Are Headphone Amps Necessary? 7 Reasons

If you’re someone who’s developed an interest in personal audio then chances are you’ve got yourself a brilliant headphone set. However, it’s an absolute shame that they won’t be used to their full potential. Unless you use an amplifier.

There are several reasons to use Headphone Amplifiers. The most notable of which are the following:

  • Your Headphones have High Impedance
  • You want to use your headphones on-the-go
  • Improve the audio performance of your headphones
  • Your device does not have a headphone jack
  • Improve the sensitivity of your headphones
  • Headphone Amps can boost the bass
  • Reduce the distortion on your headphones

If you’ve got wireless headphones then an amplifier might not be particularly necessary for you. However, if you have a high-impedance headphone or a more professional set up then Amps can drastically improve the quality of sound output you receive.

Related: How Long Should You Keep Headphones on Per Day?

What are Headphone Amps?

Essentially, a headphone amp is a relatively low-powered amplifier. Its primary function is to raise the low-voltage auditory signals that are sent from your device to a sufficient level.

Headphone amps increase the output strength of your everyday laptop, smartphone, or PC. This is important because for these signals to be converted into sound waves they require a sufficient amount of power.

You might have noticed that certain headphones will feel like they have drastically lower sound or volume, even though they are especially expensive or high quality. Then that means those headphones require an amp to allow them to access sound signals properly.

This functionality is very similar for headphone amps as it is for amps for full-sized speakers. This is why they can be especially necessary if you’re trying to raise your audio output to the next level.

Reasons why Headphone Amps are Necessary

As we discussed earlier the primary reason why you would want headphone amps is to improve the quality of your sound output and audio setup.

There are, however, multiple factors that influence this reasoning. We’ll be breaking down all the scenarios you’d want a headphone amp.

Your Headphones have high Impedance

What is Impedance?

Before we delve into understanding how headphone amplifiers can help improve the sound quality of your high impedance headphones, we first need to understand what impedance is precise.

Essentially Impedance can be understood as two separate things. The first is the output impedance that is derived from an audio source, which means your device of origin. The second is the load impedance which may be considered the impedance of the headphones you are using.

The Typical Range of Impedance

A typical headphones impedance is ranged between 8-600 ohms, with the standard impedance being at exactly 32 ohms. In most devices such as smartphones, laptops, and even most PCs the output impedance is typically very low. Less than 4 ohms.

Why is that so? This is because these devices usually have a limited amount of power that they can direct to listening and audio output from their overall battery core or power supply.

How Do Amps Help Impedance?

So what does a headphone amp do to improve this particular issue? Well, essentially the amplifier increases the output impedance of your device so that it is complementary to the impedance of your headphones.

This technique is known as impedance matching and is an interaction that occurs between the output impedance (the impedance of the device) and the load impedance (the impedance of the headphones). If the two values are complimentary then this increases the overall audio quality.

Related: Do Gaming Headsets Ever Go Bad? It Depends

You Want to Use Your Headphones On-the-go

While you might have a good powerful setup at your home or your office that allows your headphones to work at the best of their abilities. This might not be the case when you are traveling or when you are on the go somewhere.

Often you have to rely on subpar wireless headphones and headsets or if you’re moving to a new workspace then you won’t be able to make the most of your high-performance gear.

In these instances, it can be quite helpful to have a portable, easy to carry, headphone amplifier with you. These will allow you to connect between your device and your headphones even while you’re away from your home or office.

We’ve already discussed to a certain degree that headphone amps improve sound quality. But their portability also greatly increases their use factor. As they give you the freedom to listen where you want and how you want to.

Improve the Audio Performance of Your Headphones

We’ve hinted at this in the earlier sections of this article that an Amp will significantly increase the overall audio performance of your Headphones.

However, precisely how that comes about has still not been discussed. So in this section, we’ll be discussing just that with you in hopes that we’ll give you a better understanding of why Headphone Amps are so important in the first place.

How Does an Amp Improve Audio Performance

The main terminology you need to understand to figure out how Amps help Headphones improve audio quality is something known as Signal Path or Signal Chain.

What is Signal Path or Signal chain?

Signal Path or Signal Chain refers to any components that make contact with the audio signal as it is being transferred. In this particular instance, this means that the signal chain goes from the source to the DAC, to the Amp, to the headphone pair, and then finally to your ears.

What’s brilliant about this process is that the higher the signal path quality is the higher the overall quality of the sound will be.

Sound Quality Amplification

Amplification of the sound quality in this way can virtually improve audio output for practically any pair of headphones, they do not have to be of a specific type. Except for the wireless ones those cannot be helped because they simply do not operate using an external power source.

In most instances, the sound quality so drastically decreases that the audio sounds clearer, more balanced, warmer, richer, and even smoother.

Good Amps can also isolate currents inside of the device that you are using. This often limits or removes crosstalk altogether. What would have once muddied the final product, now turns it into clear, pristine, audio output for your listening pleasure.

