It is highly likely that your perception of an amplifier is based on its ability to boost the sound system's volume to blasting levels. And you may believe that having an amplifier is always great. However, it is not that simple. Here is everything that you need to know about headphone amplifiers to help you make a better decision.
What Are Amps?
Amps or amplifiers are devices that give you better control over the power output of your device. Not only that, but they also allow you to amplify the output as per your requirement. Generally, amplifiers are employed in systems where the sound generated is of rather low frequency, but the output required is large. Amplifier circuitry includes a DAC or a digital to analog converter that picks up the sound generator's power output, which is a digital signal, and converts it into a higher power analog output.
So why Do You Need a Headphone Amp?
Headphone amps are not as important to your headphones as the amplifier is too large for speaker systems. Headphones are generally made such that they draw high impedances and ensure that noises are filtered out and the sounds are at the right levels. A headphone amplifier may seem like something that you would want to have, but it is likely that you don't need it.
As stated earlier, amplifiers are used when the power of the incoming signal is significantly low for the output device, and hence the sound either becomes too low or inaudible. Usually, the devices that we use our headphones with are equipped with circuitry that helps us manage the volume. Moreover, most of the headphones are made to cater to only a specific power output. Providing more power than what is required may damage your headphones.
Usually, all you need is a good level of volume, at which the output is audible. Only a handful of people would want blasting sounds in their headphones, and they can use an amplifier to get that level of volume. However, there is a good chance that you may damage your hearing listening to such levels.
The only condition where you may need a headphone amp is when the device that is generating the sound is not producing enough power to convey the signals properly. This means that you are unable to enjoy the different intricacies of the sound that you are hearing. You can use a headphone amplifier to increase the output power and, in turn, listen to your desired sound clearly.
Bluetooth headphones are not connected through a wire. The sound signal is sent via Bluetooth, and the signal is analyzed and processed by the headphone circuitry. This circuitry is responsible for setting a power limitation on the output, which means it does not require an external amplifier. Even if you do not have the option of adjusting the volume in your Bluetooth headphones, the amplifying circuitry is at play when it comes to regenerating the sound signal received.
Similarly, noise-canceling headphones are also equipped with built-in amplifiers. The circuitry at play in these headphones requires the use of an amplifier to regenerate sound signals after removing the noise. Using an external amplifier along with these headphones can degrade the audio quality. If your sound sample has a noise in it, using an amplifier as an intermediary will enhance this noise, making the quality worse, and in turn, making it hard for the headphones to cancel noise.
It is important to note that most headphones are compatible with different devices that you may use them with. It is highly unlikely that they are made at a power rating that your device cannot produce. If such is the case, you may require an amp to cater to the power difference.
It is possible that you have a high-quality headphone that gives you the best sound quality, but the power output of your phone or a laptop is degrading the sound quality. A headphone amp can come in handy in such a scenario. You can use an amp to boost the output signal so that you can make the best out of your headphones.
The answer to the question, why do you need a headphone amp, then becomes dependent on what you are expecting of your headphones. If your headphones are ok and offer good sound, you don't need an amp. If you want to have a better experience of listening and you have the headphones that support such power levels, you can opt for the headphone amps.
What Difference Does a Headphone Amp Make?
Although we have somewhat covered the answer in the previous section, it is important to further elaborate on the sound difference that a headphone amp can make.
Amplifiers do make a significant difference in your output sound signal. Impedance and sensitivity of your headphones are the factors at play that either turn this difference into a good one or a bad one. If you have a high impedance headphone and you use an amplifier, you will have a far better sound experience than without the amplifier. Generally, the headphone impedance is kept at values below 50 ohms. However, high-quality headphones come with a much larger impedance which enhances the sound quality. Since the devices are made to cater to all sorts of different impedances, the output signal is not the best for your high-quality headphones. Using an amplifier can enhance your listening experience. However, in a regular headphone, an amplifier will not be able to make much of a difference.
Another factor is the sensitivity of your headphones. It is listed in the specifications of your headphones. If your headphones have low sensitivity, it means that they will require more power in order to generate the best quality sound. This much power may not be supplied by your device, and so you may need an amplifier. You can use your headphones without it as well, but employing an amplifier will result in a significant change in the sound quality of your headphones. However, you may also need to check the current ratings for your headphones. If the signal is amplified and so is current, there are chances that this will distort the sound and add noise to it. Both of which will ruin your listening experience.
Do Amps Improve Sound Quality?
Amps can enhance the sound quality. However, it relies on what kind of headphones you are using. As stated earlier, if your headphones have a high sensitivity and a low impedance range, the chances are that your sound quality will be degraded. However, if you use an amplifier with low sensitivity and a high impedance headphone, you will have great sound results.
Another factor that may improve the quality through headphone amplifiers is the inbuilt DAC in these devices. DAC helps in regenerating an analog sound signal. For example, your laptop can only send a digital signal through the electrical pulses to your headphones. The DAC will read this signal and then produce an analog signal which you can hear based on the information provided. However, DAC can do more than that if coupled with the right technology.
Similar to the noise cancellation headphones that utilize an inbuilt DAC, you can have an amplifier interface that not only amplifies the sound signal but also takes away the noise and distortion, producing a better-quality sound. Such DACs can overcome dozens of different sound issues from the source, and you can enjoy your sounds without any inconvenience.
The most significant improvement that can come from the amplifiers is the low-frequency sound response. Most headphones are not able to cater to these low frequencies, and often you miss out on the bass sounds. Even if you hear the bass, there is a lot of distortion. An amplifier can help your headphone by generating enough voltage levels to represent all kinds of different frequency changes.
Amps can be helpful if coupled with the right headphones. If the two are not probably selected, you may not be able to achieve the desired outputs. It is crucial that you study the headphone specifications and choose the amplifiers accordingly.