Are amps capable of outputting at a lower level than their input source?

Hi, newbie question here, but do the pots in amps usually go high enough where you can end up with a lower output volume than your input?

Thinking about buying an amp to power future gear now, but my DAC already produces a signal far to loud to use close to 100% digital volume, so I’d like to be able to lower the volume analogically since it doesn’t degrade audio quality as much as digitally.

EDIT: added clarification

amps fed by DAC are line level audio which is so low that you usually can’t hear audio directly from it usually.

if you;'re feeding an amp from something like PC output, which already has a level of amplification, the rule of thumb is to set all your PC audio to maximum and use the amp’s volume as the master.

last bit, and I think this might be what you’re asking about is that if you have a headphone with high impedance, you may find the volume to be very low / unsatisfactory when trying to listen to them. they need a more powerful amp and sometimes a phone or tablet or even PC / notebook may not have enough power to drive them and let you enjoy them.

This depends a lot on the design.

Some amps have variable input gain, meaning they can reduce or increase the incomming signal.
Some have unity gain and then run it into the volume adjust.


Unless the volume adjust is bottom barrel, you should be able to have less output level than the signal fed into the amp.

Sounds great, I’ve been looking at the Schiit Heresey and JDS LABS Atom AMP, I assume I could expect these to be able to do very low output?

I’d expect every amp that I turn to zero would give no output. so dialing it down should also lower the volume. and then you may also have the option of a gain switch to flip between hi / lo or even hi / med ./ lo. :slight_smile:

My concern would be about channel imbalance at very low levels.

well…I can’t comment on that as I don’t listen to any audio on low volume settings.

But that’s a very different issue. I don’t think we need to drag the OP down the potentiometer, stepped attenuator, and quality of each path just yet.

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Channel imbalance is a valid concern when the thread title is “How low can Amps go?”

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You make a valid point.

@deppy I think you may get more useful answers if you’re more specific. How loud do you listen? What headphones are you using? What is your budget?

ALL decent amps should theoretically be able to be completely silent when the volume is all the way down. But that’s not always the case (even a very good amp may have a hint of leakage with super sensitive headphones) and there’s also the channel imbalance (at low volumes) issue that’s been brought up.

as a point to mention…not necessary to get into all the gory details like AJ commented on. :wink:

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My worry was mostly that when I put my volume at 100% in software and listen from the RCA outs of my SMSL M100 it is way to loud to be able to use my HD598s or Moondrop Starfields. I’d like to use 100% volume on the computer to retain all the detail, as I heard digital volume change lowers quality.

Basically, I was just wondering if I could also use an amp as passive volume control to go lower than it’s input when using these headphones and be able to use 100% volume in hardware.

Sometime in the future I’d want to buy higher impedance headphones, so that’s why I’m looking at AMPs and not just a passive volume control.

EDIT:
To give you an idea of how low I’d need it to go I currently use about 5% volume when playing music directly to the audiocard using ALSA and mpd on linux (windows equivalent is probably using a media player that supports AISO drivers).

What amplifier are you currently using? What is between the M100 and the headphones/IEMs?

A 2x RCA to 3.5mm cable

You need an amp. You don’t drive headphones off an RCA.

Why not? Not trying to argue, I’m just curious

Because an RCA output has neither the voltage nor current needed to properly drive a transducer. Doing this, you can damage both your headphones and DAC. There is a reason amplifiers exist and it’s not just a coolness factor or a tool of convenience.

Thanks, good to know!

I think coming to the conclusion that their job is to amplify is pretty reasonable personally.

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well, I wont use my headphones without an amp anymore. thanks.

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