If you’re serious about producing and mixing music, streaming video games, or even just listening to music, you’ve probably considered purchasing yourself a pair of high-end headphones.
This is a great idea – low-budget headphones can be great for beginners, but buying a professional pair will help you take your career to the next level. However, it must be said that headphone purchases come with all sorts of confusing parameters and jargon such as ‘ohms’ and ‘impedance’.
What on Earth do these words mean, and how are you supposed to choose a pair of headphones with the correct ohmage for you?
To put it simply – the higher the ohm, the higher the audio quality will be. However, you’ll also need higher voltage to power them properly. Therefore, 30ohm headphones are best for phones, 250ohm headphones are best for external audio interfaces, and 80ohm headphones are best for a little of both.
Great! Now you probably have a general idea for which headphones you should pick. However, you’re probably wondering what exactly the word ohm means, and more importantly – now that you know which ohm you need – which headphones are best for that?
These are great questions that are very important to consider! Don’t worry, because we’re going to be investigating what ohm means, what it is used for, and most importantly the best devices and purposes for a variety of ohmages. Let’s take a look!
For your convenience, here’s a table of contents that’ll help you navigate through the article.
What Is ohm And What Is It Used For
The term ohm, often illustrated by the symbol Ω, is used to describe the impedance level of a pair of headphones.
A physicist would likely have to spend hours and days explaining the precise physics behind impedance, but it essentially means the level of resistance and reactivity that headphones have to an electrical current.
This means that low impedance headphones (such as 32Ω) have a lower resistance than headphones with a high ohmage (such as 250Ω).
The key reason this is important when it comes to headphones is the power levels of amplifiers.
Low ohm headphones will generally be suitable for low-powered devices, whereas high ohm headphones will depend on high power levels and will usually require external amplification.
If all of this doesn’t make too much sense right now, don’t worry. We’re now going to move on to the best device applications and purposes for each major headphone ohmage, and this should help clear things up nicely.
Best Devices & Purposes For 32ohm
32ohm or below is the impedance most commonly found on commercial headphones. Due to their low ohmage, these headphones are generally best suited for consumer devices that have built-in amplifiers.
This will generally include laptops, phones, and tablets, devices that are designed to be accessible and without the requirement of additional equipment.
As a result, you won’t need to use an amp or audio interface with 32ohm headphones, making them very convenient.
They serve an excellent purpose when it comes to listening to music on the go, gaming on your laptop, or just generally using a portable device with headphones. There’s nothing particularly complicated about them, they are simply made to be used without any additional fuss.
Whilst you will find 32ohm impedance or less in a variety of well-known headphones such as AirPods, there are tons of options for on-ear and over-ear models.
Some of the best examples of 32-ohm headphones we have come across are the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 32 Ohm over-ear headphones or the Philips SHP 9500 headphones.
Both of these pairs will sound great with just about any portable device you use and will work excellently for general uses such as casually listening to music and gaming.
Best Devices & Purposes For 80ohm
You are probably aware by now that headphones with an impedance level of over 32ohms are generally a lot more specialized than sub-32 headphones. This all comes down to amplification and frequency response.
When it comes to 80ohm headphones, they will generally benefit from an amplifier or audio interface. This could include an audio interface such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or a budget amplifier such as the Headroom TotalAirhead.
Whilst an amp or audio interface will certainly be beneficial, this will not usually be required. After all, 80ohm is still a relatively low impedance in comparison to 250ohm. It all depends on the soundcard of your device, but general cards will be able to handle 80ohms without any issues.
In addition to the potential amplification requirements, a set of 80ohm headphones is going to provide you with a much fatter sound than low-impedance headphones. They’ll generally have high bass and low treble levels and will sound a lot better than your basic 32-ohm headphones.
This makes them excellent candidates if you are a serious gamer or music listener – they’re generally going to be more expensive than 32-ohm cans and thus the price tag reflects this, but it will certainly pay off if you are looking for quality.
80 ohm is relatively uncommon when it comes to headphone impedance, but it the 80ohm version of the previously mentioned Beyerdynamic DT 770 range is very popular.
It provides a significantly better bass response with lower treble than the 32ohm version, making it a great option for lovers of bassier music and immersive gaming experiences.
Best Devices & Purposes For 250ohm
Whether you are a music producer, mixer, masterer, or audiophile, you’ve probably come across 250ohm headphones more than any other impedance.
This is generally due to the fact that high impedance headphones are more specialized and for music production, as the high ohmage results in better sound quality and wider frequency response.
They will generally have a similar bass response to that of 80ohm headphones, but this will also reflect in the treble response which is usually limited on 80ohm headphones. Ultimately, this balanced sound means that managing frequencies within a mix will be more accurate, and your music will generally sound better quality.
It’s also important to note that the massive increase of 250ohm headphones against 80ohm headphones means that you will most certainly need an amplifier as your device will likely not be powerful enough to get the most out of the sensitivity of high-impedance headphones.
Examples of amplifiers that would be recommended to be combined with 250ohm headphones include the budget Moukey MHAMP1, the moderately priced FiiO E10K, or the high-end iFi hip-dac2.
These devices are particularly useful if you want to make professional decisions whilst listening to a mix on your mobile phone, but for computer usage, we would recommend an audio interface such as the Onyx Blackjack.
Ultimately, 250ohm headphones are an absolutely essential part of the professional musician’s inventory. Due to this reason, you will find an enormous quantity of high impedance headphones available for purchase as opposed to the relatively minimal availability of 30ohm and 80ohm headphones. This makes the process of deciding which one to buy pretty difficult.
Purchasing any old 250ohm headphones will not be sufficient – you will need to consider exactly what you are looking for, the purpose you intend to use them for, and the environments you will use them in.
One of the first things that you should consider is the build type, for example, closed-back, open-back or on-ear headphones.
Whilst on-ear headphones such as the Sennheiser HD600s are generally the best choice for DJs who mix music in loud environments, open and closed-back headphones are more appropriate when working in the studio.
It’s also important to take headphones into account that have an ohmage of 250ohms – this will be absolutely sufficient, and the extra 50ohms will not make a large amount of difference.
For example, pairs of headphones such as the Beyerdynamic DT990s provide excellent over-ear sound quality at 250ohms, where as the Sony MDRZX110NC provides high ohmage noise cancellation technology at 220ohms.
Ultimately, anything over 200ohms will be suitable for a setup such as this – it will be much more important for you to find a pair that you find comfortable and that works for your purposes, as opposed to aiming for a specific ohmage.
Whichever impedance you choose, it is essential that you ensure that the amplifier or audio interface that you choose will provide enough power for your headphones.
There are plenty of online calculators that can help you ensure this, but even better would be to test products out at an in-store location before purchasing in order to ensure that the combination works effectively.
Overall, the concept of impedance and ohmage may sound a bit boring, but it’s a very important parameter to consider when considering a headphone purchase.
30ohm headphones are generally best for casual purchases such as listening to music and gaming on portable devices, whereas higher impedance headphones between 200 and 300 ohms will be required for more specialized purposes such as producing, mixing, and mastering music.
However, always remember that high-impedance headphones such as these will require an amplifier or audio interface in order to make up for the power and sensitivity requirements of the headphones.
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