what is a headphone amplifier used for

what is a headphone amplifier used for

Today, music is extra accessible than ever and in more and more wealthy audio codecs. Gone are the times of struggling to unearth a top quality MP3 from no matter respected downloader you’ll find on-line. Now, all one has to do is join a prime music streaming service to select from a myriad of audio codecs — from primary MP4 recordsdata to the outstanding high quality of lossless tracks and spectacular Dolby Atmos sound-staging. The one factor left to fret about is the kind of headphones you’ll be utilizing to expertise these high-quality tracks.

Whereas a top-rated pair of wired headphones can go a great distance in enriching your listening expertise, there are methods to push your chosen pair even additional. That’s the place a headphone amp comes into play.

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In the event you’re studying this text, you in all probability care loads about your wired headphones, and now you’re questioning in case you can enhance their efficiency with a headphone amp. The quick reply is: Sure. Relying in your headphones, there’s likelihood a top quality headphone amp — or a headphone amp/DAC (digital-to-analog converter) — can breathe new life into your music. However what’s a headphone amp? How does it work? Extra to the purpose, how a lot does an honest one value? We’re right here to reply all these questions and extra.

What’s a headphone amp?

A headphone amp is a comparatively low-powered amplifier that raises the low-voltage audio sign from a supply machine (be it a turntable, PC, or smartphone) to a adequate degree such that it may be transformed (or transduced) into sound waves by the audio system inside your headphones. It really works just like the amps used to energy full-sized audio system however operates at a decrease scale.

What’s a DAC?

Most fashionable headphone amps additionally embrace an digital element known as a DAC (digital-to-analog converter). A DAC’s job is to transform digital audio data right into a low-voltage sign that an amplifier can, effectively, amplify.

DacMagic DAC with connected headphones.

Analog parts like a turntable or tape deck don’t want a DAC – they already put out analog low-voltage indicators — however digital audio units like PCs, smartphones, iPods, or tablets want each a DAC and headphone amp so as so that you can hear sound by means of your headphones.

Why do I want a headphone amp?

All these digital units we simply talked about have already got a DAC and headphone amp constructed proper in — that’s why you’ll be able to simply plug your headphones in and listen to sound. Why, then, would you want a separate element?

Sadly, the standard of these built-in parts varies significantly from machine to machine, and subsequently, so does the sound high quality. A MacBook Professional has an honest DAC and headphone amp built-in, so it sounds … respectable … however many laptops, just like the previous Dell Inspiron N5110, for instance, have very low-quality DACs and headphone amps, so that they sound fairly dangerous. The identical goes for telephones: Some sound horrible, some are respectable, and a few — just like the LG V60 ThinQ — sound very good.

Frankly, in case you don’t have a good-quality pair of headphones (learn: higher than a pair of $30 earbuds), you gained’t profit from a headphone amp. However as the standard of headphones will increase, so does the potential good thing about utilizing a headphone amp.

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Does anybody want a headphone amp? That’s questionable. However would possibly you need one? In the event you dig nice sound, the reply is a convincing sure.

Impedance (aka, the numbers recreation)

There are additionally sure sorts of headphones that actually do want a headphone amp to perform correctly: We name these high-impedance headphones. Impedance refers back to the resistance of {an electrical} sign, and is measured in ohms — the upper the impedance, the extra resistance a pair of headphones or audio system will give to {an electrical} sign.

For headphones, impedance can fluctuate extensively, from round 16 ohms on the low finish to as excessive as round 600 ohms. Usually, the upper the impedance, the extra amplification energy is required to drive the headphones, and the extra seemingly a headphone amp could be helpful. In the event you’re curious in regards to the impedance on a pair of headphones, you’ll discover it within the handbook or specs part on-line.

Basic headphones just like the high-end Sennheiser HD800 (300 ohms) and the cheaper however famend Beyerdynamic DT990 (600 ohms) have been initially designed to be used in listening rooms and recording studios with highly effective audio gear. Subsequently, a headphone amplifier with extra voltage than what’s obtainable inside the typical smartphone is required to get these headphones to play at desired quantity ranges and carry out correctly. Trendy designs similar to Audeze’s LCD-3 (110 ohms) and LCD-4 (200 ohms), which use planar magnetic drivers as a substitute of extra conventional dynamic drivers, additionally require the facility of a devoted amp for optimum efficiency.

Not all high-performance headphones are high-impedance, power-hungry monsters, although. As our audio sources have reduced in size, headphone designers have adjusted. New know-how makes high-performance headphones with low impedance doable, and these work effectively with low-power units. Philip’s SHP9500 and the beforehand talked about Beyerdynamic DT990 are nice examples.

Audeze Sine headphones connected to MP3 player.
Greg Mombert/Digital Tendencies

Most in-ear headphones — which naturally make the most of smaller drivers that require decrease voltage — additionally usually work positive with moveable units.

Whereas there aren’t any laborious or quick guidelines, in case your headphones have an impedance of, say, 50 ohms or increased, a headphone amplifier might be a good suggestion — we’d think about you to be within the want camp. In case your cans are beneath 32 ohms, they’ll work positive with just about any client audio machine. With that mentioned, you possibly can nonetheless be within the need camp.

