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What does it mean to "drive" a headphone?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Hello, new head fier here and I recently bought HD 518s (Don't murder me, I'm a college student). However, I do love music very very much and having played the piano for the last 15 years or so of my life, I would like to understand the science behind the music that comes through my audio systems. 

The first problem I've noticed going through all these headphones threads is whether amps could "drive" headphones. I've read up on the glossary and common terms and all the audiophile stickied threads and what not, but couldn't find a direct answer to this. I just read some stuff on low impedance headphones, high impedance headphones, current, and voltage, but didn't understand how to get more current and voltage, or from what to get the extra current and voltage. I might not even be on the right track!

Could anyone explain to me what "driving" headphones really is? Or what is a driver?

I have a Fiio E07K (again, don't murder me, I just heard that it's good) and Sennheiser HD518s, and the music is good, but I want to understand how to make the music better precisely, by getting bang for the buck. Thank you all and am looking forward to being in head-fi!


Edited by epkrnftblluva - 4/13/13 at 8:29am
post #2 of 10

Any amp can drive pretty much any headphone. Drive means imho just that the amp can supply enough current into the load. Whether the amp does that well or not depends on a couple of variables.

 

Headphone impedance: high means higher voltage and less current, low means lower voltage and higher current

Headphone sensitivity: high means little power is required to achieve high volume, low means a lot of power is required to achieve high volume

 

The amp itself should have a flat frequency response (no bass or treble roll-off, usually requires low output impedance), low distortion, high signal/noise ratio (especially important with highly sensitive earphones) and a high enough gain, proper channel balance, low crosstalk ...

 

As you can see, there are a couple of things to take into account. If you want to know more technical details check this out: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/nwavguys-heaphone-amp-measurement-recommendations

 

"Driver" is just another word for loudspeaker.

 

 

The E07k seems to be appropriate. What is your source? What gain do you use (0, 6 or 12 dB)?

 

edit: added output impedance


Edited by xnor - 4/20/13 at 9:54am
post #3 of 10

In audiophile land, if somebody says that they don't think a certain amp drives a certain headphone well, that is frequently just an opinion regarding sound quality, based on one's perceptions and experience.  For a number of reasons, perceptions are often not a good indicator of reality:  it is easy to perceive identical sounds as different (and rank one better than another), for starters, never mind most informal comparisons that are done with unmatched levels and worse, making comparisons unfair.

 

One important thing to keep in mind is that for a given headphone, more power = more voltage = more current = louder volume.  These are all directly related.  You can't have one without all of the others.  This is achieved by turning up the volume control or gain somewhere.  Practically, you should really only be interested in how the amplifier behaves at the listening volumes you use for your headphones.  It doesn't matter that another amp can output 500 mW into 50 ohms if you are using 8 mW, for example.

 

 

The way to get better-sounding music is to find better recordings and use better headphones (or really, speakers), maybe possibly with some processing according to one's preferences or to correct for idiosyncrasies of the hardware or recording.  And mostly as a footnote, not using poor amplifiers and DACs—or more loosely, not using ones that are poor in ways you don't like.  That's a secondary concern.


Edited by mikeaj - 4/13/13 at 5:12pm
post #4 of 10

Like xnor said, speakers are called drivers, they convert electrical energy to sound energy.

 

post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by xnor View Post

Any amp can drive pretty much any headphone. Drive means imho just that the amp can supply enough current into the load. Whether the amp does that well or not depends on a couple of variables.

 

Headphone impedance: high means higher voltage and less current, low means lower voltage and higher current

Headphone sensitivity: high means little power is required to achieve high volume, low means a lot of power is required to achieve high volume

 

The amp itself should have a flat frequency response (no bass or treble roll-off), low distortion, high signal/noise ratio (especially important with highly sensitive earphones) and a high enough gain, proper channel balance, low crosstalk ...

 

As you can see, there are a couple of things to take into account. If you want to know more technical details check this out: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/nwavguys-heaphone-amp-measurement-recommendations

 

"Driver" is just another word for loudspeaker.

