob. It additionally has a rear-panel line output and coaxial output for desktop audio system.

Perfect Transportable Choice

Reasonable and Extremely-Transportable

FiiO A1 Silver Portable Headphone Amp A1

The extremely compact FiiO A1 is the most cost effective approach to make use of your studio-grade headphones with a telephone or computer. It plugs into your audio supply with a three.5mm headphone cable and lines 4 non-compulsory EQ settings.

For Studio Enviornments

Behringer Microamp HA400 Ultra-Compact 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier,Silver

Behringer’s Microamp HA400 is an affordable and simple answer for musicians or podcasters who want more than one headphone inputs of their studio. It options 4 independently managed headphone amps and a 1/Four-inch audio enter that plugs into your present audio interface. This amp does not have a integrated DAC and can not connect with computer systems by means of USB.

For an Analog Sound

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