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How to Choose a Headphone AMP and DAC

When you want to experience the best sound, every audiophile knows you need to have the right equipment. Whether you are looking for an awesome new pair of headphones, checking out amps or trying to buy a DAC online, you want to make sure that you get the right product for your needs. In this article, we are going to talk about how to choose a headphone amp and DAC (digital-analog converter).

Set Your Budget

When you want to buy the best sound equipment, you need to know what your budget is. It can get pretty pricey when you are looking at the higher end products. While they may be worth it, you need to make sure you have enough money to put out on these products.

Setting your budget can be confusing if you don’t know what to prioritize, but after a little research, you’ll know what to do.

If you have a budget that is $150 or less, all of the money you have needs to go to your headphones. This price range of headphones isn’t going to require an amp or DAC, and if you decide to use a cheap amp or DAC, your sound could get worse.

Those of you that are ready to invest a few hundred dollars should get the best headphones available and an amp that will power them properly. You still won’t need a DAC at this point unless you have some money left over.

When you have a budget of around $1,000, get your top of the line headphones, and give almost an even amount of what is left over to the amp and DAC. Spend a little more money on the amp.

If you are building your setup to end all setups, then you need to focus on the source.

Know Whether You Need a DAC

Before you put money out for a DAC, you need to know whether there is a need or not.

A DAC converts a digital signal into an analog signal so your headphones can create sound. Most DAC chips are found in the source of what you are listening to. Digital music is much further along than when the DACs were created so even when you are working with cheap chips; you aren’t going to see much difference unless you are listening with extremely high-quality headphones.

The reason you would need a DAC even with today’s advancements is when your source is introducing noise, or it isn’t able to output sound at the bitrate of your files. If you are recording audio for professional applications, this could be another time that you would want one. The good news is that the equipment is still relatively inexpensive to buy.

What to Look for in AMPs & DACs When Purchasing

When you are using headphones that are specifically designed for portable devices like your cell phone, they typically have impedances that are on the lower end around 25 ohms or less, so they don’t need an amp, but when you get into higher-end headphones that have 50 ohms and higher, amps will make an audible difference. If you aren’t sure about your headphones impedance, you can check this on the packaging or the spec page on the website where you bought them.

When you are looking for the best amp, of course, you look at the online reviews and the quality of the company, but you also need to get into some specifics.

Your headphones efficiency or sensitivity is something you need to pay attention to. This is a measure of how many decibels your headphones will put out per milliwatt or millivolt. If you don’t see these stats on the actual website or your packaging, you can look this up through various audiophile websites.

Once you have this stat, you can go to a free headphone power calculator input the information so you can tell how milliwatts you need to get your headphones up to a specific level of loudness. Usually, you want it to be about 110 decibels. The power output of the amp you are going to use should be at least that high. This will show up on the package as how many milliwatts it can put into a certain number of ohms. Get something more powerful than the calculator says that you need, just in case, there are some variances with impedance during the highs and lows.

The next specification you need to look at is the amplifiers output impedance. It is separate from the headphone impedance. This needs to be 8x lower than your headphone impedance.

When it comes to buying a DAC, you will only need this if you are experiencing less than great quality sound. Some audiophiles say it opens up the soundstage and helps them enjoy the listening experience more so if you need one, all you need to do is look at reviews to ensure the product is well made. You can see reviews on many different forums and websites that are specially made for audiophiles.


Creating a great listening experience is important when you use music for relaxation or when it is your profession. Whatever it is that you do or what you need it for, investing is a high-quality pair of headphones, a great amp and possibly a good DAC can greatly improve your listening experience.

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  1. Baker

    August 30, 2018 at 7:54 pm

    Nice reviews on this website!
    I am using HD201, and planning on purchasing HD202 model, as I think it is better by many opinions.

  2. Matthew

    May 4, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    Love this article. Has some great information for new dac users. I’m currently using the AQ DragonFly Cobalt. It’s a superb dac.

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