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Headphone amps - more power more better?

Discussion in 'Audio Visual' started by AllezAllez, May 3, 2020.

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Headphone amps - more or less power?

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  1. AllezAllez

    AllezAllez Member

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    A question for any resident audiophiles...

    According to the logical folks at ASR, there is a somewhat low ceiling when it comes to headphone amp power. I'm inclined to believe them because they generally discuss stuff that I really don't understand.

    Anyone here have any experience positive or negative when changing to a more powerful headphone amp?
     
  2. pezzy

    pezzy Member

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    i don't really understand a lot of the technicalities of it as well, but i'll give it a shot :p. i believe it really depends on the headphones you're driving. i think a more powerful amp just means they have more power to drive harder to drive headphones and have more power on tap for changes in dynamic range. going by this logic, i assume higher power amps will give you more choice in selecting headphones for optimal playing volume throughout your music's dynamic range. and that's not factoring in how amps are designed with different sound colouring.

    when i was into headphones, i didn't really pay much attention to this. mainly because i chose headphones that are known to be easy to drive. there wasn't much change when i played with different amps, except maybe some noise floor differences and slight changes in details. overall sound profile of the headphones remained pretty much the same. i don't think i've ever came to the problem of clipping at my volume levels.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2020
  3. Reins

    Reins Member

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    Depends on the resistance of the headphones, right? Some are designed to be driven by a phone/AUX (low ohms) and some are designed to be driven by amplifiers (high ohms). So a low ohm pair won’t see the same benefit from an amp that a high ohm pair will. That’s mainly volume tho.

    Further than that in terms of balanced sound profile and stuff I’m not sure!
     
  4. ThE_BiG_O

    ThE_BiG_O Member

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    It depends on the impedance of your headphones/IEMS. One problem you can run into if you try to run very low impedence headphones, especially IEMs on a powerful headphone amp without a low gain setting, is that you may find even at the lowest volume on the amp your headphones might be uncomfortably loud. High impendance headphones benefit a lot more from high power headphone amps. Low powered amps might not be able to drive them at your desired volume and their full potential with that extra punch, especially on the low end with sounds like bass drum kicks.
     
  5. OP
    OP
    AllezAllez

    AllezAllez Member

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    I'm reasonably familiar with impedance and sensitivity.

    I guess I'm more interested in real world feedback on whether people have heard improvements when driving their setup with an adequate amp vs an "overpowered" amp.
    There's the argument that you need reserve to really deliver on dynamics. I don't think I've ever really gone past 50% volume even on fairly low powered setups! So exactly how much extra oomph do you need?
     
  6. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

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    Just because you’re feeding more powah doesn’t make it sound better. Impedance matching and peak to peak power delivery from the output stage is also crucial. How much voltage swing the output is able to put out and how much current it can deliver in each of that voltage swing. Other things can also come into is the circuit topology and type bias is it running on and how much bias you have sinked into the output, is it class A, AB, D or T etc. Then you have semi subjective factors which require some objective metrics, synergy matching or loading, sometimes a particular amp just sounds great with a particular headphone not because of the technical specs but because of synergy of both components.

    Generally low impedance headphones require more clean current to sound better, they need to react faster, high Z headphones generally have heavier coils and need more voltage swing to push them to acceptable dynamic/gain levels. Not always the case but one of the design factors attributed to either made for low z, high z or both type of headphone (transducer) loads. When you looked at these factors you then consider what type of outputs you want to achieve it, descrete/solid state, all valve or hybrid.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2020
    Suopermanni likes this.
  7. Audionut

    Audionut Member

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    Everything else being equal, more power is always better.
     
  8. Matthew kane

    Matthew kane Member

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    You have to be more specific.
     
  9. Audionut

    Audionut Member

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    More power > less clipping.

    I can't think of any situation where a component with less power (everything else being equal) has some benefit over a component that delivers more power.

    Can you think of a situation where more power has a negative effect?
    Of course, you could say, well with more power you can melt the voice coil. But if everything else is being equal (including loudness).....
     
  10. JSmithDTV

    JSmithDTV Member

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  11. sebbyreddan

    sebbyreddan Member

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    I have a set of Jh16Pro IEMs and I notice when I drive the headphones at high volume using just my ipod classic the sound gets a bit muddied most likely because of the ipod amp clipping.

    Now when I drive them with my ALO Rx Mk2 driven by the IPOD through a Cypher Labs Algorithm Solo DAC There is no muddiness/blurring of the sound, it stays crystal clear and just gets louder and punchier.

    So I can definitely hear a difference and I would imagine trying to drive HD800s or some of the harder to drive Planar magnetics would show and even more obvious difference in sound quality.
     
  12. Audionut

    Audionut Member

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    Last edited: May 19, 2020
    AllezAllez likes this.
  13. OP
    OP
    AllezAllez

    AllezAllez Member

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    Link is genuinely helpful. Actually I did a bunch of reading on WHY more power might be better than the phase response in particular is the kind of info I was after.
    - I didn't know that impedance varied with frequency, nor that instantaneous voltage or current were important but rarely discussed factors for amp power.
     
    JSmithDTV likes this.
  14. Pbx_Jnr

    Pbx_Jnr Member

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    I feel Benno1988 could definitely weigh in here :)
     
  15. Benno1988

    Benno1988 Member

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    I like to stay out of online arguments.

    Important things for a headphone amplifier also include how well it handles large voltage swings. So I've heard.
     
  16. Pbx_Jnr

    Pbx_Jnr Member

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    I didn't tag you because of an online argument... moreso because you have trialled so many headphone amps I feel like you could offer an opinion based on experience :)
     
  17. Benno1988

    Benno1988 Member

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    Experience tells me it all means nothing if you don't like the sound. Too many people listening with their eyes, not ears.

    You obviously need sufficient power for the headphone, reasonable quality components, but after that it's all about features and if you like the sound.

    The THX amps like the 789 and SP200 have oodles of power. But I don't like their sound. Dry, clinical, lifeless. Measure great though.

    There is a LOT of money grabbing shit out there. Does a $20,000 Bartok sound better than a $500 Element 2. Yeah probably, but not significantly. No-one could argue it.

    Mid-fi is where the value is, past that we've lost our way a bit. I'm super guilty of it too, but under no illusions I guess. Spending 3-10x the coin for those last 5-10% gains is pure lunacy....right?
     
    sebbyreddan likes this.
  18. JSmithDTV

    JSmithDTV Member

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    Even transparent? ;)



    JSmith
     
  19. Benno1988

    Benno1988 Member

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    Sure is. But so is the Taurus or Phonitor. They arent boring, dry, clinical though.

    The THX chips just feel like they were designed for measurements. Excellent value, for sure. Huge performance for cheap. And most love the things. Just not my jams, J-man.
     
    JSmithDTV likes this.
  20. dakiller

    dakiller (Oscillating & Impeding)

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    The ideal headphone amplifier would have -
    Zero output impedance
    Infinite slew rate
    Infinite bandwidth
    Zero THD+N

    Everything done to push towards those values makes for a better amp, no matter what headphones are used.
     

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