The world of headphones can be intimidating for newcomers. It’s a niche hobby with a ton of specifics that need to be known so that you can properly invest in an ideal setup. One of the important aspects of headphones you should know about is which ones need an amplifier. As far as wired headphones are concerned, sometimes you’ll need a bit of extra juice to get the intended performance of certain headphones. These can be certain mixing headphones, or high-end audiophile headphones. Here are some popular headphones that definitely require an amplifier.
Beyerdynamic DT Series
Not every headphone in this series requires an amplifier, but thankfully Beyerdynamic makes it very clear which ones do. For instance, out of the three versions of the DT 770s, you only need to worry about the 80 Ohm and 250 Ohm versions. The 80 Ohm 770s do not require a ton of power, but not every common headphone output can drive them efficiently. Small portable amps can drive 80 Ohms no problem, so the 770s will work great for those. Audio interfaces like the Focusrite Scarlet series will also drive 80-ohm headphones. The 250 Ohm and 600 Ohm versions from the DT series will need a more dedicated system, whether that be a desktop DAC/Amp combo or a separate amplifier entirely.
Sennheiser HD 600 Series
Like Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser’s HD series is a professional brand that is meant to be part of a larger audio setup. With the release of the Senneheiser HD660S2, pretty much the entire HD 600 series is 300 Ohms. This includes the HD600, 650, and 660S2. The HD 500 series headphones are not as power hungry. The HD560s is the only notable exception, with an impedance of 120 Ohms, but a small DAC/Amp should still be able to provide enough power. For the HD 600 series, iFi makes a special DAC/Amp combo specifically for the HD6XX, but is a great pairing with any HD600 series headphones.
One of Fiio’s rare headphones is made for studio monitoring, and features an impedance of 350 Ohms. It has a particularly large driver too, so the headphones will need something more sufficient to synergize with. A powerful portable DAC/Amp should still be enough, but a desktop unit is more ideal. Fiio’s own K7 will make a great pairing, and won’t cost a large sum of money either. Together this setup is pretty economical, with the amp only costing a hundred dollars less than the actual headphone, and the sound should be totally up to par.
Audeze LCD Series
While the LCD series from Audeze don’t have high impedances, they usually terminate to quarter-inch, and lend themselves to sound better with headphone amplifiers. The more power you put into these headphones, the more versatile your results are going to be. You want to be able to listen to these headphones with plenty of headroom, and just using adapters might not supply that.
Sennheiser HD 800s
The Sennheiser HD 800 is notorious for needing a good amplifier. It has 300 Ohms of impedance like the 600 line, but is still harder to drive than those headphones. Some portable amps like the iFi Hip-DAC or Fiio Q7 should be just good enough, but if you’re investing in a high-end headphone like the HD 800s, you should have a sufficient amplifier to power them with. Sennheiser has a bundle with the HDV820 which is a good pairing but it’s pricey. Some amps for less than a thousand like the Fiio K9 Pro and HiFiMAN EF600 are also good pairings.
You won’t even be able to use Electrostatic headphones without a proper amp thanks to proprietary termination. Electrostatic headphones require electrostatic amplifiers, which usually only have a certain amount of pins for their connectors. There’s no other way top listen to electrostatic headphones, so it’s a given that they require an amplifier. STAX is the main brand to look out for, and they usually have bundles available. Audeze and Dan Clark Audio also have electrostatic options available. It’s a pricey venture for pretty serious audiophiles, so it’s the perfect endgame setup to go for if you’re into the kind of sound that electrostatic headphones bring out.