General knowledge amp questions.
Feb 10, 2008 at 5:39 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 2


Jan 5, 2008
And by "general knowledge" I am of course referring to stupidly obvious things. And yes, I've posted some of this stuff before, but I didn't really get straight answers I was looking for because I focused more on what kind of amp I should look into getting, which I do not want to know right now.

What does a headphone amp do? I'm guessing it makes them louder. But a $400 amp making headphones louder and a $50 amp making them louder...well there's gotta be a difference. I guess I sorta understand, expensive guitar amps can add effects, have better sound quality, etc. but I dunno if you should compare the two.

What do you plug into a headphone amp? What I'm guessing is you plug in your headphones to your amp, and then something from the amp into your CD player/mp3 player etc. Is that right? And yeah okay assuming it is what do you use to plug your amp into your mp3 player?

Headphone - Amp - Computer. I'm guessing its the same as Headphone - Amp - mp3 player? Yes?

Sorry for the sort of stupid questions, but everyone's gotta start somewhere-some of us just a little lower than others
Feb 10, 2008 at 9:04 AM Post #2 of 2
Ok, well for starters the main key in headphone amps of different price levels is sound quality. This is usually broken up into a few different categories. First is detail resolution. This is basically the crispness of the sound. Ex. does a cello sound like one solid note or does it really buzz and have all the texture like it really sounds. Two would be resolving power. This is the amp's ability to clearly distinguish multiple instruments from each other. Lastly is soundstage. This is highly dependent on the source and headphones by which you are listening to it with. All the categories are dependent on this but mainly the soundstage. Soundstage is somewhat related to resolving power. A wide soundstage will sound spacious, realistic and more tonally spread out. Narrow soundstages sound cramped and very compressed. Narrow soundstages can be very fatiguing to listen to. As far as just making the headphones louder this is not necessarily true. Headphone amps do have the capability of increasing the gain of a particular output source but not for merely the effect of added volume. Many headphones that would fall into the high end audiophile category are inefficient high impedance models. This means that out of a laptop or ordinary mp3 player you will get little or no volume even with the volume settings turned completely 100%. This is because these types of headphones have very high power requirements. Some headphone amps have features like bass boost, and crossfeed or soundstage widening. These features are not necessarily luxuries to determine the price by. There may be a $100 amp with crossfeed and a $800 amp without it.

As far as plugging it into your computer goes, a DAC might be more of use. Computer's are notorious for having an electrically "noisy" environment. The power supply hard drives and many other complex circuits in such close proximity often result in a very noisy headphone jack. This can sound like lots of white noise or just buzzing in the background. A DAC or Digital to Analog Converter is basically an external sound card that produces much cleaner clearer sound because of its electrical isolation. Many accept USB which is very convenient for a computer to use, as well as Coaxial, and Optical. Many amps come with some type of DAC built in. Aside from the basic levels of sound quality superiority, most of the differences between amps are purely subjective and depend on your personal listening tastes. For example the Grace m902 is a very crisp detailed amp. However, some people find it a bit harsh and unpleasant to listen to for extended periods. In contrast, HeadRoom's amps in general sound very big and warm, with lots of smoothness in the tone. All in all if you know a price range and the features you're looking for there will probably be a few to pick from. The best way to decide what you're looking for is to just listen to it, but if you can't do that try to get an idea of what you like to listen to and which one sounds like it would fit your particular tastes.

Users who are viewing this thread