A recent ad said, "Headphone amplifiers are special purpose audio amplifiers designed specifically to drive “dynamic,” headphones to their ultimate performance."
Maybe you can clear this up for me please. MacIntosh Power Amplifiers like I use to run three-way studio monitors in my home, run full power all of the time. That is the current is like a relentless river ever flowing by full blast. The pre-amp restricts volume, which is usually separate from the Power Amp with a MacIntosh. When we need power it is like curling your hand out of a car window at 100 mph. You tilt your fingers out slightly and instantly the wind comes in. It comes in instantly at 100 mph. No delay possible. That is how it is with Mac power. If this is what a headphone Amp does I am all for it. What matters is how fast it delivers power.
If a headphone amp will bring that MacIntosh sound to portable electronic devices they are worth the hassle. But a real amp, a power amp like a MacIntosh takes a lot of power. It needs full power weather you are using it or not. It is on high forever. It drains power from whole buildings, all of the time. I cannot see people carrying around a full current amp with them, no matter how tiny, to get sound out of an ipod, which contains a digital reader, pre-amp and Amplifier already.
I think most amps, amps that I will call cheaper amps for this discussion. I think most cheap amps; do not run at full power. Maybe they run at 30% maybe 10% maybe less. These amps synthesize extra power when they think it is needed. This process, audible or not, has a delay. This is why I think we pay so much for great amps. Sound from a MacIntosh amplifier, sounds, and feels, different than sounds from cheap amps.
If headphone amps are not a full current amps, are headphone amp enthusiasts, suggesting that we carry around a cigarette sized device, five times larger than our digital readers, just to be able to put our volume controls at 10%, instead of the current 50%, it takes to blast volume out of in-ear-monitors from ipods?
What exactly is the point?
It seems to me that if you have big giant dynamic headphone cans, like those using ¼ inch plugs for use in the home studio. These speakers need power boosters to run correctly. But when they designed on-stage monitors, they moved the device close enough to the ear so that it takes very little power to stimulate your inner ear to make the correct vibrations. Even the lowly ipod has enough power to run the in-ear stage monitors (IEM), loud enough to cause ear damage. What is the purpose of using a headphone amp on an IEM?