The sound high quality quotient (i.e., the sign path)

Mostly referenced in skilled audio circles, the sign path — or sign chain — refers to any and all parts that make contact along with your audio sign. In our case, that seemingly features a digital supply, DAC, amplifier, a pair of headphones, and at last, your ears. The upper the signal-path high quality is, the upper the sound high quality shall be. Although you’ll be able to’t substitute the final cease on the record (but), the remainder are all in play.

When matched up with good headphones, high quality amplification can do some very cool issues.

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You will have landed right here to find out about headphone amplification, however we’d be remiss if we didn’t level out that the DAC is an especially essential cease on the nice prepare audiophile. The DAC is a crucial portal between you and your sound as a result of it modifications the sound information from digital data — easy code consisting of 1s and 0s — into electrical present. The higher that transference level, the higher the sound.

High quality amplification may enhance sound high quality for just about any pair of headphones from across the $100 value level up; principally, any mannequin constructed for sound high quality over colorways and cute designs. When matched up with pair of headphones (and DAC), high quality amplification can do some very cool issues. It could actually lend kind of coloration to the sound as desired. It could actually make the sound clearer and extra balanced, or on the opposite finish, hotter, richer, and smoother. A superb headphone amplifier may have an effect on the sound in different methods, together with isolating the present working contained in the machine to restrict crosstalk (interference between stereo channels), which might muddy up the top product.

Shure SHA900 headphone amp connected to headphones.

The most effective amplifiers and DAC options create a purer, clearer, and fewer distorted sign. The higher the sign that reaches your headphones, the higher your sonic expertise shall be.

What sort of headphone amp/DAC ought to I purchase?

OK, so that you’ve determined to pony up and purchase your self a devoted amplifier or amplifier/DAC combo. Which means it’s time to money out that Apple inventory, proper? Not essentially. There are a variety of how to up your headphone recreation, at a variety of value factors. We’ll undergo just a few to assist get you began.

Going cellular

There are all kinds of high quality cellular headphone amp/DACs to select from. On the excessive finish (although they go a lot increased) are merchandise like Shure’s wonderful SHA900, which might push just about any pair of headphones you’ll find (as much as 600 ohms), gives versatile enter connection and four-band parametric equalization, and high-resolution digital audio help at as much as 24-bit/96kHz. If the $1,000 asking value is simply too wealthy to your blood, there are additionally way more reasonably priced choices just like the $60 FiiO A3, which will get excessive marks from reviewers and may push headphones from 16-150 ohms.

DAC assault

A relative newcomer to the headphone amp recreation, the USB DAC/headphone amp or DAC stick is likely one of the best methods to enhance the sound immediately out of your laptop’s USB output. Whereas they require a laptop computer to take them on the street, they signify a supremely easy and reasonably priced solution to elevate your signal-chain recreation. Our favourite at current is the DragonFly Crimson, which prices $200 and is claimed to have the ability to drive just about any pair of headphones you’ll be able to throw at it, even the “lowest effectivity” fashions like these referenced above. There’s additionally the DragonFly Black ($100) to your medium- to low-impedance cans. Another choice we like is the Cambridge Audio DACMagic XS, which may also run you round $100 or much less.

Desktop determination

The desktop headphone amp is a staple within the trade that shouldn’t be missed. Whereas typically dear and ponderous, these units are something however outdated or model for true audio followers, and plenty of signify the very best solution to take your every day audio to the following degree. There are far too many sorts to stipulate right here, however we’ll go over a few options that stand amongst our favorites in the intervening time.

Headphones connected to headphone amp.

Our earlier selection, the Oppo HA-1, provided a wholesome mix of digital and analog options for unimaginable performance. Sadly, it’s not obtainable (except you’ll find it used), as the corporate went belly-up. Fortunately, there are many different prime contenders available on the market. One nice choice is the RME ADI-2. Constructed from the bottom up as a formidable DAC and headphone amp, the ADI-2 comes loaded with digital optical and coaxial outputs, analog RCA outputs, an onboard Line Out EQ monitor, and an Excessive Energy headphone output for delivering the ADI-2’s ultra-refined sign on to your favourite audiophile headphones.

The Kenzie tube headphone amplifier.
The Amps & Sound Kenzie Headphone Amp. Invoice Roberson/Digital Tendencies

Our different choose is the decidedly old-school cool Kenzie tube headphone amp from Amps and Sound. These glowing tubes on the highest will pull in loads of admirers, whereas additionally completely outlining our level about sound coloration. Illustrating our earlier level about colorization, the place the Heritage amp is fizzy and vibrant, the Kenzie is hotter, richer, and smoother. One of many few choices on our record that isn’t a DAC/amplifier combo, the Kenzie sources analog sound out of your most well-liked output, and is subsequently dependent upon your DAC. The sound can also be a shade noisier than extra fashionable amps, together with the Heritage. Even when related to a primary headphone output, although, the Kenzie brings magic to your combine, and will get critical consideration from these with a terrific pair of over-ears.

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