The Benefits Of Headphone Listening For Audiophiles
Finding the best listening room and home headphones will greatly depend on your own tastes and desires, but the good news is that you can have an amazing listening experience for just a fraction of the cost of your big rig. Headphone systems for audiophiles are most often used as a way to get a superb listening experience in secondary locations, there are a couple of very good reasons to have high-end home headphone systems in your main listening room. Critically speaking, the most precise audio resolution is heard on top headphones. Speakers will always deliver the physical intensity of sound better; but headphones can offer listening isolation and a personal intimacy with the recording in a far more intense way than speakers. If you find yourself hearing things on your big home rig but can't quite make out the nuances, a simple check on reference headphones will make every subtle musical detail plainly apparent. The comment HeadRoom gets most from music lovers is that they regularly hear things on top headphones that they've never heard before on their $25,000 speaker system. The second reason that every audiophile should have a dedicated headphone system is to enjoy the ability to listen at times the big rig cannot be used. After all, we often must coexist with others who don't want to hear their music late at night or at the office. A superior audiophile headphone system delivers a private listening experience that's different than, but just as satisfying, as a giant room speaker system – and all without disturbing anyone else.
There are several ways to add a headphone amp to your rig via digital or analog connections depending on your source and whether you are using a DAC (either outboard or within your headphone amp). Analog connectivity: One method is to use the “tape out” of your pre-amp. If you already have something in your tape out, you can use RCA splitters to “Y” that connection, but always turn your tape deck on when listening to the headphones so that the input impedance of the tape deck is established. This connection has become less common over the years; if your pre-amp does not have a tape loop you can use the pre-volume control “line out” if one is available. Digital connectivity: If your headphone amp has an internal DAC or if you're using an outboard DAC, you can use the digital output of your CD player via optical or coaxial outputs and bypass the pre-amp for CD listening only on the headphone amp. You can hook up the headphone amp to an unused digital output on the disc spinner, or if your DAC and amp are separate components you can also use an optical splitter on the Toslink output to feed both your DAC and the headphone amp.
Do I need a Headphone Amp and/or DAC?
If you're serious about a dedicated headphone system, we strongly recommend a dedicated headphone amp. Whether or not you want the addition of a DAC, either integrated or an outboard DAC, depends on whether you have a digital source, such as a computer or CD player with digital outputs. To understand the benefits of a headphone amp, read our article “Why do I need a headphone amp?”