Headphone Vs Speaker Amp: How Different Are They?


Despite both being labeled as “amps”, the differences between headphone and speaker amps are easily noticeable. The very basic difference being that they are made for headphones and speakers!

Other than their appearance, many users don’t actually know what their differences are. Some just think that headphone amps are a miniature, yet identical version of speaker amps.

But which version of the amp is the better one in headphone vs speaker amp?

Speaker amps are bigger in terms of size and power consumption than headphone amps. They also have to work with high voltages and high currents for loud sounds. And for the same reason, speaker amps have lower load impedance whereas headphone amps have higher load impedance. 

Now that we’re done with the preview, let’s head down to the broader discussion. Below, you’ll learn a lot more about the two amps.

Headphone Amp Vs Speaker Amp: A Brief Comparison

Sometimes the amps are included inside the devices. Those are known as the integrated amplifiers that come as default with the device. And more sophisticated amplifiers have to be used externally

Source: crutchfield.com

The working principles of headphone and speaker amps are identical. But even after that, they have some significant differences, distinguishing them from each other. And that is also why you can not replace one for another.

Let’s take a quick look at the primary differences between headphone and speaker amp:

FactorsHeadphone AmpSpeaker Amp
SizeQuite Small, PocketableQuite large, difficult to carry
Power ConsumptionAnywhere between 10mW and 2W50-100 W
Impedance 16-600 ohms4-8 ohms
Output ImpedanceHigh output impedance to maintain the ratio, but low output voltagesLower output impedance 
Device CompatibilityCan’t Power SpeakersCan power headphones

There you go! Now that you know the basic differences, it’s time to discuss them more broadly. 

So, let’s head down to a separate section where we further discuss the differences and what they mean.

Headphone Vs Speaker Amp: Detailed Comparison

It’s quite clear from the quick table that there are lots of differences between headphone and speaker amplifiers.

They do follow the same principle. But varying specs capability and subtle differences make them more suitable for what they do.

Let’s check them out and see closely what’s so special about them.

Visible Difference in Size

Size is the first thing that catches our eyes when we see them side by side. A home speaker amp is much bigger than a headphone amp. 

Headphone amps are portable and can be carried around in one’s pocket. But a speaker amp on the other hand is visibly big. And it also has lots of ports and controls around it.

The size of the speaker amp is directly connected to its purpose. As speaker amplifiers have to deal with louder levels of sounds, it has to be big. The size lets it deliver a clearer and louder sound to the speaker.


Headphone amplifiers don’t require bigger drivers as they don’t demand high spectrums of sound. So they can easily be scaled down to a pocket-sized amp.

Difference in Power Consumption

This is also a more or less visible difference. We can see that the headphone amplifier doesn’t need any extra power source. It’s generally powered by the sound port it is connected to.

Many of us have this common question:

How many watts do headphones amp use?

Headphone amps use anywhere between 10mW and 2 W, which is very meagre compared to speaker amps. That’s because the amplifier present in the headphone needs nearly 5 volts. A very insignificant amount that can be delivered by any number of ports.

On the other hand, speaker amplifiers are connected to the wall most of the time with a power cord. There is a small converter that’s attached to that power cord that steps down the supply voltage to 60-100 watts. Which is used by the speaker amplifier. 

So clearly as a speaker amp does more work than a headphone amp, it also requires more power than headphone amp output power. And that requires a steady power supply.

Internal Load Impedance

The amplifier is the main voltage-inducing element that generates the sound. And this voltage-inducing part directly relates to the size, power consumption, and heating level.

So this is really important to keep in mind. This knowledge will also help you while choosing an amp for Fostex th900.

To generate a higher voltage, you need a higher current flow. And to get a higher current flow, according to ohm’s law, you need a lower resistance or impedance.

That’s why speaker amplifiers have a lower impedance so they have a bigger amount of current flowing in them. You can notice impedance between 2-8 ohms in a speaker amp. That makes them consume more power as well.