 

 

The E07k seems to be appropriate. What is your source? What gain do you use (0, 6 or 12 dB)?

My source is a Asus TF700t tablet, it seems to bring out better music than my Samsung laptop computer and my Galaxy GS3. I was really disappointed that the amp couldn't bring out better music from my laptop. I use a gain of 0 dB because that's what all the reviews tended to recommend online. 

 

It seems that a lot of people talk about volume about amps, but I'm not interested in volume quantity because I have plenty of volume from my headphones without hitting max volume on my source or amp. However, is this a problem with higher end headphones? Am I going to be maxing out the volume more with higher impedance headphones? So basically, will I need a more expensive amp to "drive" these more expensive headphones? Thanks guys! Really appreciate it

post #6 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by epkrnftblluva View Post

My source is a Asus TF700t tablet, it seems to bring out better music than my Samsung laptop computer and my Galaxy GS3. I was really disappointed that the amp couldn't bring out better music from my laptop. I use a gain of 0 dB because that's what all the reviews tended to recommend online. 

 

It seems that a lot of people talk about volume about amps, but I'm not interested in volume quantity because I have plenty of volume from my headphones without hitting max volume on my source or amp. However, is this a problem with higher end headphones? Am I going to be maxing out the volume more with higher impedance headphones? So basically, will I need a more expensive amp to "drive" these more expensive headphones? Thanks guys! Really appreciate it


expensive headphones can still have a low impedance and high sensitivity, cheap headphones can still have high impedance and low sensitivity. it all depends on the headphones you want to get. 

 

disappointed with the amp? what were you expecting it to produce?

post #7 of 10

I think drive the head phone is to supply sufficient power to the headphone only.

post #8 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by xnor View Post

Any amp can drive pretty much any headphone. Drive means imho just that the amp can supply enough current into the load. Whether the amp does that well or not depends on a couple of variables.

 

Headphone impedance: high means higher voltage and less current, low means lower voltage and higher current

Headphone sensitivity: high means little power is required to achieve high volume, low means a lot of power is required to achieve high volume

 

The amp itself should have a flat frequency response (no bass or treble roll-off), low distortion, high signal/noise ratio (especially important with highly sensitive earphones) and a high enough gain, proper channel balance, low crosstalk ...

 

As you can see, there are a couple of things to take into account. If you want to know more technical details check this out: http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/nwavguys-heaphone-amp-measurement-recommendations

 

"Driver" is just another word for loudspeaker.

 

 

The E07k seems to be appropriate. What is your source? What gain do you use (0, 6 or 12 dB)?

Lets also add amplifier output impedance.  Mostly, they are low, which is ideal, but some have intentionally high output impedance.  If a headphone's impedance curve has radical changes in it vs frequency, a high output impedance will result in greater response variations.  So there could be a few bad combinations out there, but they would be very, very few in number.

post #9 of 10

^ Yup.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by epkrnftblluva View Post

My source is a Asus TF700t tablet, it seems to bring out better music than my Samsung laptop computer and my Galaxy GS3. I was really disappointed that the amp couldn't bring out better music from my laptop. I use a gain of 0 dB because that's what all the reviews tended to recommend online. 

 

It seems that a lot of people talk about volume about amps, but I'm not interested in volume quantity because I have plenty of volume from my headphones without hitting max volume on my source or amp. However, is this a problem with higher end headphones? Am I going to be maxing out the volume more with higher impedance headphones? So basically, will I need a more expensive amp to "drive" these more expensive headphones? Thanks guys! Really appreciate it

Unless you get some really inefficient/low sensitivity headphones I don't see a problem.

post #10 of 10
A driver drives the drive.......with a driver's license of course. I saw just this morning a student driver. wink.gif

Making the music better usually means opening yourself up to a wider spectrum of genre. That's done with better gear. Once you hear what was intended, you begin to appreciate other artist's rendering of sonic emotions, regardless of dialect. That's what I've found to be "better". Yes my library of music sounds better (subjectively) with the better gear but having so much variety now has been my biggest improvement.
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