Your Device Might Not Have a Headphone Jack

This might seem silly, but it happens more often than not nowadays. That your device simply does not have a headphone jack in which you can plug in to listen. So what do you do in such a scenario?

Well, there is quite a bit of solution to this particular dilemma. The first of course is that you get a USB adapter that allows you to have an audio jack, even on systems where they don’t have that.

However, these adapters are usually wasteful, as their pathways aren’t as clear and can cause issues maintaining audio fidelity. In these instances, an Amp is especially useful.

Not only do Amps not require the traditional Audio Jack to work, but instead they can greatly improve the output of your device as a whole. So not only will you receive the ability to use an amp as a make-shift audio jack, but it will increase the overall quality of our sound output.

Related: 7 Reasons Why Wireless Headphones Are So Expensive

Amp Increase the Sensitivity of Your Headphones

Two aspects that severely impact the level of volume of the audio on your headphones are going to be; your impedance and the sensitivity of your headphones.

What is Sensitivity?

In general terms Sensitivity, or some might even call it efficiency is the measure of a specific headphones volume at a particular power rating. Sensitivity is usually measured at a specific frequency, that being 1 mW of power.

These ratings usually range between 90 to 105 dB. Although some outliers might exist based on whether they are extremely sensitive or insensitive.

How Does Sensitivity Impact Audio Quality?

For highly dynamic classical music often the recommended dynamic range can drastically vary. This often means that less sensitive headphones will require a lot more energy to deliver the same quality and efficiency of audio quality.

To combat this issue we may use Amplifiers. Amps will generally produce more distortion as the power requirement increases, however, even so, they would be able to increase the sensitivity of the headphones and thus be able to make an overall crisper audio quality available to you.

It’s easy to understand then that if all other factors remain constant the more sensitive the headphones are, the louder their audio output will be. This means using Amps directly improves the quality of the audio output.

How Does Sensitivity Impact Audio Quality?

For many musicians and even casual music enjoyers the bass of a song is extremely important to them. This is because certain pieces of music are accentuated in their audio fidelity if experienced with headphones able to demonstrate significant bass output.

You will need to read the specs of your specific amp to ensure that it raises the bass of your headphones to your requirements. And ensuring that the systems are compatible is also necessary.

Nonetheless, it goes without saying that if you truly want to improve the quality of your audio or the music you listen to, then getting yourself an amp that boosts the bass in your headphones is vital.

Recommended Headphone Amps That Boost Bass

Although almost all Amps work very well to improve the bass quality of your headphones. Some amps are made a cut above the rest in this regard. We’ve compiled a handy dandy list of bass-specific amps for you.

We will provide more general recommendations for amps later in the article as well, but we believe these are of particular importance to people who care for bass over everything else.

The list goes as follows:

Each of these amps has several features and options that make them highly sought after. However, their ability to consistently improve the quality of your headphone’s bass is unmatched by any competitor brand.

Consider this list next time you’re in the market for buying some new bass-specific headphone amplifiers.

Reduce Distortion on Your Headphones

Let’s first understand what distortion is in the first place. Essentially, distortion is caused due to powerful signals that your device can’t cope with because they are too strong. If the audio signal passes a threshold level then it is found to be too high.

In these situations, you will hear very hoarse or distorted sounds in your headphones. Luckily there is a quick and easy fix that can solve this issue in no time at all.

You will be required to connect a dedicated headphone amp. The logic here is simple. The amp will give you more volume, due to an increase in the power of your headphones. Now if that were all this section would come to an end, however, there is more.

The main thing to remember is that depending on how good an amp you’ve bought and are using it will give you more or less power. With better amps, you will get more power, which in turn will give you less of a distorted sound at higher volumes.

Just what we need to ensure is that the negative effect of the distortion is mitigated.

Related: How Much is Too Much for Headphones?


If you’re convinced about getting a headphone amp then we’ve got the perfect recommendation for you. We highly suggest the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt.

The AudioQuest Dragon Fly Cobalt is certainly not a cheap piece of hardware, but its price is well worth the value that it adds to your home audio system.

Its impressive resolution and clarity far surpass any other amplifier on the market currently. And its hyper portability means that you will never feel like it’s a burden carrying it around with yourself.

Moreover, the device itself is compatible with smartphones, which means not only is it an excellent addition to your PC setup, but also a great addition to your smartphone audio setup.

With exceptional sonic precision, we are confident in this pick as a recommendation for your next headphone amp.

And that’s all there is to it. These were all the reasons you should probably get an amplifier for your headphones. We hope you liked our recommendations and found this article informative.

Let us know if we missed something in the comment section. Till next time! Ciao.

Audiophile Haven

AudiophileHaven is a site dedicated to Hi-Fi audio, and helping others learn more about premium quality sound equipment.

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