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IEMs seem louder than On-ear Headphones?

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hi. I've always used in-ear headphones. I've had ones from Logitech, Superlux, and now Wicked Little Buds. Of them, I've liked my Superlux HD381 the most.


But I've been wanting to try the "big guns" recently, and decided I'd go with the Superlux HD681 Evos. So I went to my favorite audio store yesterday, but they're out of stock. There were test units though, and I was able to try their Evos, 668B, and 661, And even though I thought the Evos stood out, I've noticed that all their outputs aren't that loud compared to my HD381s. I had to crank up the the volume of my phone to the max (Samsung Galaxy Ace with CM10.1).


I was advised that on-ear headphones "need" amplifiers to bring out their potential. Is that true? And if it is, could anyone explain the technical details why iems are louder than on-ears? Thank you.

post #2 of 12

IEMs are more sensitive. They have smaller drivers and don't have to move as much air using the same amount of power. The loudness difference would be especially noticeable if you were running the test units unamped from a smartphone.

post #3 of 12

It depends which you are comparing. For example, there are IEMs that are 32 ohms, 108 db/mw. There are also headphones with that same efficiency. I guess for headphones and IEMs, the maximum is around 122 db/mw. The difference is that there are many IEMs that are 16 ohms, while headphones tend to be 32 ohms or more. At a given voltage, and the same db/mw, a 16 ohm earphone will play much louder than a 32 ohm headphone. I have no idea why we don't see 16 ohm full sized headphones. My guess is the coil gauge would need to be too thin.

post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 

Ha, I should not have asked for a "technical" explanation (as I'm don't really have gifted ears). But I think I understand it a bit. Superlux HD681 Evo is rated at 32 Ohms, 98 DB. Would you suggest an amp to go with it? I'm thinking of pairing it with a FiiO E6. Thanks again guys.

post #5 of 12

An amp will help if you aren't getting enough volume. 98 db/mw is quite low  for a modern 32 ohm headphone. Most seem to be in the 104 to 108 region. If you are getting enough volume though, a separate amp probably won't help very much. I had the Fiio E6.

It helped very much with getting suitable volume when using headphones over 100 ohms.

post #6 of 12

I would use an amp for anything below 100dB/mw.

Even if they get loud enough, your phone may not drive the whole frequency range equally well.

post #7 of 12

How does it sound with your phone without an amp? If the sound isn't so good, or the bass sounds lacking, then an amp might help. The Sony V6 for example didn't sound that great with my Clip+ player without using an external amp. The V6 is 63 ohms though.

post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 

My phone's media volume goes from 1-10. On my Wicked Little Buds (16 ohms, 87 db), I only need the volume set to 7 it's loud enough even when outside. I use PowerAmp as my music player and the equalizer is set to Bass & Treble. But even if I turn the equalizer off, the output is still good.


When I tried out the Evos, I had to crank it up to 10 -- even with the equalizer on.

post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 

Bumpity. Help me. :)

post #10 of 12

IEMs can be loud enough even with low sensitivity because you shove them into your ear.

Full size headphones are further away from your ears, so you need more volume to achieve same loudness.

Edited by BenF - 12/5/13 at 4:55am
post #11 of 12

Fiio E6 will probably do what you want. It's cheap too.

post #12 of 12
Thread Starter 

OK then. Thanks for all the help guys. :)

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