Matching Impedance in Headphones: What Does it Mean?

OneOdio Monitor 80 Headphones sleek design - Impedance on Headphones

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Have you ever plugged in your headphones and been disappointed by the sound quality? It might be because of something called impedance.

Impedance is a measure of how much a device resists the flow of electrical current. When it comes to audio equipment, impedance in headphones refers to how much resistance the headphones offer to the audio signal coming from the amplifier or device they’re connected to.

Now, you may be wondering: why should we care about impedance in headphones? 

It’s because different devices have different output impedances, and matching the impedance of your headphones to the output impedance of your device can make a big difference in the sound quality.

I remember the first time I encountered this issue. I was at a friend’s house and we wanted to listen to some music together.

I brought my high-impedance headphones, a Sennheiser HD650, thinking they’d sound great with his fancy home theater system. 

Impedance in headphones
OneOdio Monitor 80 Headphones | Make LIfe Click

But as soon as we started playing music, it was clear that something was off.

The volume was all over the place and no matter how we adjusted the settings, we just couldn’t get it to sound right. It was super frustrating, and I had no idea what was going on. 

It wasn’t until later that I learned about impedance in headphones and how it affects the sound quality of the device.

See, the problem was that my headphones had a high impedance, around 300 ohms, and my friend’s home theater system had a relatively low output impedance, around 60 ohms.

This mismatch was causing the volume to fluctuate, and it made it really hard to get a good listening experience. 

Here I need to clarify that we aren’t comparing the impedances on a 1:1 basis. They need to be complementary and not equal, as you’ll see later.

Here’s the deal: if the output impedance of your device is much higher than the impedance of your headphones, it can cause the volume to vary as you change the volume on your device.

This is known as “output impedance mismatch,” and it can lead to a frustrating listening experience.

On the other hand, if the output impedance of your device is much lower than the impedance of your headphones, you might not get as much volume as you’d like.

Beyerdynamic DT1990 Pro Headphone | Make Life Click

This can be especially noticeable with high-impedance headphones, which require more power to drive them to their full potential.

So how do you know if the impedance of your headphones is a good match for your device? The general rule of thumb is that you want the output impedance of your device to be at least 8 times lower than the impedance of your headphones.

For example, if your headphones have an impedance of 240 ohms, you’d want the output impedance of your device to be 30 ohms or lower. This will ensure that you get the best possible sound quality and volume.

Here’s What to Keep in Mind about Impedance in Headphones

Some headphones have a variable impedance, which means that the impedance changes depending on the frequency of the audio signal.

This can affect how the headphones sound with different devices, so it’s something to keep in mind if you’re having trouble getting the sound you want.

  • High-impedance headphones are generally considered to be more “audiophile-grade,” as they offer a more detailed and nuanced sound. But they also require more power to drive them, so you might need to use an amplifier or a device with a higher power output to get the best results. Some examples of them are the Sennheiser HD 600 or the Beyerdynamic DT 1770.
  • Low-impedance headphones, on the other hand, are generally easier to drive. They also work well with a wider range of devices. They are generally more portable and convenient, but they might not offer the same level of sound quality as high-impedance headphones. Some examples are the Audio-Technica ATH-M70X or the Audeze LCD-1.

Impedance in headphones isn’t the only factor determining how well they would work with a particular device. Other important considerations include the headphones’ sensitivity and the device’s power output.

For example, take a pair of low-impedance headphones and a device with a high-power output, like a home theater system

Fosi Audio TB10D front view
Fosi Audio Amp DAC | Make Life Click

Even though the device’s output impedance is much lower than the impedance in headphones, you might still have issues with the volume.

This is because the headphones are so sensitive that they might be overwhelmed by the device’s power. This could lead to distortion or clipping.

On the other hand, if you have a pair of high-impedance headphones with low sensitivity and a device with low power output, like a smartphone, you might not get as much volume as you’d like. 

This is because these headphones require more power to drive them to their full potential, and the device just doesn’t have enough juice to give them what they need.

It’s important to consider all of these factors when you’re trying to get the best sound quality out of your headphones.

How to Get the Best Sound Quality

One way to ensure that you’re getting the best possible sound quality is to use an amplifier. An amplifier can help boost the signal coming from your device, giving you more volume and power to drive your headphones. 

This can be especially helpful if you have high-impedance headphones or a device with a low power output.

There are lots of different types of amplifiers out there, ranging from portable battery-powered units to large, high-end models. 

It’s also worth noting that using an amplifier isn’t always necessary, and it may not be the best solution for everyone. 

Fosi Audio K5 Pro Gaming Amp DAC connected to a headphone
Fosi Audio K5 Pro connected to a headphone | Make Life Click

In some cases, it might be more convenient or cost-effective to just use a different device or a pair of headphones with a lower impedance. 

So next time you’re shopping for headphones, keep impedance in mind. It might just be the key to getting the best sound quality out of your favorite tunes. And if you’re having trouble getting the volume or sound quality you want, don’t be afraid to experiment with different devices or consider using an amplifier. 

With some research and a little bit of trial and error, you should be able to find a setup that works for you.

A passion for writing and ongoing research projects gives Catherine an incredibly broad knowledge of all things. She has authored an incredible number of articles and can be found in the wilderness when not attached to technology or listening to podcasts.

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