When Do You Need A Headphone Amp?

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Updated June 27, 2022

When do you need a headphone amp? It’s a question some people ask when they start to enter the market for high-end or studio headphones, but it’s not always clear if you’ll really benefit from them regardless of your use. The best headphones on the market are usually studio or monitor headphones, which are often paired with headphone amplifiers, but to answer the question for yourself, you’ll need to learn a few things about them first.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Headphone amps are necessary for recording and mixing engineers, but home recordists who often record with other musicians might also consider investing in one.
  • Consumer-grade headphones, even high-end models, always have gain, bass, or treble boosts built-in that make headphone amps unnecessary for high-volume listening.
  • Compensating for the lower output of monitor or studio headphones and allowing multiple users to individually monitor a sound source are the primary features of headphone amplifiers.

While learning about headphone amps, you may want to look into some common problems with headphones, such as headphones getting no sound when plugged in. You may also be interested in learning about various headphone types, such as wireless vs Bluetooth headphones.

What Does an Amp Do for Headphones?

A headphone amp is a power amplifier designed for use with headphones. The primary purpose of a headphone amp is twofold. The first is to compensate for the lower volume than studio or monitor headphones by amplifying the source audio without compromising clarity and without adding harmonic distortion. Secondly, they also allow multiple users to connect to the same audio source and have individual control over the volume in their headphones.

Insider Tip

Examples of non-audio professionals who might benefit from investing in a headphone amp include podcasters and Youtube content creators, where more than one person is frequently speaking.

What They’re Designed For

Headphone amps are primarily designed for use by audio professionals like recording engineers, sound mixers, and studio musicians. Increasingly, they’ve become a popular option for audiophiles who want the most accurate, high-fidelity listening experience possible with high-end studio or monitor headphones.

Studio or Monitor Headphones

Studio or monitor headphones, as they’re often called, are a class of headphones designed for the most accurate sound reproduction possible. Monitor headphones have what’s called a “flat and wide” frequency response, meaning they reproduce a wider range of frequencies than normal consumer headphones. Even more importantly, they do not have the gain boost or EQ boost (usually bass and treble) that most consumer models do.

This results in a much more accurate reproduction of audio, with a wider stereo image and little noise and distortion. However, the lack of EQ or gain boosts means monitor headphones are noticeably quieter than consumer models. Headphone amps allow for much higher listening volumes using such a pair of headphones without losing accuracy or clarity, making them invaluable for the recording studio.

Do I Need A Headphone Amp?

Even the most inexpensive two-channel headphone amps usually can’t be found for less than $125, so it’s crucial to fully understand their benefits to see if they’re worth the investment. After all, pairing them with $20 headphones would probably be a waste of a $125 piece of audio gear.

Investing in a headphone amp may be the right choice for you if:

  • You’re a recording engineer, studio musician, or other audio professional that needs headphones with ohms
  • You’re a home recording enthusiast who needs multiuser headphone functionality for tracking
  • You host a podcast with two or more co-hosts
  • You’re a high-end audio hobbyist looking to upgrade your listening experience.

Headphone amps are practically a necessity for audio professionals and certainly an excellent investment for audiophiles already using studio or monitor headphones. Still, they’re not a practical or necessary choice for the casual music fan.

Warning

Headphone amps can be expensive and aren’t a cost-effective or practical choice for most casual music listeners.

F.A.Q.S

What is the decibel scale?

The decibel scale refers to the ratio between the power output and decibel level (volume). For every 10dB you want to increase the volume of a signal, you need to output ten times the power. Conversely, for every 10dB you want to decrease the volume, you need to reduce power by 1/10th.


Do I need a headphone amp to DJ?

Generally speaking, you don’t need a headphone amp to DJ. Most DJs don’t use flat-response studio or monitor headphones, and many prefer the bass or treble boost present in many, even high-end consumer headphones, so the primary purpose of a headphone amp is obviated.


What impedance level on headphones requires an amplifier?

Most consumer headphones designed for listening to mobile devices or other casual use have an impedance of 35 ohms or less and will not require an amp for adequate volume levels. Professional high-end headphones with an impedance rating of 100 or more will definitely need one. Learn the big difference between high-impedance and low-impedance headphones here.


STAT: Prosumer-grade headphones typically have impedance levels between 35-and 100 ohms. (source)

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