What Is a Headphone Amplifier and Do You Need One?
For a long time, audiophiles have used headphone amplifiers to power up their speakers and help bring out top sound quality out of them. Headphones are just miniature speaker systems that rely on power for optimum performance. Like speakers, headphones come in different shapes and sizes. The basic principle remains the same – the larger a woofer, the more voltage it needs to live up to its potential.
What Is a Headphone Amplifier?
Simply put, headphone amplifiers are devices that provide electrical power for your headphones. They have been available since the 1960s, but their mass production didn’t start until the 1990s. Keeping up with technology, they evolved a lot in the meantime. Today’s amplifiers are compact and inexpensive. They are integral to many devices we use daily such as smartphones, television sets, laptops, and sound systems.
Today most headphones are built with low impedance so that the battery on your device doesn’t drain too fast. Impedance is defined as the effective resistance of an electric circuit to alternating current. What this essentially means is that smaller woofers, such as earbuds, should theoretically be made with high impedance. Consequently, low impedance results in poor audio performance.
Headphone amplifiers provide additional power to help your headphones deliver better sound quality.
What are Amplifiers made up of?
Because their main purpose is to supply power to your headphones, amplifiers are designed much like electric circuits. First, there is a power supply – amplifiers can be battery-operated or powered by a direct stream of electricity. Then there are capacitors that store electrical energy. Resistors are used to adjust signal levels and divide voltages. The entire circuit is connected by semiconductors.
What types of amplifiers are there?
There are three types of amplifiers on the market: portable, desktop and rackmount.
Portable amplifiers are pocket-sized and powered by a battery. They only drive one or two sets of headphones and need to be recharged every once in a while. Desktop amplifiers usually drive two or more sets of headphones and are designed to fit on your desk so you have access to the volume knob.
Rackmount amplifiers are most commonly used in sound mixing and production. They are much larger in size and can power up several pairs of headphones. Depending on your professional needs, you can connect multiple rackmount amplifiers in order to serve dozens of headphone sets at a time.
Do I Need a Headphone Amplifier?
If you’ve invested in an expensive headset, you need an amplifier to help bring out the best your headphones have to offer. If you use headphones to listen to music, the power supplied by an amplifier will enhance the audio resolution and enable you to hear small nuances and low-level information you may have never noticed before. Your favorite music will sound richer and perhaps even feel brand new.
Which Headphone Amplifier Should I Buy?
As far as portable amplifiers go, Creative Sound Blaster E3 is an excellent choice. It provides high impedance support, serves up to two pairs of headphones, and has a battery life of up to 17 hours.
If you’re looking for something less expensive, check out the FiiO E6 portable headphone amplifier. The impedance support is high enough for personal use, while the battery can last for up to 10 hours.
If you need a desktop amplifier, Bravo Audio V2 is a great one, intended primarily for music enthusiasts. In addition to eye-catching design, it provides higher harmonic distortion and better sound quality overall.