The Sonic Advantages of Low-Impedance Headphone Amplifiers
- An introduction to "The 0-Ohm Headphone Amplifier" White Paper
The circuits used to drive headphones are often added to a product without careful consideration of the difficult loads presented by high-quality headphones. The most common circuit is an opamp driver followed by a 30-Ohm series resistor. The series resistor provides short-circuit and overload protection while isolating the opamp from the inductance and capacitance of the headphones. The series resistor protects the opamp while keeping it stable. In contrast, today's state-of-the-art headphone amplifiers eliminate the series resistor, and use a high current driver. This change reduces distortion and flattens the frequency response when a headphone is driven. These new high-end designs are often called "0-Ohm" headphone amplifiers, and are essentially miniature power amplifiers.
This paper provides measurements which demonstrate the significant advantages of headphone amplifiers with very low (near 0-Ohm) output impedances. A low output impedance increases the damping factor of the amplifier-headphone system. This paper will show that a high damping factor reduces distortion at the headphone input, improves the phase response, and flattens the frequency response.
At the 2023 AXPONA show in Chicago, I had the opportunity to see and hear the Hill Plasmatronics tweeter. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Alan Hill, the physicist who invented this unique device.
The plasma driver has no moving parts and no diaphragm. Sound is emitted directly from the thermal expansion and contraction of an electrically sustained plasma. The plasma is generated within a stream of helium gas. In the demonstration, there was a large helium tank on the floor with a sufficient supply for several hours of listening.
While a tank of helium, tubing, high voltage power supplies, and the smell of smoke may not be appropriate for every living room, this was absolutely the best thing I experienced at the show!
If an audio system is composed of multiple components, we may have detailed specifications for each component, but we will not know the performance of the combined system without doing some calculations. You may have questions such as these:
Will my audio system produce audible noise?
Will my audio system produce audible distortion?
How will my audio components work together as a system?
How loud will my audio system play?
Use Benchmark's online audio calculators to find answers!
For example, if we know the output power of an amplifier, as well as the sensitivity and impedance of our loudspeakers, we can calculate the maximum sound pressure level that our system can produce.
This application note provides interactive examples that help to answer the questions listed above.