The HiFi audio industry is becoming increasingly mainstream and many new people are discovering it. The people just starting out in the audio space lack information regarding different audio equipment and their use.
One of the most repeated questions is what does a headphone amp do. This question has popped up many times in different forums and there seems to be a general lack of understanding regarding this topic by the newer audience.
In this article, we aim to provide an answer to this question and also touch on some other associated queries regarding a headphone amp but before we begin it is important to get a brief understanding of what an amp is.
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What Is an Amp and How Does It Work?
An amp abbreviation for an amplifier is an electronic unit that increases or “amplifies” the incoming audio signal. The role of the amplifier is to produce an increased version of the incoming signal without changing it completely. This may sound simple but we assure you that there is a lot happening in the electronics which brings about the amplification of the sound signal.
An amplifier works by raising the low-voltage incoming audio signal to a high-voltage audio signal sufficient enough to drive high impedance audio equipment like audiophile headphones and big speakers. In most audio amplifiers there are several sections. The two most common ones being a preamp and the main amp.
The job of the preamp is to convert the incoming low-powered signal from the source to a sufficient level that can be processed further. Then the signal is fed into the main amp and it increasing the signal further. This is how most audio amps work so now let us proceed to the topic at hand.
What Does a Headphone Amp Do?
There is a misconception in the audio community that the amp only boosts the volume of the headphones. While the amp does provide a boost in volume there are also other aspects of the amp so why not start with other different aspects and come back to the volume boost capability at the end.
The one aspect which many people do not associate with the headphone amp is the “good distortion” or the “coloration” like it is known it provides. The coloration is subtle tweaks in the sound frequency to provide a more pleasing sound. This can also sometimes round off the rough edges in some headphones without needing to EQ the whole frequency range.
Another important aspect of the headphone amp is the improvement in sound dynamics. With an amp, the audio has greater clarity and also more detail. The increase in detail makes the audio more lively. A headphone amp also helps in widening the soundstage of the headphone. The increased soundstage broads the sphere of the audio which better helps in distinguishing each of the components of the audio like the different instruments that are being played when listening to music.
Lastly, we come onto the most discussed aspect of the headphone amp that being the boost in volume. The boost in the volume is most prominent when you use higher impedance headphones. Due to the headphone having a higher impedance it is difficult to drive for most stock devices as they do not have enough power to pick complete signals. Therefore leading to low sound output. A headphone amp fixes this problem by running the headphone at their maximum potential, therefore, increasing the overall volume.
Do I Need an Amp for My Headphones?
The other question that is followed up after the previously mentioned one is whether do I need an amp for headphones. To identify if you need an amp or not simply bump the volume for your headphones to the max. If your headphones get extremely loud and punchy then you do not need an amp but if you struggling with the volume of your headphones then get a headphone amp.
Also, another factor to check is the impedance of your headphones. If you planning on getting an audiophile headphone chances are you will need an amp to go alongside them because most audiophile open back headphones have an impedance of over 100ohms. When you are in the 100ohms headphone range chances are you will need an amp sooner or later.
Another factor is the age of your device. If you are using an old phone or a computer chances they are not capable enough now to run the latest headphones so getting an amp is a reasonable idea.
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