Do I need/should get a headphone amp if I already have powered desktop speakers that have a headphone jack?
May 14, 2011 2:20 AM   Subscribe

Hey Audiophiles - Do I need/should get a headphone amp if I already have powered desktop speakers that have a headphone jack? I can't find any specs for the headphone jack on my speakers(is it just passthru?) but i can't find this speak on any others i shop for. I was looking to buy Sound Blaster X-Fi HD or just some nice < $200 computer speakers with a headphone jack? Any suggestions? Am I completely off? FYI - these are for a set of Sennheiser HD595
posted by pharcide to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I've had plenty of sets of powered desktop speakers over the years. Never needed a headphone amp with them. As far as I know you'd only need an amp if you were plugging the headphones into a line out socket.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:02 AM on May 14, 2011


Every powered desktop speaker set I've owned has not amplified the headphone jack.

Why not just connect your HD595s directly to the line out / headphone jack on the computer's soundcard? HD595s do appreciate being driven, but they should produce OK sound directly from the soundcard.

If you do have the upgrade bug though, just be aware that $300 headphones + $200 sound card + $200 speakers does not equal $700 of sound quality - your sound will still mostly be defined by the quality of the headphones.

Or what about getting a set of easy to drive headphones? I have a set of Audio Technica ATH-AD700s - great sound, and even my iPod can drive them.

You might find more specific advice on one of the audiophile buyers forums e.g. Headphonics.
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 6:06 AM on May 14, 2011


Is the sound loud enough out of the headphones? Then you don't need an amp.
posted by gjc at 6:35 AM on May 14, 2011


If you're interested in the best possible sound from your computer you may consider a USB DAC instead. The idea is that it will bypass the generally low-grade components in your computer's sound card, and instead use components and circuitry designed to do nothing but provide high quality sound. Here's a good article on them.

http://www.slate.com/id/2279137/
posted by fzx101 at 6:43 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yes, fzx101 has it. Getting the digital signal out of the computer in to a high(er) quality DAC is more likely to have noticeably better results. You can find a range of USB DACs that are designed to drive nice headphones. People who love this stuff gather at Head-Fi forums - hopefully you'll be able to pick up enough to make an informed decision without getting sucked in to too much nonsense. Good luck & happy listening.
posted by dirm at 7:23 AM on May 14, 2011


There are plenty of combination USB DACs/headphone amps. Headroom's Total Bithead is one.
posted by box at 7:38 AM on May 14, 2011


And while hardly anybody needs to buy a headphone amp, it is likely that either the DAC or the amp is the weak point in your current setup.
posted by box at 9:44 AM on May 14, 2011


It's counterintuitive, but headphone amps actually can make a really substantial difference to the sound. My personal take is that the amp is actually the first thing to upgrade! After all, the amp is an active component controlling a difficult-to-handle passive load with unpredictable electrical behavior - the headphones.

Transient response is a subtle and large phenomenon.

You don't have to spend a whole lot on headphone amps though, and I don't think Sennheisers are particularly finicky. Get a reasonably cheap USB dac that is reported to have a good amplification stage. It'll be worth it. I Promiseā„¢.
posted by krilli at 12:46 PM on May 14, 2011


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