What Makes High-Impedance Headphones Worth It?

Eric Chan

Understanding headphone specifications to help you determine sound quality can be challenging, especially when you are unaware of the elements at play. Whether you are considering a new pair or are curious about the answer to our title's question, we have you covered. Let's take a deep dive into high-impedance headphones, the terminologies surrounding the concept, the best headphones in the category and how to get better sound quality from your setup.

What Is Impedance in Headphones?

In any electrical circuit, the components resist electricity flow, and we measure the value of how difficult it is for electrons to move across as resistance (denoted in ohms). Nevertheless, this applies to a circuit where direct current is supplied, and we can use Ohms Law to figure out the resistance.

Because audio signals are alternating currents, we need to include inductance, capacitance and resistance to figure out the impedance. For simplicity, we shall consider the concepts similar and deem resistance as impedance in headphones.

Therefore, in a circuit model, the headphones are responsible for the load impedance while the audio origin is the output impedance. We will delve deeper into these concepts when we discuss matching the load to the source.

Headphone impedance often lies between 8 to 600 ohms, with higher values requiring more power to function optimally. Nevertheless, 32 ohms or lower products are much more common as most typical audio sources can produce enough power for them.

Generally, the source impedance in these options starts from zero ohms to about four. So whether you are using your mobile phone or laptop, you may not need a headphone amplifier for your pair to sound great.

Medium-high impedance headphones have ratings from 50 to 100 ohms and anywhere from 150 to 600 on the high end. If you are interested in these types, you may need a specialized amplifier, especially one that does not use a transformer that can deliver up to 120 ohms.

What is the Difference between High and Low Impedance Headphones?

1. Low-Impedance Headphones

The term "low impedance headphones" refers to models with a rating between 16 and 32 ohms. Most portable music players have built-in amplifiers that provide sufficient power output for driving these headphones. Admittedly, you will have to use portable devices with a low audio source impedance if you do not want to risk your blow-outs in your pair of headphones.

Moreover, headphones with low impedance have a heavier voice coil because the wires are thicker and have fewer coils. As a result, the resultant electromagnetic field is weak and more susceptible to distortions.

Consequently, the sound quality lacks clarity at certain frequencies. Nevertheless, since most mobile devices operate at a low voltage but high current, low impedance headphones will sound great.

2. High-Impedance Headphones

High impedance versions, compared to their counterparts, use thinner wires in the voice coil, which means more turns since you can pack more in a smaller space. In addition, you still get a lower moving mass which creates a stronger electromagnetic field. But, of course, this means that to produce motion in the voice coil's wire, you will need more power.

However, the headphones can deliver higher audio levels since their stronger field reduces distortion, ensuring you can pick up different frequencies. In addition, because driving a high impedance headphone requires more power, they are preferred by people interacting with numerous professional audio equipment such as a powerful amplifier in a music studio.

Plus, a reliable home amplifier can provide the high voltage required to produce ample movement in the lower mass voice coil of the high impedance headphone.

Are high impedance headphones better?

5 Best High-Impedance Headphones

1. Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 250 Ohm Over-Ear Studio HeadphonesAudiophinels

beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO 250 Ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones in Black....
  • Closed over-ear headphones for professional mixing in the studio
  • Perfect for studio recordings thanks to their pure and high-resolution sound
  • The soft, circumaural and repalceable velour ear pads ensure high wearing comfort
  • Hard-wearing, durable and robust workmanship Made in Germany
  • Practical single-sided cable (3.0m coiled cable)

Beyerdynamic's high impedance models are popular with professional studio mixers who work with high-end devices. In particular, the DT 770 Pro is one that the audio engineers, music producers and broadcasters use professionally and widely. The bass reference and spacious sound because of the closed-back design emphasize why this pair of headphones are popular with the sound world's gurus.

Of course, lower impedance Beyerdynamic headphones feature similar audio perks to the higher impedance models. However, low impedance variations will likely blow out when used with professional studio equipment. Plus, you may not experience the level of detail present in the 250-ohm version.

Feel free to adjust the earcups to get the best fit for the long hours at the studio. Also, the steel headband is sturdy and wraps around your ears well. Finally, the single-sided cable keeps it out of the way when you need to take the headphones off or need to put them on frequently.


