What Is A Headphone Amp and Do You Need One?

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what is a headphone amp?

Amplifiers, in general, are used for a range of applications including to increase the power of your audio sources and ultimately give you a bigger, more robust sound. While amplifiers are pretty commonly understood in the home theater and audio market, they’re less understood when it comes to using them with headphones.

So, what is a headphone amp and is it something you need?

When Are Amps Helpful?

Let’s say you’re looking at the features of one of the best amps, which is the Chord Hugo 2 DAC headphone amp and wondering why exactly you need it, or what it might do for your listening experience.

Most people listen to music these days on a portable device like a smartphone, and since these devices are small, they have to ration how they use power. You might not be getting the power necessary for your headphones with your smartphone or mobile device.

If you have headphones that aren’t being filled with the sound, they’re going to seem not only quiet, but a lot of the musical elements such as a powerful bass are not likely to be present.

Basically, what happens with smartphones and similar mobile devices is that manufacturers put a priority on other features such as battery space, so they use low-quality amplifier chips or multi-purpose amps, and an external amp can offer better sound quality.

Power and Volume

We touched on this a bit above, but along with sound quality another consideration if you’re thinking about a headphone amp is the level of power and volume you hope to achieve. It can be tough for a mobile device to create the level of sound pressure that people want in their listening experience.

When you have headphones that have a low sensitivity and a high impedance level, they tend to provide the best experience when you rely on the power of an external amp.

Do Your Headphones Require an Amp?

Along with looking at the source of your music, the specs of your headphones can also help you determine whether or not you need an amp. If you use in-ear and earbud-style headphones you can probably go without the amp because this design is already inherently very efficient.

However, if you have large over-the-ear headphones which are the preferred product for music lovers and aficionados in many cases, you may find that you get a better sound quality and volume experience with an amp.

There are also some headphones that require you use an amp to get a level of volume that is even going to be listenable.

As a final note, if you use  noise-canceling headphones you’re probably not going to need a headphone amp. That’s because these headphones usually have a built-in amp that’s inside of them, and there wouldn’t be any discernible benefit that would come from adding an external amp.

So if you have over-the-ear headphones and you listen to music on a smartphone or even something like your laptop, and you want the best possible experience, you might consider an external amp.  

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