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Headphone amplifiers: thinking aloud

Posted 20th May 2013 at 06:13 AM by rjm
Updated 21st May 2013 at 12:00 AM by rjm

The sobering fact is that the built-in headphone jack on most modern consumer electronics provides pretty decent performance. Taking that output and routing it through an external headphone amplifier rarely improves things, and frequently has a negative impact owing to increased background noise.*

[* This is a simple consequence of adding a volume control which attenuates the signal, and a gain stage which amplifies it back up. Even if the gain stage has the same noise floor as the input signal, the S/N is reduced by the amount of attenuation.]

There are specific use cases, particularly with "outlier" headphone models that require unusually high voltages or currents to drive, but in the main, for generic 16 ohm IEHs and the generic headphone ICs used in consumer electronics, I've found that external headphone amplifiers aren't worth the trouble and expense.

Instead, I've taken (I realise now) an elitist approach to focus on a desktop...
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rjm
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