  • High-resolution sound for mixing and studio applications.
  • A closed-over ear design keeps the sound pure.
  • Velour earpads for comfort are also replaceable.
  • Made to last.
  • A long single-sided cable of 3 m.


  • You cannot replace the cable.

2. Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro 250 Ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones

beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro 250 ohm Over-Ear Studio Headphones For Mixing,...
  • Open over-ear headphones, ideal for professional mixing, mastering and editing
  • Perfect for studio applications thanks to their transparent, spacious, strong bass and...
  • The soft, circumaural and replaceable velour ear pads ensure high wearing comfort
  • Hard-wearing, durable and robust workmanship - Made in Germany
  • Practical single-sided cable (3.0m coiled cable)

The open-back DT 990 Pro Studio Headphones from Beyerdynamic provide 3D sound reproduction and an extensive stereo image that would make an audiophile pretty happy. In addition, this pair offers exceptional tonal depth, which makes your mixing more accurate. No wonder reviewers rave about the fantastic sound quality.

The open design ensures the sound remains pretty spacious. In addition, the bass and treble have a mild boost, unlike the prominent bass in the DT 770 Pro, allowing your mixing to be more precise. So, you do not have to worry about the lows or highs of your piece growing out other details and coming off as fuzzy or sharp.


  • The over-ear design makes them comfortable for long listening periods.
  • Excels in professional studio use.
  • Velour earpads are soft.
  • You can replace the ear pads.
  • Durable design.
  • Long 3 m single-sided cable.
  • Extended bass and treble while offering a balanced sound.


  • No detachable cable.

3. Sennheiser Pro Audio HD 650 Open Black Professional Headphone

Sennheiser HD 650 - Audiophile Hi-Res Open Back Dynamic Headphone
  • Specially designed acoustic silk ensures precision damping over the entire frequency range...
  • Improved frequency response is 10 39,500 Hertz ( 10 dB)
  • Hand selected matched driver elements; Highly optimized magnet systems for minimum...
  • High power neodymium magnets deliver maximum efficiency; 3.5 millimetre jack plug....
  • Lightweight aluminum voice coils for very fast transient response

Audiophiles looking for a next-level listening experience at home can rely on the specialized acoustic engineering in the HD 650 Open-Back Professional Headphone. These cups offer lifelike sound reproduction and excellent precision for the perfect jamming experience. Plus, the titanium-silvery finish ensures they look fantastic when doing it.

This pair of headphones features narrow tolerances of plus/minus a single decibel. In addition, it relies on a unique damping element that makes the whole diaphragm vibrate reliably. Thus, regardless of the climate you use it in, the sound quality remains consistent.

Finally, the lightweight aluminum voice coil ensures the transient response remains fast and consistent. Since you get a gold-plated jack plug with an adapter, you will not be buying extra gear to use these headphones with a portable device unless it is a DAP or amplifier to boost output impedance since these cups have a rating of 300 ohms.


  • Super pacey transient response from the lighter aluminum voice coils.
  • High power neodymium magnets for efficiency.
  • Low intermodulation and harmonic distortion.
  • It comes with an adapter.
  • 2-year international warranty.


  • The pair of headphones is not foldable.

4. Sennheiser HD 600 Open Dynamic Hi-Fi Professional Stereo Headphones

Sennheiser HD 600 - Audiophile Hi-Res Open Back Dynamic Headphone
  • Lightweight aluminum voice coils ensure excellent transient response
  • Neodymium ferrous magnets maintain optimum sensitivity and excellent dynamics
  • Sophisticated design, elegantly finished in black and gray
  • High quality open metal mesh earpiece covers
  • Detachable, Kevlar reinforced oxygen free copper cable with very low handling noise

If you have a special listening area of the house or a hi-fi stack installed, the HD 600 are a fantastic pair of headphones for your setup, and they can work well with other portable devices as long as you supply sufficient juice. The high impedance stereo headphones are built to do away with audio disturbances and artifacts in music. In addition, the combination of excellent magnets, the circumaural build and aluminum voice coils guarantees a listening experience fit for an audiophile.

