Do amps really have different sound signatures?

I’m just always wondering. I keep hearing reviewers say that this amp sounds warm or this amp pairs very well with that headphones.

I thought amplifiers are just meant to amplify the signal, so why would they make the same headphones sound different? When reviewers say they hear different sound signatures from different amps, is it psychological or is it real? I’d really appreciate any input cuz I can’t justify buying new amps. Currently using Schiit Fulla.

i own 5 different headphone amps. they all sound different.

edit: schiit! forgot about my magni 3. 6 amps


Real. All that stuff inside the box it turns out can make things sound different.
It’s one reason why they make so many of them. Plenty will chime into this thread.

I’d point directly to the manufacturer of your current amp.
Same numberzzszzz, but they make the Mangi 3+ and the Magni Heresy.
They’ll tell you how they made it and why they made it.

Damn guys. Thank you but my wallet is gonna hate you for this.


you really don’t need more then 1. you can get equalizers fairly cheap enough and change it to whatever sound your feeling for instance. or use digital eq like DSP or free app

edit: i will say having a tube amp as a second amp, would not be a bad thing. but you are using a fairly inexpensive amp. and tube amps start about double the fulla price

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I tried Equalizer APO before and whatever I did I always found my headphones sound better without any EQing.


nothing wrong with that. just make sure to do a little research before you buy. so you do not buy similiar sounding amps for instance.

As far as solid state amps go, frequency response should be a flat 20-20,000Hz for any good one.

The unmeasureable stuff to its sound? Sure, maybe you can hear something different. Across several sub-$200 amps I can’t, but maybe other people could. Not going to deny the possibility there is an actual, audible difference. If anything, I’m happy not having to worry about amp synergy and such.

man i went through like 8 different tube amps and hated them all. even tube rolled and got nothing i liked out of them…then i got a cheap shitty tube preamp and routed it through my amp and i absolutely love it for certain things.

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I still have to say AMPs do sound quite different. And with Tubes (a good hybrid, transformer, and definitely OTL) sound based on what tube you’re rolling. I can say honestly class A doesn’t have a sound but I have noticed that class A has some power behind it that may not be reflected in the numbers.

Amps that have notorious sound signature differences worth checking out:

  • RNHP
  • Vio/Lake People
  • Asgard 3

VERY different experiences.


Any feedback on Little Labs would be appreciated!

and dont forget the forum cheap favorite the liquid spark often paired with our bright beyers due to the power , added warmth and treble roll off.


I don’t mean to be confrontational, but how does the Liquid Spark roll off the treble a bit? I’m curious, since I would think a measurably flat FR would not be rolled in the treble.

I don’t have the ears to discern dac/amp differences, so I can’t really follow with all these minutae. How good do headphones have to be for you guys to tell?

i can tell with most all headphones. it depends on how you listen i think mostly. do you just listen to music? or do you listen to music while doing something else? a lot harder to notice differences in most mainstream amps these days as they are pretty much all good.

people know the liquid spark treble roll off because they can use headphones like beyer on it, but on more neutral amps without roll off, the treble is to sharp and hurts their ears.

If you look at FR graphs it doesn’t, and this is true of most good amplifiers, they have pretty much flat FR from 20-20KHz, in some cases a lot more.
However people do perceive differences, and they tend to communicate them using word that describe Frequency response. And I agree that the treble on the Liquid Spark, sounds less aggressive that many of the $100 competitors.
So either the FR graphs aren’t capturing what amps do into real headphones (they are measured into a resistor, and dynamic headphones are not resistive loads), or those differences are not captured in an FR plot at all. Or everyone is lying/confused (i’ll ignore this point)

I think a lot of it is that frequency sweeps capture a very narrow aspect of amplifier design, time domain response matters, ability to reproduce small signals while other large signals are playing matters etc.

A lot of what I think improves as you spend more on amps is treble reproduction (less grain/grit), the impact and texture of bass notes, overall timbre and staging.

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mk, thanks for your perspectives. I still can’t find convincing evidence for differences, so I’ll just enjoy what I have lol.

I do tend to listen critically a lot of times. I’m confident in picking out minutae from recordings of all sorts of genres, or at least doing so using several different headphones, but I really can’t seem to actually detect anything regarding the gear itself when I try.

The evidence really shows itself when your in the market and AB’ng. That’s how I ended up with my spark as I was looking for an amp to pair with my 990 at the time which is a very sharp headphone as your probably know. A headphone like a 990 will expose pretty blatantly How harsh or smooth an amp is on the high end. That’s basically how I learned different amps can sound different from the very linear sound of the the JD’s labs atom and the very smooth colored sound of the spark. A good comparison in a slightly higher end category is how an op amp designed amp like a thx 789 sounds from something like an asgard 3

Honestly IMO for good SS amps in the “budget” range, quite honestly they sound more the same than different.
I wouldn’t stress over it if you have one, there isn’t a lot of value in “side grading”

That’s really a single aspect of the playback chain often referred to as resolution, you need to get into significantly more expensive/resolving headphones before that aspect of an amp starts to be obvious.

Staging changes a fair amount even on budget amps, THX amps for example stage very flat. But it’s not always something that stands out to inexperienced listeners.

The easiest way to “hear” the difference if you want to is listen to one chain exclusively for a few days, then swap to the other, don’t try and quantify the differences, often they’re hard to describe.
Pay attention to the overall stage, the sense of “air”, usually bass reproduction is the first thing people notice.
After a day or two decide if you want to swap back to the first option.
Not very scientific, but IME it’s the best way to determine if something is “better” for you.


In theory, in the magical land of ideal components, cables have no resistance, components don’t age and amplifiers follow voltage no matter the current.

That is (sadly) not how reality works.
Amplifiers overshoot, have delays, are limited in current (or power) capabilities, change distortion, etc.

As far as I am concerned, knowing the quirks and strengths of what you own is worth more than throwing money out the window in search of perfection. Others are free to disagree :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Maybe make a thread for that. If nothing else, it looks interesting.

Voice coils (and other drivers) react completely different than resistors (and even there, wirewound, thin-film and manganin resistors are way different).
There may be some interactions between certain topologies (and tunings) and certain LCR-curves (NOT frequency response!)
If anyone knows a website of someone looking into measuring synergies, I am interested!

With my M40x I can tell apart my three amps and audio-interface every time. With AD500x is a bit difficult to tell the interface from my cheapest amp.
My “test setup” for blind testing is me making a mess of extension cables and plugging in at random.

Excuse me doing nerd rambles in parts here.


you should know equalizer PO is kind of trash SQ wise. Try roon’s free trial and use their EQ. Its much better IMO as it completely avoids the windows mixer and works much better with asio. Also, remember that cutting is better than boosting when setting profiles.

Honestly, I dont EQ even for headphones like LCD-X where the manufacturer litteraly recomends it, but there is a noticable SQ difference between roon EQ and equalizer APO