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I just bought a set of expensive headphones, but I read online I might need an amplifier? Is that true? How do I know?

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From our article on amplifiers:

You only need an amplifier when the maximum output of your source—a smartphone, laptop, or something else—is lower than what your headphones require to reach that level.

Go plug your headphones into whatever you’re going to be listening to them with. Can you get the volume up to a good level? Is there room to spare? Is your audio free of distortion and obvious flaws that shouldn’t be there?

If you answered “yes”: Congratulations! You don’t need an amplifier. An amplifier’s job is to increase the output of your source to the level you want, and if whatever you’re using to listen to music can do that on its own: a lack of power isn’t one of your issues. You can stop reading here and go enjoy your audio adventures! If your audio sounds bad, it’s due to something else.

If you answered “no”: you need an amplifier.

Now, you can check the specifications page of any headphone product to get a hint. Look at the “sensitivity” and “impedance” specs, and write those down. You can then use a tool like this one to figure out if you need an amp, but a good rule of thumb is anything under 90dB/mW sensitivity, or anything over 200Ω will definitely benefit from an amp. There are a few exceptions to that, however.

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