The neodymium ferrous magnets are made with computer optimization to ensure the dynamic response and sensitivity of the headphones meet stringent standards. Plus, the magnetic system works to reduce distortions in harmony and intermodulation. The result is cleaner, more natural-sounding and spatial audio.

The mesh grills at the back expand the soundstage and give you more transparent listening. Also, the detachable cable means you can find a replacement if you damage your original pair. However, since this part has been reinforced with kevlar, you will not be making another purchase soon.


  • Aluminum voice coils are lightweight and offer a transient response.
  • High sensitivity and dynamics from neodymium ferrous magnets.
  • Stylish design.
  • The mesh cover for cups is made from high-quality metal.
  • Detachable cable.
  • Kevlar reinforced cable is durable.
  • Oxygen-free copper in the cable means very low noise.


  • Issues with the sound signature.

5. Sennheiser HD 660 S HiRes Audiophile Open-Back Headphone

SENNHEISER HD 660 S - HiRes Audiophile Open Back Headphone
  • Reference class open back, dynamic headphone employing new and improved transducers...
  • Transducers are hand selected for precise (1 dB) left / right matching tolerance insure...
  • 150 ohm nominal impedance allows direct connection to home and mobile Hires audio devices....
  • Para aramid reinforced, detachable cables employ high conductive OFC copper to insure...
  • Supplied with two connection cables: One with a 6.35 millimeter stereo plug, the other a...

The crisp and remarkable sound production of the HD 660 S HiRes Headphone from Sennheiser gives it an exceptional performance beyond the popular HD 650. For instance, this pair of headphones features a wider but balanced frequency response that adds dynamism and details to your listening experience. Hence, you can listen to more accurate and expressive audio.

The stainless steel fabric that makes up the diaphragm and the aluminum voice coils combine to reduce distortion significantly. The new transducer design also provides minute tolerances of a single decibel for excellent performance. Thus, you can play with the volume without worrying about brittle or choppy audio.

The open-back design in the HD 660 S HiRes pair ensures you can listen for long hours without your ears becoming uncomfortable. Plus, the feature offers a wider soundstage for a better listening experience. Finally, the velour ear cushions and a padded headband add to the cozy perks of these headphones.


  • Reference class high impedance headphones.
  • Cables are reinforced with Para-aramid for durability.
  • OFC copper in the cables for extremely low handling noise.
  • It comes with two cables and an adapter.
  • Expansive frequency response of 10 to 41000 Hz at 10 dB.
  • Adjustable ear pads.


  • You cannot fold this pair of headphones.

Performance and Volume of High Impedance Headphones

Finding the right match between load impedance and power output ensures that you get the best performance and highest volume on your pair of high impedance headphones. Ideally, you need to have a music player that provides high voltages and low currents. Still, there are more nuances involved that you need to understand to buy the best headphones depending on your setup.

Headphone Sensitivity

Headphone sensitivity matters when listening to audio with a significant difference between the smallest and largest sound intensity, such as classical music. Increasing this dynamic range requires a powerful amplifier to drive the listening devices. Consequently, the efficiency or sensitivity of your headphones describes how much volume they can produce when the audio source provides a specific power rating.

Typically, manufacturers measure sensitivity at the 1 kHz frequency while providing 1mW of power. However, a vast majority of listening products allow you to use them at a range of 60 to 80 dB, which is comfortable for most headphone buyers.

On the other hand, high sensitivity headphones can range from 90 to 105 dB, which allows you to pick up on all the subtle nuances of the audio piece you are listening to.

Since high sensitivity is an outlier in consumer headphones, you will seldom require more than 1 mW of power to get optimal volume. However, if you are going for very high impedance headphones, you may need a powerful amp that can deliver anywhere from 50 mW to 1 W of power output.

Impedance Mismatch

Ensuring the source impedance matches the headphone impedance is crucial to guaranteeing excellent sound quality. However, complementary choices largely determine proper matching instead of ensuring they have the same impedance rating. After all, when it comes to high fidelity, we want to maximize power flow from the amp to the headphone without losing out on some parts of the frequency bandwidth.

