High Impedance vs Low Impedance Headphones

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Updated June 27, 2022

If you are new to the world of personal audio, you may look to compare high impedance vs. low impedance headphones. Also consider checking out wireless vs wired headphones, too. Some of the best headphones, after all, include one of these specifications. So what is impedance in relation to headphones and what are the differences between these two types? Keep reading to find out.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • High impedance headphones are built to connect to high load impedance audio sources like preamps, due to built-in electrical resistance.
  • Similarly, low impedance headphones are built to connect to low impedance audio sources like smartphones and tablets.
  • Some headphones allow for impedance adjustments on the fly, to outpace integrated output impedances.

What is Impedance in Headphones?

When you refer to impedance, you are talking about the relative electrical conductivity. This is not the same as radiation in Bluetooth vs wired headphones. So with headphones, low impedance models match to low impedance audio sources, like phones and turntables, whereas high impedance models match to high impedance audio sources. Impedance matching is important when pairing audio devices, even if you are comparing headphones vs speakers. Or, when comparing studio vs audiophile headphones and gaming headphones vs studio headphones, which can have low or high impedance depending on the brand and model.

Differences Between High Impedance and Low Impedance Headphones

There is no real difference between the two regarding audio quality, so the primary difference refers to audio compatibility, though compatible audio devices certainly impact audio quality. You can check the compatibility among the pair that we tested: Audio Technica M50 vs M50X. Also, impedance matching transcends all headphone models, even if you are comparing noise-canceling earbuds vs headphones.

Insider Tip

Multi-impedance headphones do tend to be more expensive than either low or high-impedance models, so take that into consideration.

Audio Source Compatibility

As previously suggested, impedance matching is the primary function of a pair of headphones’ impedance specifications. Low impedance headphones typically integrate best with portable devices like smartphones, tablets, and dedicated MP3 players. These low voltage devices match nicely with the relatively low voltage available to low impedance headphones. High impedance headphones need a lot of power to successfully reproduce audio, so they work best with professional audio devices like preamplifiers and related items of stereo equipment.

Volume

Generally speaking, high impedance headphones naturally produce less volume than low impedance headphones, relying on preamps and the like for a much-needed volume boost. However, this is not always true, but true in the majority of cases.

Headphone Amps

If you really want to maximize your volume level and sound quality, invest in a headphone amp, especially if you need great headphones for a guitar amp. These pieces of professional audio technology feature an audio driver that gives a boost to high impedance devices, or low impedance cans in some cases. They aren’t always the most portable solution, but some modern headphones include integrate amps.

Multi-Impedance Headphones

Some modern headphones also allow for multiple impedance settings to match nearly any associated audio device. These headphones typically allow users to switch impedance settings on the fly, low impedance when using your smartphone, and high impedance when attached to a preamp and professional speakers.

F.A.Q.S

Which impedance best suits my situation?

Headphone impedance truly depends on your audio source impedance, so try to match the impedance load to output impedances for the best experience.


Why are professional microphones all low-impedance?

Similarly, low impedance headphones are built to connect to low impedance audio sources like smartphones and tablets.


How to choose the best headphones?

Choose based on sound quality over the load impedance level. Also, look for a decent transient response, plenty of headphone outputs, and an overall comfort level.


STAT: The impedance is measured in ohms which often range between 8 to 600 ohms, depending on the model of the headphones. However, the impedance ranging between 20-40 ohms is said to be a decent choice for casual music listeners. (source)

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