Can An Audio Interface Be Used As A Headphone Amp?

Creating an audio setup for each of your instruments and equipment can be a pretty difficult task. After all, there is so much to consider, such as the devices to use, speakers, interfaces, and much more. It is only natural to consider if you can use any of these devices for more than one purpose. So, can you do that with an audio interface and a headphone amp? 

In certain circumstances, you can use the audio interface as your headphone amp. This is because most of the interfaces will come with a headphone amp. However, you should note that this is not going to generate the same level of quality as an independent device. If you truly want professional sounding audio, your best bet is to use both of these devices. 

Whether you are an admirer of music, or someone who creates and produces it, you will find that these tools have a lot to offer. However, what you plan to do with these devices is what will help you decide if you need both of them. Keep reading through this article to understand their differences, how they work, and when you would need both of them to work. 

Is An Audio Interface The Same As A Headphone Amp?

It is a common misconception that an audio interface and a headphone amp is the same thing. However, one thing that leads to this confusion is that most audio interfaces do come with a built-in headphone amp. Therefore, in some cases, you can use an audio interface when you need a headphone amp. The only downside is the quality you get with this.

Let’s say you are just trying to improve the quality of sound you are listening to, and are considering a headphone amp. If you already have an audio interface, you don’t need to get an additional device to make this work. Remember though, that you will only get the clean quality you are looking for when you use a headphone amp directly. 

How Does An Audio Interface Work?

When it comes to recording and producing music, anyone in the business will tell you that having an audio interface is necessary. In simplified terms, the audio interface is a device that can take the data you input from your instruments and equipment, and then convert that into a format that your output device can understand, edit, record, or play. 

Let’s say you are recording from an instrument, or are singing into a microphone. In that case, the audio interface works to convert the analog sound signals into digital signals. This crucial step helps you keep your data in a format that you can then edit and then change. All you will need to do to make that happen is to plug in the instrument to the interface itself. 

One of the ways to understand the role of an audio interface is to think of it as a translator. It will take the language of the analog signals, and translate them into a language that your editing equipment can understand. This allows you to format the sound, apply effects, edit it, and create the kind of sound you need. That is why producers always need an interface.

We might think on the outside that music production involves simple recording, but it is often not as simple as that. You will usually need to tweak the audio files a lot more before they can sound professional. There is a lot of editing that happens with the raw data that comes through the audio interface, which makes it a sound worth using for recordings.

This is why the typical audio interface will have a lot of smaller devices that come with it. In fact, it even comes with a headphone amplifier. While some audio interfaces really do have all of the components at the best quality in the market, these are some of the costlier options, so you will most likely need other components to get the best sound results. 

Related: 9 Ways To Get Rid Of Background Noise On A Condenser Mic

Why Would You Need An Audio Interface?

After reading all this, it must be very clear that the biggest use of audio interfaces comes from those who record and produce music in a professional setting. This is a necessary part of setting up and recording music, so you will see most studios use this kind of equipment. Some people also use an audio interface when they are looking for quality sound.

Most people choose audio interfaces based on their ability to process input, rather than the ability to provide output. That is because this grants you the best chance to record audio that will allow you to create higher quality recordings. While some interfaces can be quite expensive, there are plenty of options out there for people on a budget. 

How Does A Headphone Amp Work?

Now, let’s learn a little bit about headphone amps, and what they do. When you look at the name of this device, it tells you all you need to know about its function. A headphone amp works in a relatively simple way. The idea is to take a signal, and then boost it. As a result, you will then be able to play the signal through the headphones you are wearing.

A headphone amp is something you will find built into a lot of other devices. In most cases, studio-grade headphones may also come with such a device. Aside from this, even phones and laptops and computers can have them built-in. However, these usually cannot give you the kind of amplification that a dedicated headphone amplifier device can do.

The reason why so many people choose to get a headphone amp is that these devices are able to deliver amplification on a whole other level. These devices can give you a higher quality of the sound, but it does come at a cost. 

Why Would You Need A Headphone Amp

In the earlier sections of this article, we talked about how an audio interface usually does have a built-in headphone amp. So why would you need to get another device to do the same thing that an audio interface can already do? In most cases, people choose to get a dedicated device if they want an even bigger boost to the audio quality. 

One circumstance where this may be necessary is if you are recording with someone, and they need to listen to the playback track while they play their instrument or record vocals. In professional settings, you will almost certainly need a headphone amp, so that you can capture the sound at the best quality available. 

Recording isn’t the only reason you may want to purchase a headphone amp. Some people will get an amp just because they want to listen to audio at the highest possible quality, and so they can use their headphones to the best of their capabilities. Generally, this is the core benefit of using a headphone amp – to improve the quality of sound when listening.

Related: Can Headphone Amps Power Speakers? Important Facts

Could I Need Both A Headphone Amp And Audio Interface?

You will be most likely to need an audio interface and a headphone amp when you are in the process of recording or producing music. The need for both devices becomes even more pronounced when there is a lower quality headphone that you use for this purpose. Or, you may need both when you are using input that is at lower volume levels. 

With all of this being said, not everyone who has to record music will have to use both. In fact, a lot of people who record music in at-home studios will do just fine with an audio interface. There are some drawbacks of this, for example you may see some noise coming into the sound. When the volume goes up on an audio interface, this problem can come up.

One of the other places where you will feel the need to use headphone amps is when there are many people who need to use headphones. For example, if you are recording a podcast, a headphone amp will help the volume stay in perfect control and quality for all of the people who are recording the audio. You can even set separate volumes for different people.

To boil the entire section down to one thing, here is what you need to understand. When you are looking to get the best possible recording, you need to use an audio interface. However, when you are looking to get the best possible audio quality to listen to the playback, a headphone amp is what you will need. 

If you are a beginner and are building up the collection of devices, we would recommend that you start with an audio interface. Once you are confident that you know how to control it and can get the settings in hand, you can consider upgrading to a headphone amp. 


If you are in a situation, could you use your audio interface as the headphone amp? Absolutely. However, if you want the best results, invest in a separate device so you get the best listening experience. We hope this article helped to eliminate the uses and features of these two very important devices. 

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