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Headphone Amp Cost


Well-Known Member
Other than small production runs, why do headphone amps cost so much? They don't need to produce much power, you only need to drive two channels, there, typically, is no "processing" (e.g., DD, etc), but they can run the cost of some serious speaker amps.

What am I missing?
That's why I refuse to accept this BS about headphone amps. There is no reason for a very good headphone amp to ever cost most than $50 to $100. I understand the super-high end stuff costing a fortune because then you are buying luxury - which has no price limit. But if you want a killer highly accurate headphone amp, they exist for less than $100.
Eh, maybe, maybe not... We've been over this before. I've tried a "killer" $100 (ss) headphone amp that Flint recommended, and compared it to my $350 tube hp amp, and there was a difference. Granted, it was very slight and only discernible with pretty careful critical listening. My conclusion? It's like speakers - the most important part is the headphones (drivers) themselves, the quality of amplification is only a small percentage. The main difference is that in this case you don't also have room acoustics coming into play, so there's fewer variables than with a speaker rig, so I think it's easier to get to the point where you can discern real differences between amps.
A HP amp need the flexability to drive an impedance load any where from 16-Ohm to 600-Ohm. Very few possess that capability, and while I'm not a proponent of the Mega buck amps, ($1,000.00+) I do believe, especially considering the ortodynamic phones, the correct HP amp can make a world of difference. Most will deliver between 1 and 3 watts per channel, while many orthos will require at least 4 watts, and some as high as 8 watts, to deliver the sound they're capable.

If you read the link I posted to Skylab's rating of 32 tube and hybrid HP amps, on most he noted of the amps capability to successfully drive low / high, or both impedance phones.

Well, hell! Of course a tube amp would sound different from a good solid state amp. Sorry...

This is like comparing a $1000 Parasoun Halo solid state amp to a $3500 Jolida tube amp. It isn't simple side by side like for like "high fidelity" amp. One is tube, which high THD (pleasant THD) versus virtually inaudible THD. Of course they sound different.

Personally, I prefer higher accuracy from my electronics where there is no audible alteration of the sound caused by an amp, source, or whatever. Tube, inherently, don't offer that. They change the sound. Millions of hardcore enthusiasts LOVE the way tube amps alter the sound and pay big money to get the distortion they love most, which is perfectly fine for them.

But for a good solid state amp to cost more than $ :text-offtopic: 100 is crazy and completely unnecessary to me.
On the same subject; when I used the AKG K701(62-Ohm) with my LDII++, I assumed an accurate sound was both lifeless and unexciting. Although, after purchasing the Schiit Lyr (tube input, solidstate output, 6 watts per channel@ 32-Ohms) I was, and still am, amazed at how the AKG 701's sound. Not lifeless or unexciting in any way, quite the opposite, and still very accurate.

If you're looking to be a one headphone owner, and you match that headphones impedance with an amp capable of handling that particular impedance rating, you'll be happy and good to go, however, if you decide to purchase a second set of phones you may be upgrading your HP amp, also.


If you're planning to purchase planar (ortodynamic) phones, specifically, Audeze, or HE-6, choose an amp that will generate lots of juice (watts).
I've plugged the AKG K701 into mixing boards, cell phones, computers, $25 Behringer HP amps, $100 Presonus HP amps, $5,000 Gracie and other industry standard HP amps, and I cannot say I have ever heard them sound dramatically different.

They sounded like shit with the Little Dot II tube amp and my laptop. But so did every other headphone I plugged into them.
My Denon DM-5000s (25-Ohm) sound terrific with the LD II++. It just doesn't have the umph to drive the 62-Ohm AKG's

here's the deal... that whole "impedance compensation" theory sounds really, really good. However, in general, high impedance HPs are significantly more efficient at converting voltage into acoustic energy than low impedance HPs. This is due to the high impedance HPs having considerably more copper in the voice coil which means more magnetic energy for a given input voltage. The reason they chose high impedance for headphones back in the 60s and 70s was to take advantage of the higher efficiency and have less current demand on the amps (and to use a resistor on a regular speaker amp to drop the voltage enough for a simple HP application.
I could tell the difference between my Yamaha CD player's HP output compared to my Denon 1803 receiver's output with the two pairs of AKG phones I owned (K240DF and K701). The 240DFs were more dramatic with the Denon since they had a higher impedance than the 701s. I'm sure that had something to do with the Denon's amps since it is a receiver.
I did not realize we were in the 60's, or 70's. Beyerdynamic 880 is 600-Ohm.

With increased impedance come higher resistance, and more juice to drive phones.

Yeah, I was out of this discussion as soon as the "all tube amps necessarily color the sound" theory came up. :laughing:
I happen to really enjoy my Little DotII++ with my Senn HD650's, b ut I have heard them on a (way) more expensive amp and on a cheaper amp and I say that if I had the funds then the more expensive amp would be worth the cash.

And on the cheapie amp....honestly.....they sounded like shit.
Headphones are available with low or high impedance measured at 1 kHz. Low-impedance headphones are in the range 75 to 150 ohms and high impedance headphones are about 600 ohms. [4] High impedance headphones have been popular among tube amplifier aficionados, [citation needed] and in classroom or studio situations requiring many headphones connected in parallel to the same source. Low impedance headphones yield a louder sound from a standard headphone jack, and require less voltage to achieve a target sound pressure level—an important consideration for portable electronics. [4]

Sensitivity is a measure of a transducer's output when driven with a specific reference input. Headphone manufacturers often loosely use the term "efficiency" where sensitivity should be used. Headphone efficiency (power in/power out) is a type of sensitivity, but efficiency is usually not an important characteristic to measure for headphones (see Efficiency vs Sensitivity). Common "units" for headphone sensitivity are "dB/mW" and "dB/mV". This notation is an inappropriate simplification, [5] but what these mean are dB SPL (sound pressure level) measured in a standard ear for a 1 kHz sinusoidal headphone input of either 1 milliwatt or one millivolt. Technical notation would be "dB ref. 20μPa/mW" or "dB ref. 20μPa/mV". One can convert between these two references if the impedance is known.


Rope said:
Low impedance headphones ... require less voltage to achieve a target sound pressure level

That is a description of efficiency, NOT impedance, as I understand it. Impedance is not directly related to SPL, except that perhaps lower impedance headphones happen to be more efficient in general - because of voice coil construction or whatever, that makes them low/high impedance in the first place (I don't know if this is the case, just trying to understand this assertion which I deem to be incorrect).
In terms of real efficiency, in general high impedance transduers tend to be higher efficiency because it takes less voltage and current to produce a given magnetic field with the coil.