Generally, it is advisable to use the rule of eighths when pairing your headphones to the driver impedance. For instance, ensure the headphone impedance is 2.5 to 8 times higher than the output impedance. Hence, you can expect consistency in sound quality.

Plus, choosing headphone amplifiers requires paying attention to the sensitivity and impedance. After all, lower impedance headphones may not sound as good as the higher ones, even if you use an amplifier.

In addition, the frequency response, unless in planar dynamic drivers, varies across models of high and low impedance devices. Therefore, the math surrounding your choices is complex, making purchase decisions challenging. Nevertheless, if you want accessories to increase the output impedance when using your high impedance headphones, we have you covered with the following options.

Best Accessories to Pair with Your High Impedance Headphones

1. Best DAC: AudioQuest DragonFly Red Plug-in USB DAC + Preamp + Headphone Amp

AudioQuest - DragonFly Red USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier
  • 32-Bit SABRE DAC
  • 2.1v Output Drives Almost Any Headphones
  • Works With Apple and Android devices when paired with a simple adapter
  • Plays everything from MP3s to 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution files
  • This versatile DAC improves everything – detail transparency immediacy richness tone

If you want to take your high impedance pair on the go, the AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC + Headphone Amplifier will provide the extra power output necessary in a portable form factor. Although the connection type is USB A, you can use it with an A to C adapter with your smartphone. However, the DAC is compatible with Android, iOS, Windows and Apple PCs.

The bit-perfect digital control over the volume and the high output of 2.1 volts make the DragonFly Red a wonderful option. In addition, these headphone amplifiers use asynchronous transfer to maintain digital timing integrity. Plus, the DAC offers versatility since you can use it to feed an AV receiver or a preamp.

2. Best Headphone Amplifier: Donner DEL-4 Headphone Amplifier

Headphone Amplifier Donner 4 Channels Metal Stereo Audio...
  • PREMIUM ANALOG CIRCUITRY: Ultra-compact headphone amplifier system for studio and stage...
  • ULTRA-LOW-NOISE : This headphone amplifier share a single stereo source with up to 4 pairs...
  • FOUR INDEPENDENT LEVEL CONTROL: This headphone amp has featuring High fidelity analog...
  • DURABLE MATERIAL& SAVE ENERGY: With a heavy-gauge steel chassis, long wear potentiometers...
  • COMPLETE EQUIPMENT: Powered via the included 12V AC adapter.Comes with 2-Pack 6.35mm 1/4...

Whether as a headphone amplifier for stage or studio uses, the DEL-4 has you covered with excellent analog circuitry in a small package. This piece comes with four amplifiers where you can plug in multiple high-impedance consumer headphones and control them separately. In addition, the independent volume controls let you share your audio source.

This model offers a low noise music environment even if you have plugged multiple headphones in. In addition, you do not have to worry about finding another powerful amp soon as the sturdy steel cover and long-lasting potentiometers and switches provide durability. Plus, it comes with male-to-female stereo jack adapters for free as a complete package.

Considerations When Buying the Best High-Impedance Headphones

a). Impedance and Budget

If you are going for higher impedance headphones, ensure a matching amplifier to help drive the pair. After all, you will not realize the full potential of your cans unless they get the necessary juice. Nevertheless, you do not need to break the bank for decent amplification as you can find the right output impedance for less than $100.

Finding the right choice might come down to what your ears like. Consequently, it is best to test a particular setup before settling on one. Reveling in music is a personal experience, so do not feel the need to spend big to get to your sweet spot.

b). Size of Ear Cups

1. Over-Ear

Circumaural cup sizes sit over and around your ears to cover them completely. As a result, these headphones are often large enough to accommodate a wide range of ear sizes. In addition, the design allows them to be more comfortable than their in-ear counterparts since the cups do not press against your ears. Thus, you can wear them for longer without feeling irritated.

In addition, you may need to spend more to get this design because of the comfort it offers. However, over-ear models will serve you well if you want to have your headphones on for long periods.

2. On-Ear

These headphones press against the outer part of your ears when wearing them. Therefore, the design has the advantage of being quite affordable. However, it would be best to consider the clamping force of the pair you want before you buy.