The Fosi Audio BT20A is just the perfect example for this. It can drive both 4 and 8 ohms of speakers without breaking a sweat!

On the other hand, headphone amps have a much higher impedance. Compared to speaker amps, headphone amps have a large impedance. 

Depending on the amp, the impedance can be anywhere from 16-600 ohms. So they work with less current and less voltage. That makes them more power-efficient as well.

Difference in Impedance load between headphone amp and speaker amp

Most of the headphone amps in the market are bad at balancing the sound. From poor compatibility issues to bad level control, most amps fail to deliver good quality. So we took matters into our own hands to try out some of the best headphone amps in the market.

Going through hundreds of reviews from well-known audiophile communities, we narrowed down 3 of the best headphone amps. Check them out:

We covered all the special features about the headphone amps to help you pick the right headphone amp for you. 

Output Impedance & Ratio

To get the best sound quality, an amplifier’s output impedance must be eight times less than the speaker’s input impedance. 

If this is not achieved, there will be distortion in the frequency response of the signal. And you will not get a nice and clear output through your headphones or speaker.

Although distortion can be caused by damage as well, a good amplifier manages to keep it better. And that’s exactly where Amazon’s echo link amp excels at. It has built-in 60W x 2 amplifiers, giving you very little distortion and lossless quality. You also get to control it using voice commands!

As the output impedances of headphone amplifier and speaker amplifier differ. So that they can not work as alternatives because they will not be able to deliver clear audio.

You might ask do headphones sound better than speakers. But ultimately it depends a lot on the amplifier used.

So it’s pretty clear that a headphone amp vs speaker amp is a valid debate. They may work in the same way. But they are two totally different things.

Our Thoughts

There isn’t much to choose between a headphone amp and speaker amp. Both of them are two unique devices that have their own usage.

Source: www.headphonesty.com

One advantage of a speaker amp is that you can connect headphones with it. You can’t connect a speaker with a headphone amp and make it work though. 

While a headphone connected to a speaker amp works most of the time, you won’t get good sound. In fact, it can result in very loud music that can break your headphones.

The low impedance level in a speaker amplifier makes it more voltage-inducing, so it is used to amplify large noises. 

As it draws more power it is also bigger in size to handle the temperature. Speaker amplifiers also have different ports in them for electrical instruments to use as input devices.

This facility can’t be found in headphone amplifiers. But does a headphone amplifier improve sound quality

Surely they do! But for the best sound quality, there is no alternative to a good quality amplifier. Trying out DACs is worth the shot as well. 

A lot of headphone amps are merged with DACs and sold together as external hardware. Audioengine D1 DACs are one such example of a quality DAC/headphone amp.

So in the end, headphone amplifiers and speaker amplifiers are two different things. And they can’t be used as alternatives to each other because they won’t deliver nearly the same results.

So using headphone amps for speakers isn’t a good idea at all. It will totally defeat the purpose and most times it won’t be able to deliver any outputs at all.


How Big Are Headphone Drivers Usually?

Headphone drivers are generally 20mm to 50mm in diameter. Earphone drivers are even smaller, nearly 8-15mm. The bigger the driver is the clearer and louder the sound is. So a headphone with a bigger driver is always better and they are also costlier.

Can Headphone Amps Run On Batteries?

Yes, headphone amplifiers require nearly 5 volts to run only. And that can be easily supplied by a battery. So there are designated headphone amplifiers that run on batteries.

How Should You Choose A Power Amp For Your Speaker?

You need to get a power amp that can deliver at least twice the given continuous power rating of the speaker. If your speaker says that it needs 400 watts over a 7-ohm load, then you should get an amp that can deliver 800 watts over a 7-ohm load. That ensures uninterrupted service of the power amp.

Wrapping Up

We reached a conclusion with the headphone vs speaker amp debate. 

With all the necessary information at your disposal, it should be easy to decide. Based on your preference and usage, you can choose either a headphone amp or a speaker amp.

Don’t forget to do your own research when buying an amp. Good luck!

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