How Do I Know if My Headphones Need a Headphone Amp?
Your headphones are part of a system that delivers audio to your ears.
Source -> Amp -> Headphones
Generally speaking, the system is only as good as its weakest link. If you have well recorded music stored on your iPod and full-sized headphones, but are relying on the power-limited amp in the iPod, you won't be driving your headphones to their full potential. Adding an amp between the iPod and your cans will provide a significant improvement.
So, the first rule is to try to balance your spending so that your player, amp, and headphones are roughly of the same quality.
You may have heard of a headphone's "impedance." Impedance is the combined resistance and reactivity the headphones present to the amplifier as an electrical load. High impedance cans will usually need more voltage to get up to a solid listening level, so they will often benefit from an amp, especially with portable players that have limited voltage available from their internal batteries. But low impedance cans may require more current, and will lower the damping factor between the amp and headphones. So while low impedance headphones may be driven loud enough from a portable player, the quality of sound may be dramatically improved with an amp.
The size of your headphone will give you some clues to whether an amp may be warranted. Most earbud and in ear headphones are typically very efficient and are less likely to benefit strongly from an amp. Many larger headphones will benefit, or even require, a headphone amp to reach listenable volume levels with portable players.
If you already have some headphones and you spent more than $100 on them, then you may want to consider an amp. A simple headphone amp like entry level Fiio Amp will help you get your money’s worth from your cans, and is an affordable entry to all the benefits of owning a headphone amp .
If you are listening to your music on a computer a headphone amp with an internal digital to analog converters (DACs) will dramatically improve your listening.
With a portable player, use a “line output” when available to drive a headphone amp. (You'll find an iPod line out adapter here. ) If no line out is available, use the headphone jack to send the signal to the headphone amp.
When Not to Use an Amp
In ear headphones, or earphones, have excellent sound quality and are very efficient, so they work well with an iPod or other portable player without an amp.
You do not need a headphone amp when using noise-cancelling headphones, as they have a built in headphone amp. It prevents an external headphone amp from delivering much, if any, additional benefit.
Learn about HeadRoom's Top Amps & DACs.