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Headphones have come a long way, and today they are almost as complicated to understand as any other piece of audio equipment. High end headphones are now affordable and designed with unique features for audio production. This leaves many people with technical questions about their headphones, like do you need an amp with 80 ohm headphones?
Any pair of headphones with an impedance rating of 50 ohms and above should be used with an amplifier to produce the best possible sound. 80-ohm headphones will work without an amplifier, but the audio they produce will not be of the quality they are designed to produce.
This article will cover what you need to know to understand if 80-ohm headphones require an amplifier. It will also cover what other factors you need to consider to purchase the correct amplifier for your headphones which involves headphone sensitivity and the output of the amplifier’s impedance rating.
Understanding Ohms (impedance)
So you are thinking about purchasing a pair of headphones that you like, and they state that they are 80 ohms and for the life of you, you don’t understand what that means, and you don’t know if you require an amplifier to power those headphones.
Understanding impedance will help you realize now and in the future how amplifiers and headphones work. This can also be applied to speakers and other audio system scenarios.
Impedance is a measure of how much something can resist electrical current. Headphones that are built with high impedances allow them to have better overall sound quality.
This means that they often also need an amplifier to drive them properly. If your headphones don’t get enough power, then not only will they be too quiet to enjoy, but they also won’t sound right in different frequencies.
This means you paid top dollar for quality headphones that won’t sound good enough to justify their cost.
What impedance levels require an amplifier
Typically, your cheaper headphones or ones explicitly designed to work with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets (earphones) will have lower impedances. These headphones will usually have an impedance of around 35 ohms or less.
Any headphones or earphones with a low impedance of 35 or less will not require an amplifier to drive them to optimal performance.
When headphones or earphones start reaching 50 ohms and above, then your best option is to purchase an amplifier to drive these headphones for better overall sound quality, but some headphones may not require them. This means for headphones with 80 ohms, you will probably need an amplifier.
Headphones that are north of 100 ohms will definitely need an amplifier to function correctly so you can get the best audio your headphones can produce.
There is one other factor to consider besides ohms that we will discuss, which relates to how to choose the correct amplifier for your 80-ohm headphones.
Understanding headphone sensitivity
Besides ohms, we need to look at the efficiency or sensitivity of the headphones. The efficiency (or sensitivity) of a pair of headphones is the measure of how many decibels the headphones will output per milliwatt or millivolt.
Once you know the ohms of your headphones and their sensitivity rating, you can calculate how much power your amplifier will have to be in order to drive them properly. You can use one of many headphone power calculators online for free to determine this.
With this calculator, you can then tell how many watts you need to get your headphones to a certain level of loudness. This is typically 110dB (10dB lower than that of physical, auditory pain).
Which amplifier should I get?
We figured out that we will need to have the impedance rating for the headphones (in our case, 80 ohms) and then the sensitivity rating, which can vary to calculate how much power the amplifier will need to drive 80-ohm headphones. The power for your amplifier for these values will be represented as the power output (milliwatts to ohm rating) of the amplifier.
Once you have determined how much power your amplifier needs to be, it is always better to get one slightly more powerful (than what the calculator says you should) to handle the load. This is because headphones can have varying impedances depending if you are listening to low or high-frequency sounds.
Many headphones have impedance spikes in specific frequency ranges, and you can typically find these graphs online with a bit of digging.
The last main specification you should be looking at is the amplifier’s output impedance which is separate from your headphones impedance rating. A very good rule of thumb to follow is that you should make sure that your amplifier’s output impedance is at least eight times lower (8x lower) than the impedance of your headphones.
For example, in our case, we have an impedance rating of 80 ohms for our headphones. In that case, we will want to purchase an amplifier with an output impedance value of no more than 10 ohms.
Best pair of 80 Ohm headphones
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro
There are different variations for this pair of headphones, and they come in 32, 80, and 250 ohms.
They are over-ear headphones ideal for professional recordings and monitoring, which is perfect for the studio. They are durable and robust and made in Germany, featuring an innovative bass reflex system.
Check out this pair of headphones on Amazon here (paid link)
Best amplifier for 80 Ohm headphones
Knowing that we need a 10-ohm amplifier for 80-ohm headphones, we found one that is amazing and pulls out all the stops—the Donner EM1.
The donner is a rechargeable and portable in-ear monitoring amplifier specifically designed for musicians.
This amplifier offers crystal clear sound no matter what scenario you find yourself in (either on stage or in the studio) because it offers outstanding technical, sonic characteristics producing high-quality audio reproduction with no audio rendering. It has both XLR and TRS inputs, with the TRS input featuring the 10-ohm impedance, while the XLR can go up to 20 ohms. This means you can use more powerful headphones on it as well.
It has up to 12 hours of life when it is fully charged and has a USB type B connection jack. Besides featuring the TRS jack and XLR input, it also features a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) jack for headphones or earphones that have lower impedance ratings of between 8 to 35 ohms.
With all the inputs and impedance ratings, this means you can connect any pair of headphones with an impedance rating of between 8 – 250 ohms. This amplifier is one of the best on the markets for lower impedance-rated headphones and will serve you well if you already have a pair of 80-ohm headphones and are looking to purchase an amplifier for them.
Check out this headphone amplifier on Amazon here (paid link)
We discovered that not only do you probably need an amplifier of headphones with an impedance rating of 80 ohms to improve their sound quality drastically but there is also another factor to consider with headphones regarding their sensitivity.
The sensitivity along with the ohms can be used to calculate the exact power output of the amplifier you need with a pair of 80-ohm headphones. Remember that the power output of the amplifier will vary depending on the sensitivity of the headphones.
We also discovered that the amplifier should not have an impedance output rating of any more than eight times lower than that of your headphones, which was 80 ohms. Hence the amplifier needs to have an impedance output rating of no more than 10 ohms in order for you to get the best possible sound quality without damaging your headphones or amplifier.
The last thing to note is that if you have a pair of 80 ohms, you can use them without an amplifier, but for the most part, you won’t get the audio that the headphones were designed to produce.