Headphone amplifier

A headphone amplifier is a low-powered audio amplifier designed particularly to drive headphones worn on or in the ears, instead of loudspeakers in speaker enclosures. Most commonly, headphone amplifiers are found embedded in electronic devices that have a headphone jack, such as integrated amplifiers, portable music players (e.g., iPods), and televisions. However, standalone units are used, especially in audiophile markets and in professional audio applications, such as music studios. Headphone amplifiers are available in consumer-grade models used by hi-fi enthusiasts and audiophiles and professional audio models, which are used in recording studios.

Consumer headphone amplifiers are commercially available separate devices, sold to a niche audiophile market of hi-fi enthusiasts. These devices allow for higher possible volumes and superior current capacity compared to the smaller, less expensive headphone amplifiers that are used in most audio players. In the case of the extremely high-end electrostatic headphones, such as the Stax SR-007, a specialized electrostatic headphone amplifier or transformer step-up box and power amplifier is required to use the headphones, as only a dedicated electrostatic headphone amplifier or transformer can provide the voltage levels necessary to drive the headphones. Most headphone amplifiers provide power between 10 mW and 2 W depending on the specific headphone being used and the design of the amplifier. Certain high power designs can provide up to 6W of power into low impedance loads, although the benefit of such power output with headphones is unclear, as the few orthodynamic headphones that have sufficiently low sensitivities to function with such power levels will reach dangerously high volume levels with such amplifiers. Effectively, a headphone amplifier is a small power amplifier that can be connected to a standard headphone jack or the line output of an audio source. Electrically, a headphone amplifier can be thought of as an amplifier that presents a very high input impedance (ideally infinite) and presents a lower output impedance (ideally zero) and larger range of output voltages (ideally infinite). This allows headphones of a low sensitivity to be driven louder as a result of the extra voltage provided by the amplifier. There are potential fidelity gains if headphones are driven with lower distortion than using a headphone amplifier integrated into a general purpose audio product. In practice, this most often occurs when using low impedance headphones with consumer electronics with insufficiently low output impedance (see impedance discussion below).

Most headphone amplifiers support a higher voltage output and therefore higher power (volume) levels. Whereas most portable electronics run off of a 1.8, 2.5 or 3.3 Vpp supply, many headphone amplifiers run off of 10, 18 or 24 Vpp volt supplies, allowing 5-20 dB higher volume. If a pair of headphones is too quiet, adding an amplifier that can output higher voltage/power will increase its volume.

Many headphone amplifiers have an output impedance in the range of 0.5 – 50 Ohms. The 1996 IEC 61938 standard recommended an output impedance of 120 Ohms, but in practice this is rarely used and not recommended with modern headphones. High output impedance can result in frequency response fluctuations, due to varying load impedance at different frequencies. In 2008 Stereophile Magazine published an article that showed that a 120-Ohm output impedance could cause a 5-dB error in frequency response with certain types of headphones. However, the author of the article also states: “The ramifications for subjective assessment of headphones are more troublesome because it is usually unclear what assumptions the manufacturer has made regarding source impedance.” More importantly, low output impedance can reduce distortion by improving the control that the source has over the transducer. This is often expressed as damping factor, with higher damping factors greatly reducing distortion. One company shows a 45 dB improvement in THD+N at 30 Hz for their low-impedance amplifier compared to a 30-ohm amplifier. For example, a 32 Ω headphone driven by a headphone amp with a <1 Ω output impedance would have a damping factor of >32, whereas the same headphone driven with an iPod touch 3G (7 Ω output impedance) would have a damping factor of just 4.6. If the 120 ohms recommendation is applied, the damping factor would be an unacceptably low 0.26 and consequently distortion would be significantly higher. Conversely, the same iPod touch driving a pair of 120 ohm headphones would have a respectable damping factor of 17.1, and would most likely not benefit from the addition of a lower impedance headphone amplifier. In addition to output impedance, other specifications are relevant to choosing a headphone amplifier — THD, frequency response, IMD, output power, minimum load impedance, and other measurements are also significant. However, most of these will be improved by lowering output impedance and hence improving damping factor.For those who are electronically inclined, the low-power and fairly simple nature of the headphone amplifier has made it a popular DIY project. There are many designs for headphone amplifiers posted on the Internet varying considerably in complexity and cost. A key example is the simple opamp-based CMoy design, one of the most popular headphone amplifier designs available. The simplicity of the CMoy makes it an easy build, while it can be made small enough to fit inside a tin of breath mints (including batteries). On the other hand, it is often built using op-amps that are not designed to drive loads as low as headphones, leading to poor performance and audible differences between op-amps that would not exist in a good design.
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a thing characteristic of its kind or illustrating a general rule.
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synonyms: specimen, sample, exemplar, exemplification, instance, case, illustration, case in point
a person or thing regarded in terms of their fitness to be imitated or the likelihood of their being imitated.
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synonyms: precedent, lead, model, pattern, exemplar, ideal, standard, template, paradigm, role model, object lesson
be illustrated or exemplified.
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See also
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