How to distinguish between lack of power (amp) and lies?

There is a lot of commentary on the web about this.
I would say that there is even a popular belief that you have to put very powerful over ears and in ears amps.

My question is simple. If we want to know which in ear or over ear amps we like best, it is necessary to test them at their full performance. If we listen to the net we need a nuclear aircraft carrier for all of them … but how can we distinguish the comments from reality?

Taking power to more concrete grounds, considering the 32 ohms standard as a reference, how much do you think is necessary?

  • Around 70mw (mobile)
  • Around 120 mw (dongle)
  • Around 230 mw (dac amp portable)
  • Around 400 mw (desktop amp)
  • Around 600 mw (desktop power amp)
  • Around 800 mw (wtf)

0 voters

Impedance mean nothing for power requirement without sensitivity.
32 Ohm, 115dB/mV typical IEM would be orders of magnitude lower power requiring set than 32Ohm, 90dB/mV planar headphone.
I personally never experienced real lack of power affecting sound quality even driving HD6xx from 40mW at 300Ohm source

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I personally like having as much power as I can afford and right now that’s 7.5W. I want an amplifier that can deal with impedance swing of any headphone and hopefully have power for headroom.

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So an actual mid-high mobile phone can successfully drive, for example, an Hd6XX?

Hm I would say it’s like always not that simple :sweat_smile:
A HP like a 6xx needs more voltage than current from it’s amp and can tolerate high output impedance amps (otl amp :heart_eyes:)
Where 32ohm planars need massive current capabilities for low-end and double it with EQ
So a good power delivery can imo be more important for those than raw wattage
So I would go for a diverse approach a decent dongle for mobile use maybe 100-200mw, a desktop amp with good power delivery that has 1-2w and a tube for high impedance HP :grin:
Now you only have to find good pairings for your HP in the next year’s and your good to go :crazy_face::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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As for power, I do believe that you have enough when you can drive your headphones/earphones at comfortable volume at approx 50% of max volume. With that you have enought “finesse” to not blow your ears when turning the knob a little, and have headroom for louder volume/high dynamics in the music.

I do also believe that people rely on power too much, and correlate that with quality. I think power is nothing if it isn’t mastered, so the quality of implementation matters a lot to me.

At the end of the day, I don’t have much experience in amps. I hear differences between my dx3pro and my smsl ho100, but I can’t say if they are power-related, quality-related, it if it is only a matter of wished sound signature.

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also specs don’t tell the whole story (some variation depending on chain and what it’s feeding)
like amps that in theory should be able to power Hifiman HE6 but don’t in reality

In the end you dont need alot of power but the ability to grip and control the driver/s. Since it doesnt matter if you can push 1W @1hkz with a static 32ohm load but takes a full milisecond to hit 100mW peak @1khz impulse on a actual driver since as many have stated before drivers are dynamic loads and not the static loads used for measurements.

Here is what I know.

The Questyle M15 is sounds like ass (comparatively speaking!) through my phone compared to through my MacBook USB-C out.

probably has limited power draw allowed from the phone

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I am far from an expert in this, but my personal experience has been, if you have an amp that is on the edge of not powering your headphones properly, then the sound seems to distort and the notes (especially the bass hits) will feel ‘sludgy’ in comparison to a higher end/higher power amplifier. This becomes especially noticeable at higher volume levels. But you might not even notice the difference until you try them out on different things.

When I replaced my amp, the responsiveness and definition of each note (and sound) greatly improved. But I have headphones that are fairly well known for being very difficult to power properly (Argon Mk3 and Argon T60RP). I also went from an amp that could barely power them, to the Topping A90D.

My suggestion is, go to an audio store, and take your headphones, and walk around and plug them into the amps they have on display and test how things sound. Or take your headphones to one of those audio conventions and do the same thing.

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Really, when it comes to audio equipment, the first and most important thing in the setup will be your headphones. (if you are a headphone user). Or your speakers if you don’t use headphones. So focus on that and get the best thing you can there first. Within reason of course.

  • There is definitely a law of diminishing returns with Audio, it’s sort of like building a skyscraper. The first few floors are easy, but as you continue to go up, it gets progressively more difficult and more expensive to realize the benefits for the resources put in to get there.

I would say, for most people, they should ‘top out’ around the 200 dollar mark for headphones, and about the same for a DAC/AMP combo. Every step above that will be double the price, or more, to realize much gain.

But if you are one of those crazy people, and have access to plenty of money, then feel free to dabble in higher end gear. It’s fun, and definitely sounds better than the ‘mid-range’ of the market.

Thinking more about this post drove me to do more testing - was I just imagining the improvement I thought I heard when I first got the new amplifier? or was it real? Was I in the process of wasting a lot of money over nothing? or was there something more to the story?

I very carefully spent the last hour or so testing and comparing my old amplifier to the new one. I tested youtube videos, mp3’s, FLAC files, etc. - on a multitude of different genres of music and other forms of audio - And there is definitely a difference. On some things, it didn’t show up, but on others (especially in some of the FLAC music I have), there is definitely an easily detectable change. Same DAC, same headphones, but testing the differences on two different amps.

The new amp seems to have a more rich fullness to the sound that was definitely not present in the old amp. The new amp does sound better.

So I wasn’t just imagining it.

At this moment I am sitting here wondering if it is worth it. and i’m waffling. I have another week to decide if I want to keep the new amp or return it. - If I return it, I get to keep about a thousand dollars in my pocket.

  • (why so much? because I also ordered a new DAC to match with the new AMP, but the new DAC has not arrived yet, if I return the new AMP, I will also cancel the order for the DAC)

If I keep it, i’ll likely have it for the rest of my life and will be very unlikely to get anything else. And then there is the question of what to do with my old headphone amp, it’s a solid unit, but was just lacking the power I wanted. I’m thinking I should keep it just in case something happens to the new equipment, so i’ll always have a fallback bit of hardware if something blows up.

And so I waffle on. Which way to go? Stand pat and save money? Or spend money and move on?
I’m going to spend a few more days thinking it over.

  • it is very difficult to choose. About 2 years ago I spent a heck of a lot more on a computer, so why am I relegating my audio hardware into a lower price bracket when I use it so much? I don’t really have a good answer to that one. Especially when I easily justified a fairly baffling amount on my computer hardware. 1500$ on the monitor, easily over 5,000$ on the computer, and that was just parts, I put it all together myself, and for some reason, that was easier and took less self-convincing than upgrading my audio system.

Yep. (that took less than a few days…) I’ve decided, i’ll keep the new Amp and get the new DAC, i use it every day, and it will likely far outlive my computer. As an essential piece of gear that contributes to my daily life, it’s worth the cost.

I hope these questions and topic of self reflection helps others come to their decisions, and whichever way you decide to go is OK. =) Only you can make the choices for your own life.