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Headphone Amps: What Are They & Do You Need One for Your Sound?

by Ann Ferguson

Has this ever happened to you? You're all geared up to listen to some awesome tunes, maybe even the latest album of your favorite artist, but instead of grooving, you keep hearing crackling sounds. Or maybe you can barely hear the music even with the volume on high, so you can't jam as loud as you want to.

If you have wired headphones and this has happened to you, you're missing something — a headphone amplifier! Unsure what that is? Don't worry; we'll go through what it is and how it'll help improve your sound!

What is a headphone amplifier?

Headphones connected to amp

A headphone amplifier, also known as a headphone amp, does exactly what it sounds like — amplifying the sound of your headphones. It's a small device that sits between your music source and your headphones and boosts the audio signal so you can hear it better.

Technically speaking, a headphone amp is a low-powered amplifier that transduces low-voltage audio signals into sound waves. They work just like your basic amplifiers that power full-sized speakers but on a much smaller scale. However, they come in multiple sizes and types, from integrated modules to standalone devices.

What are DACs?

DAC device

Most headphone amps have DACs, digital-to-analog converters that convert digital audio files into an analog signal that can be amplified. The DAC lets you directly connect digital sources like your laptop or phone to the headphone amp. But you won't need a DAC if you're listening to analog components like turntables or tape decks (after traveling back in time).

Most digital devices, like PCs, have their own built-in DACs, but they're usually of poorer quality. Good thing you can easily bypass the lower-quality DAC built into your device by connecting your headphone amp to an external DAC for better-quality sound.

Types of Headphone Amplifiers

Headphones connected to big amplifier next to turntable

There are two main types of headphone amplifiers: portable and desktop. Portable headphone amps are small enough to fit in your pocket and usually operate on batteries, so they're great for use on the go. Desktop headphone amps are larger and need to be plugged into an outlet, but they offer better sound quality. However, there are other types to consider, including:

  • Analog: features one or two analog inputs, volume control, and a headphone jack. These require AC power and work ideally if your audio system doesn't feature a headphone jack.
  • Computer Audio Only: comes in two types, one with a USB connector that plugs into the computer and a standard mini headphone jack, while the other needs a USB cable with it and features separate volume control and a full-sized headphone jack.
  • Multiple Audio Inputs: offers a combination of USB audio input for computers and smartphones, analog audio in, and digital audio in. These amps are usually battery-powered or portable, have outputs capable of driving a power amp and can connect to every component in your system.
  • Streaming: these amps let you add network streaming by pulling audio files off a network without being physically attached to the computer. These amps let you stream from a smartphone.

Do you need a headphone amplifier?

Musician grooving to music

Now comes the important part: do you need a headphone amplifier? The answer differs, especially since all digital devices have a built-in amp and DAC. But the reason why you'd get a separate one is for one reason: better sound quality!

If you want to improve your sound quality and have better control over your headphone volume, then a headphone amplifier is a great solution! But if you're still on the fence about it, see if any of the following reasons apply to you. If so, a headphone amp could be a worthwhile investment!

  • Headphone Volume Control: If you find yourself constantly adjusting the volume on your device because it's either too loud or too soft, a headphone amp can help solve that problem. Plugging your headphones into an amp gives you more control over the volume, so you can set it once and forget it.
  • Sound Quality: If you're using lower-quality headphones or are unhappy with your music's sound quality, a headphone amp can help improve that. Amps can make your music sound fuller and richer and help reduce any crackling or static noise.
  • Using Higher-End Headphones: Some higher-end headphones require more power to work properly, so if you're using them without an amp, you might not get the full benefit of their excellent sound quality. Plugging them into an amp can help ensure you receive the best possible sound from your expensive investment!
  • High-Impedance: If your headphones have an impedance level of 50 ohms or higher, a headphone amp will help your headphones function properly and make up the resistance levels.

If you have in-ear headphones or wireless headphones, you most likely won't need a headphone amp. But if you have an audio system with HiFi gear, a headphone amp will help boost your sound.

Find Your Sound

Do any of these reasons apply to you? If so, it might be time to invest in a headphone amplifier! But first, make sure your headphones and audio system are tip-top. If not, check out the sweet sound you've been looking for at Decker & Sons!

Have any questions? Please give us a call or stop by! We'll help you with the audio setup of your dreams!