What is a Headphone Amp and Why Do I Need One?

Many people always wonder, what is a good portable amp? What is a balanced headphone amp? Among others. This is understandable because, with the advancement of mobile devices like MP3 players, tablets and smart phones.

It has only been for the better because many people can store numerous amount of songs in their pockets and enjoy them anywhere and anytime with just a tap on the touch-screen.

Happy using headphone amp

For people who are serious about music, there might be a little disappointment in the audio quality of most mobile device managers especially when used alongside headphones. This can be fixed by pairing your mobile device with a portable headphone amplifier which is a little device that can greatly elevate your listening pleasure.

This article would serve as a guide to answer the question; what is a headphone amp and why you need one.

What is a Balanced Headphone Amp?

A headphone Amp which is also known as a headphone amplifier is a low-powered audio amplifier created specifically to drive headphones instead of loudspeakers.

They are commonly found in electronic devices or gadgets that consist of a headphone jack, some of these devices include portable music players, integrated amplifiers and televisions.

Music studios and audiophile markets utilize standalone units. Headphone amplifiers are available in professional audio models and consumer grade models. The professional audio models can be utilized in recording studios.

The amplifier elevates the power of an audio source so it can drive bigger and louder equipment with ease. Home theatres sometime utilize an amplifier which is usually in a receiver to provide power to big speakers and bands need amps to power extremely large concert speakers.

A headphone amp is basically a minimized version of the same concept. The smallest are almost the size of a solid state hard drive while the biggest are the size of a CD-ROM drive but they all achieve the same purpose.

Types of Headphone Amps

There are three most common headphone amplifiers utilized at home. They include;

  • Digital to analog converters (DACs)
  • Portable headphone amplifiers
  • Desktop headphone amplifiers

Digital to Analog Converters;

Headphones are produced for analog signals, and a digital to analog converter can be utilized to change the digital audio files saved on computers to a format which is ideal for hearing on headphones.

what is a headphone amp

Computers are created with Digital to Analogue Converters built in them but there are not produced for an extreme audiophile who needs greater quality. The DAC makes available an interface between the computer and headphones for the most ideal translation of audio files.

Desktop Headphone Amplifiers


These can be utilized with stereo systems, home theatre systems, as well as computers. The amp makes available a much better and clearer sound quality for home and studio listening.

Portable Headphone Amplifiers

why do i need headphone amp

Majority of the media players like iPods and smart phones as well as laptops do not have enough output power to produce the best sound quality. A portable headphone amplifier elevates the signal to the headphone and makes available a sound which is better than usual for the music listener on the go. They are portable and can fit in a pocket, they provide great sound anywhere you are.

Models of Headphone Amps

Consumer models


These are headphone amplifiers which are sold commercially as separate devices. They provide you with more elevated volumes and higher capacity for current when compared to smaller and cheaper amplifiers that are utilized in most audio players. In situations of really high-end electrostatic headphones, a unique electrostatic headphone transformer is needed to make use of these headphones because they are the only ones that can make the needed voltage available.

Most headphone amplifiers have the capacity to provide power from 10mw to 2w depending of the kind of headphone that is being utilized.

Professional audio models

Here a headphone amplifier is a device that lets more than one headset to be connected to one or more audio sources which are mostly balanced audio sources at the same time to keep an eye on the progress of a recording session, to enable musicians hear other musicians who are playing in isolation booths, or keep track of a live performance.

They are further grouped into two categories which include;

Headphone amps with sub-mixing capabilities

These let the person listening to be able to adjust, mix and keep tracks of audio signals that are coming from more than one source simultaneously. This type of headphone amp is frequently used during recording sessions to sub-mix the playback of individual instruments that come from a playback device. Most times, the listeners have their own sets of controls which let them adjust various parts of the mix.

Distribution headphone amplifiers

These are headphone amps that allow a single signal to be passed to more than one headset or multiple groups of headsets simultaneously. They are also available in many other combinations.

Why you Might Need a Good Portable Amp

The relationship between the amps which provide power for concerts and those that do same for a pair of headphones isn’t easily noticeable.

You may believe headphones are quite easy to power compared to other forms of audio equipment which is true. But an MP3 player or a Smartphone is quite small and must manage its power usage efficiently.

This basically means that some mobile devices may not have the capacity to provide the power needed to drive equipment which is high-end.

Just like a great speaker, a good headphone can enjoy great benefits from the pure power of a headphone amplifier to sound their very best.

With great headphones, a good music source and a great headphone amp, you will be amazed at the level of clarity and wide range and in-depth musical detail you would have the opportunity of hearing.

Although, big speakers may perform better than headphones in terms of sonic impact, great headphones with amps can make better audio resolution and take advantage of low level information that usually seem irrelevant in the recording.

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