How hard the headphones press against your head could mean the difference between having a long listening session or requiring breaks to let your ears breathe. Plus, since everyone has a uniquely-shaped head, you may need to try a pair on before you decide to buy it. Alternatively, you can check out reviews to help you decide.

c). Sound Quality from Headphone Design

1. Open-Back Headphones

If you want your home listening experience to resemble a live concert where you can hear the music playing around you, open-back headphones are the way to go. The ear cup design will often feature a grill or allow you to see the driver. Consequently, air can flow freely through the cups to produce sound.

Unfortunately, you will not get sound isolation as audio leaks because of the design. Thus, you may not be able to wear these cups in public as you can hear ambient noise around you and the people surrounding you will be privy to what you are listening to. On the other hand, if you tend to have your listening sessions alone, you will appreciate the expansive soundstage in open-back headphones.

2. Closed-Back Headphones

Closed-back headphones are pretty common. Generally, you can find them sporting a plastic cover or metal in more expensive brands. The design offers optimum sound isolation by trapping the sound and preventing it from leaking outside. In addition, you will not hear ambient noise while wearing the headphones.

Since noise cancellation comes as part of the package with closed-back headphones, you can wear them in public without becoming a nuisance. Plus, you can enjoy an intimate listening experience as the audio feels like it comes from inside your head. Still, some users may find this type of soundstage unnatural as many prefer to hear music coming from around them instead of a stacked and narrow source.

d). Sound Signature

Every audio component has a sound signature that determines tuned frequency response across the treble, midrange and bass spectrums. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all recommendation for this aspect of buying headphones. Thus, it helps to test them out before buying as different headphones will emphasize a certain frequency differently.

A warm sound signature underscores the bass, but making low ends prominent can cause distortion, making the audio sound fuzzy. Still, if you are looking for a head-banging experience, ensure reviews make a note of this quality before you buy.

On the other hand, bright sound signatures accentuate notes on the treble range. Thus, you can get a more detailed listening experience, especially when in the studio or jamming to music with a wide range. Still, the route you choose hinges significantly on your preference and intended use.

Nevertheless, your age could influence how sensitive you are to various frequencies. For example, older headphone buyers may lean towards bright sound signatures as aging-caused hearing loss starts affecting how well you can hear treble. On the contrary, a younger listener will find such a pair of headphones pretty harsh and brittle.

e). Intended Use

Finally, if you are looking for higher impedance, you need to ask yourself why. For instance, some headphones feature a flat frequency response across a wide range, making them perfect for reference use.

So, if you are interested in mixing, audio engineering or professional studio uses, you should prioritize these models. After all, they allow you to capture even the minute details of a piece for precise matching to the audio source.

Conversely, if you want to enhance your listening experience through higher impedance or high-end headphones, look for ones with some manufacturer tweaking. This feature is present in models that accentuate a certain frequency to improve music sounds. Again, reference headphones might come off flat in this category but are still incredibly clear.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on High-Impedance Headphones

1. Do high-impedance headphones sound better?

High impedance headphones come with coiled copper wires that can be half the thickness of human hair and are more tightly wound than low impedance models. Consequently, you get a smaller mass for the voice coil with less air between the layers while still producing a stronger electromagnetic field. This combination of factors results in a more precise diaphragm for better sound quality from the high impedance audio headphones.

2. What are high-impedance headphones for?

It would be best to have high-quality audio equipment when working as an acoustic engineer, a professional studio mixer or producer. High impedance headphones offer the advantage of allowing you to connect directly to your studio equipment without worrying about being blasted by high volume or losing clarity.

In addition, they are built to provide a flat frequency response across an expansive range while letting you hear even the smallest details. These features are excellent for reference-related work.

3. Is lower impedance better for headphones?

A low impedance headphone is a perfect companion for people who want to listen while on the go. After all, their small power requirement means they will get sufficient juice from portable music players like phones and laptops. Still, get closed-back models as they won't leak sound to your surrounding.

Conversely, high impedance headphones are ideal if you want to enhance your listening experience and are willing to get the accompanying gear to enjoy it. Plus, they are a necessity for professionals in the sound world.

                                                                                            Image Source: Unsplash.com

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